A dream has become reality for Stow resident Joe Ebanks, who overcame a field of 474 players to win a coveted World Series of Poker gold bracelet – and a prize of $1,158,481.
The 2003 Theodore Roosevelt High School graduate took first place Thursday in Event No. 46, a six-handed no-limit hold 'em tournament with a $10,000 buy-in held in Las Vegas.
Harry Hammel, a WSOP media spokesman, said Ebanks “defeated a stellar lineup which included several notable names from the elite ranks of online and live poker” to win the second-largest six-handed payout in poker history.
Ebanks, 26, said during a phone interview from Las Vegas that making it to the final table was “amazing” but nerve-wracking, as he was facing players whose careers he has watched closely.
“I was extremely stressed out but focused. The final eight were all world-class players and I was really nervous the whole time. It was really tough,” Ebanks said.
The final table, played on ESPN's main stage at the Rio Hotel and Casino and streamed live on the WSOP website, featured Ebanks, runner-up Chris Moorman of England and former gold bracelet winner Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier of France, who took third.
“I couldn’t believe I was (playing) three-handed with ElkY, a legend in the poker world, and also Moorman, who’s currently ranked number one online,” Ebanks said. “It was amazing to beat ElkY, because I definitely look up to him. Two years ago I played in a $15,000 buy-in and lost all my chips off to ElkY and he went on to win $1.1 million.”
It’s a toss-up whether Ebanks is more excited about winning a gold bracelet or the $1.1 million prize. “It’s a prestigious bracelet to wear, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing poker,” he said.
While the poker pro is thrilled to have won such a large pot in a live game, he remains a bigger fan of online tournaments – an arena where he has racked up more than $3 million in prize money during the years. That total represents a lot of computer time, as his single-biggest online win to date is only $90,000.
Asked how the $1.1 million WSOP win will impact his future, Ebanks said, “I didn’t make enough to retire, but it makes it a lot easier to continue playing, that’s for sure. I would like to potentially get sponsored by a poker website so they’d pay me to travel around the world. My big goal right now is to just keep trying to win more tournaments.”
After graduating from Roosevelt, Ebanks enrolled at to study psychology. At age 19, the self-taught poker player began entering online tournaments because he “thought it was really cool you could make money on the Internet.”
After three years at Kent State, Ebanks dropped out to pursue a full-time poker career. His parents – Susan and Arden Ruttan of Kent and Bruce Ebanks of Mississippi – had mixed emotions.
“I don’t think my mom liked the idea too much at first, but my step-dad was always supportive,” Ebanks said with a laugh.
He started playing online with a $50 deposit.
“I lost that in two weeks, but I loved it. I put in another $150 and never had to redeposit again,” said Ebanks, whose favorite games are Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha.
About three years ago Ebanks expanded his playing field by entering live tournaments in the United States. Since then, “I’ve been all over the world, for sure. I have played a tournament on every continent,” he said.
Now it appears Ebanks will have to move to another continent to further his career, since he favors online play. On April 15 the U.S. Department of Justice shut down the nation’s biggest online poker websites – Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker – on charges of violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Ebanks played most often on Full Tilt and PokerStars, where $150,000 of his winnings is currently in limbo. “I have a lot of money that’s stuck on those websites, and it’s unclear what will happen to it,” he lamented.
“The way I’ve been traveling the world playing big tournaments the past couple years is by winning tournament buy-ins online, then (tournament sponsors) would pay my travel costs,” he said. “I definitely like (playing) online, so I’m going to move to England or somewhere else in Europe (to use the same methods in the) European Poker Tour.”
Ebanks will remain in Las Vegas through the end of the WSOP Main Event, which begins Thursday. For more details visit www.wsop.com.