First-time player runs into trouble at World Series of Poker

| Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, 3:09 p.m.

Richard Rigney says he had never played poker before he signed up for the $10,000-per-seat Main Event at this year's World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

He wasn't the only newbie among the 6,683 entrants, but somehow, he survived.

“I'm a really lucky guy,” says the horse breeder, chemist and owner of Clarendon Flavor Engineering in Louisville, which supplies flavoring for vodkas and produces soft drinks for Costco, Target and other companies.

He started Day 4 ranked at No. 86 in chips among more than 700 remaining players.

That was when he drew a seat at the same table as poker pro Jack Schanbacher of Reserve, who was having his own run of good luck. He had cashed in three other WSOP events and at the Hollywood Poker Open in addition to winning several cash game sessions.

The two wound up in a fascinating hand that put the overall tournament lead on the line as Rigney's rookie mistakes contributed to a massive pot and made some players think he was bending the rules.

Through it all, Rigney never said a word.

“My plan (for the tournament) was to be stoic and not be emotional,” Rigney says. “I never talked to anyone. I'd sit there and stare. I didn't say one word.” Many assumed he couldn't speak English.

He admits that approach wasn't much fun because it's so different from his normally outgoing personality. He gushes with pride when talking about one of his horses finishing fifth at the Kentucky Derby and selling another horse to the Sheikh of Dubai for more than $500,000.

“I love gambling,” he says, talking about winning at sports bets and blackjack on trips to his second home in Florida and elsewhere. But he says he never played poker, not even in a home game. He went to the WSOP with a buddy whose bucket list included playing in the Main Event.

Larry Ormson of Elroy, Wis., remembers the showdown between Schanbacher and Rigney.

“Everyone went crazy,” says Ormson, one of nine players at the table. Many thought Rigney violated poker etiquette by putting in raises that weren't large enough to qualify as a raise.

The crucial hand came as players approached the “bubble,” the point when everyone remaining is guaranteed a payout.

“If I were to just get a check (for finishing in the money), it would be like winning the Main Event,” Rigney says.

The hand started with Rigney, holding Ace-Queen of diamonds, raising pre-flop. Schanbacher, holding pocket 6s, called, as did a third player. The flop was three diamonds: Jack-10-7. All three checked. The turn was a 6, giving trips to Schanbacher, but his hand was not as good as Rigney's Ace-high flush.

That's when the action became what Schanbacher calls “interesting,” Rigney bet $10,000 in tournament chips. Schanbacher raised to $32,000. Rigney put in $35,000 more, without announcing a raise. However, the extra chips were enough that tournament officials enforced a rule requiring him to “complete” the raise to $54,000. Tournament officials explained the rule, but Rigney stuck to his silent act.

Schanbacher, thinking Rigney had pocket Aces or Kings, re-raised. Rigney says he made the same mistake as the first time, putting in extra chips but not enough to qualify as a full raise. A tournament official explained the rule again. Rigney remained mute.

“I thought I knew what I was doing,” he says. “I was really rattled.”

Schambacher recalls: “At this point, the hand is extremely weird. The pot should have never gotten this big.”

Both ended up all-in. Schanbacher had about $500,000 and Rigney, $300,000. Before the two showed their cards, someone at the table said Rigney must have the nut flush. “I don't know what that is, but it sounds good,” he tells Player's Advantage.

As for Schambacher: “I'm just sitting there boiling.”

The players had to wait for an ESPN camera crew to arrive and film the outcome. The river card gave Schanbacher quad 6s, sent Rigney home without cashing and made Schanbacher the overall chip leader at the time.

ESPN plans to air the hand Sept. 28, its first night of televised coverage from the Main Event.

Rigney says he'll never play poker again.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He once made quad 6s in a low-limit game. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or

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