How do you celebrate winning the World Series of Poker?
"I went out to a bar with Ben Lamb and just hung out," Pius Heinz said, the relief still evident in his voice a day later. "That was great. … I was pretty tired after that and I had my entire rail with me. About 50 people. We had a great time."
Heinz got three hours sleep Tuesday night, an all-too-short bridge between the most momentous night of his young life and its aftermath. The 22-year-old German had just won $8,715,368 and the world championship title every poker player dreams of. You could hardly blame him for having a little trouble calming down.
Heinz's victory, which ended somewhere in the vicinity of 3 a.m. ET, was hardly the end of the budding superstar's day. There were photos to be taken, forms to be filled out and interviews to do. It was only at about 6:15 a.m. that he was finally allowed to leave, to enjoy his newfound wealth … and to exhale.
There was none of that Wednesday. Suddenly the darling of the poker world, Heinz had just won the one tournament that perks even the mainstream media's ears. His sponsor, PokerStars, hired him a public relations entourage and interviews were set up and Heinz went from the frying pan to the fire, facing the same questions every world champion of poker does.
How do you feel right now? What is it like to be world champion? What will you do now? What kind of ambassador for the game will you be? and of course … How will you spend the money?
They're mundane and simple enough, but think about having that conversation with a complete stranger. Then, think about having that conversation 20 times in one day. Then, think about having it when all you want to do is relax, celebrate, enjoy the spoils of victory and maybe just start to think about how to spend the rest of a life that has only just opened up in entirely new ways. It's stressful, or at least it should be.
Speaking with Heinz at the end of his Wednesday, I sensed no tension in his voice. He was calm and cool, patient and happy to talk about hands and emotions and his new reality. He answered all of those questions and then some.
In July, en route to the November Nine, Heinz told me that he felt like he was living on borrowed time and that he wasn't feeling pressure as a result. That truth was evident in his demeanor then, but the calm faded by the time November rolled around.
"Leading up, I actually wasn't nervous at all," the champion said. "I just figured I'd play my game and knew I couldn't control the cards. When I actually sat down, I was as nervous as I've ever been. My hands were shaking, but after the first few hands, I was calm again. I think I played as well as I can and made some really good decisions"
His Sunday was a revelation. Starting the day in seventh place, he vaulted himself into first with early aggression and maintained the lead and stretched it out by day's end, going to the final three with approximately half the chips in play. While there was speculation he wasn't taking full advantage of the 15-minute delay, that wasn't the case. Heinz was constantly conferring with friends on his rail, who provided him with constant updates on the entire table's (and eventually, Martin Staszko's) former holdings. When Sunday was done, Heinz got away from poker.
"I watched some of the broadcast, but not much. Maybe an hour," Heinz recalled. "I was at the table, I saw the hands and I got informed about what guys were holding. I was confident in my game and I didn't want to worry about it too much. [I wanted to] relax and calm down. I felt like I had a better chance of playing my own game by not worrying about it too much."
When Tuesday finally arrived, Heinz was ready to wield his chip lead, but the opportunity never came. Four hands in, Staszko had doubled up, taken a pot from Heinz and eliminated Lamb. For some, a day of game planning going down the tubes may have been daunting, but Heinz insists it didn't affect him.
"No, that didn't bother me," Heinz said. "We were playing heads up. The chip lead in the heads up is going to shift more often than it would in a nine-handed table. The stacks were fairly even. Martin came right out the gate picking up chips and winning hands, but I wasn't worried. I played well and stuck to my strategy."
For the next hundred or so hands, the two jockeyed back and forth until Heinz started losing his foothold. An extended card-dead streak had him on the ropes and he seemed by his body language to be slipping, but in his head there was still that calm. "I definitely was card dead for a while, getting bad cards and not making hands," he said. "I tried not to lose my focus and stayed focused on playing my game."
He did, long enough to double up, then double again, then take the title. It's the first day of the rest of the life of a 22-year-old who suddenly has $8.7 million, fame and glory in his pocket. The sense from talking with him is that while Heinz's life is about to change, the man will stay the same.
Oh, and as for those basic questions everyone must ask:
How do you feel right now?
Heinz: I'm just really happy right now. Yesterday was the best and most important day of my life. I'm just really happy I won.
Would the heads-up outcome been different if he had faced a master like Ronin1085?
Heinz: Oh, most definitely. I'd be happy with my second place finish then. That guy has a horse.
What is it like to be world champion?
Heinz: It's what every poker player dreams of, isn't it? It's phenomenal.
What will you do now?
Heinz: I'm going to take some time off from school. I think I want to travel and enjoy being a poker player. I'll go to the [PokerStars Caribbean Adventure] and some other tournaments and play poker. I think I'll move up in stakes, too. … I'll put $250,000 or something online, something like that. I'll play high-rollers tournaments. I did sign with PokerStars and I'm really happy to be part of the team. I'm really looking forward to a future of working with them.
What kind of ambassador for the game will you be?
Heinz: I think I want to keep my privacy as much as I can. That said, I want to do my part and be a great ambassador for poker. I'll just try not to do too much. I'm not looking to be famous.
How will you spend the money?
Heinz: We'll see. Right now, I'm just so happy. I'm going to try to be smart about it. I'm not sure what I'll get my parents yet, but it will be a nice gift.
Congratulations to the new world champion.
Gary Wise @ ESPN,com