There’s no better feeling than to make the bubble of the World Series of Poker Main Event Championship… unless you’ve made it into the final 27 – the final three tables – which is where we are now with the 2016 WSOP No Limit Holdem Championship. I’m proud to have just spoken with one of this year’s competitors, Christopher “Chris” Kusha.
At 29 years old, Chris Kusha, who was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, has been playing poker since he turned 21. Unlike most poker pros, though, he hasn’t foregone education to pursue his career. After excelling in advanced math classes at Tottenville High School, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from the College of Staten Island, where he continues his education and works as an Adjunct Professor.
His professional poker career began online – before the Black Friday of Online Poker (April 2011) prohibited Americans like him from playing on PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and other major sites.
His success was exponential online, but when 2011 came around, he was forced to take his game 100% live. He’s been landing in the money regularly since then, pulling 19 cashes over the last five years worth over $50k. And while that number may seem small compared to some of the biggest competitors remaining in the WSOP Main Event field – names like 2x WSOP braclet winner Cliff Josephy – Kusha’s been on a roll lately, cashing in 3 WSOP events and three other tournaments in Las Vegas since the June.
Kusha is currently in 21st place among the chip counts, with 6,520,000 to his name – about one-fourth of what the current leader, Vojtech Ruzicka of the Czech Republic, is holding (26,415,000). But that’s the last thing on his mind right now.
One on One with Chris Kusha
I got a chance to speak briefly with Chris this afternoon as he prepares for the final three tables to get underway. As busy as he was – in prep for an interview with ESPN – he took a moment to tell me about his experience, and what it feels like to be in his position.
“It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve had to outlast some extremely tough competition to get here. I feel like the toughest part is yet to come,” said Chris.
“There are so many great players still in,” he noted, but Chris is taking a more professional approach – one that exudes his 8 years of experience in the field – that could lead to his eventual final table appearance come October, if not a championship bracelet on his wrist.
“I’m trying my hardest not to look at this as the main event, and more just as another tournament,” he explained. So far, he said that mindset has “helped me make the right decisions and not crack under the pressure.”
When I asked him how he feels about making it this far in the poker world’s most prestigious of events, he responded, “Definitely very fortunate to make it this far, but I feel like I deserve to be here.”
I was also honored with an opportunity to speak with Christopher’s father, Charles Kusha, who said he wasn’t always so keen on his son’s choice to pursue a professional poker career, but knowing how much his son loved the game, his support never wavered.
I asked Chris’s father if he thought his son would ever make it this far.
“Yes I always thought his day would come,” said Mr. Kusha. “I just didn’t think it would be here at WSOP. He’s very driven and very smart.”
As for his son’s career choice, Charles said, “I wasn’t crazy about poker but he loved it I so I was supportive. I’m very proud of him to say the least,” he continued. “I always told him he was just as good as the players he idolized.”
Those idols include esteemed American poker pros Jason Somerville and Vanessa Selbst, to name a couple. Remarkably enough, Kusha has already surpassed 2014 WSOP bracelet winner Somerville, who fell in 320th place for $32,130. Vanessa Selbst also participated this year, but was eliminated before the money bubble burst.
Tough Competition Remaining
As Kusha pointed out, there are still many great poker pros in contention for the 2016 WSOP Championship. Among them are Cliff Jospehy (in 3rd place, as mentioned above), James Obst, one of Australia’s most renowned young pros who sits in 4th place at the moment, Tom Marchese (10th), who’s collected over $13 million in live poker cashes and is seeking his first WSOP bracelet, and Belgium’s Kenny Hallaert (9th), who hopes to mirror Mark Newhouse‘s performance last year as a back-to-back WSOP Main Event final tablist.
At this point, each member of the final 27 is guaranteed to scoop a minimum of $269,430 for their efforts, scaling to as high as $8 million for the 1st place winner come October. The electricity is gathering quickly at the Rio Las Vegas, where the cards will be dealt just a few minutes from now (12 Noon PST). Kusha will appear in seat 5 at Table 1.
Today’s action will determine the final 9. Best of luck to our friend Chris Kusha and everyone else with dreams of adorning their wrist with the coveted 2016 WSOP Championship Bracelet!