by Brad Willis and Michelle Willis
He had $30,000 in student loans. He's supposed to defend his master's thesis next week. Just yesterday, he was donating his time to take notes for the PokerStars Blog.
This morning, Quillan Nagel is $1 million richer.
This entire event started last summer with each PokerStars player getting a free ticket to the $2.5 Million Moneymaker Freeroll. Over the course of the next several months, the event would see 800,000 entries battling through three rounds of massive tournaments. Only twenty-seven players would make it to the Bahamas to compete for a minimum of $5,000 and an almost unthinkable $1 million first prize.
It started just after 11am on Saturday. It would take sixteen hours for 27 players to turn into one. Every one of the players had an amazing story. From a man giving his wife's dying son a trip to the Bahamas, to a Subway worker in search of poker stardom, to a 50-something man who was making his first-ever trip to a casino, the final 27 were a diverse and aspiring group.
Getting through from three tables to heads up play was an adventure larger than the whole of the Atlantis Resort. For hours upon hours, players looked into each other's eyes and tried to decide whether calling would result in them winning enough to pay for one semester of a state university or give them a chance to call themselves a millionaire. The entire day was captured in full on the Moneymaker Millionaire Live Blog.
Ultimately it would come down to two players--a former dancer turned master's student from Canada and a two-time University of North Florida Student Body President.
Quillan Nagel's wife is an actress. She's the type of woman who is paid to cry on cue. What we saw tonight was no act. Lisa was crying and quivering as her husband was declared the winner.
How did it happen?
It was a surprise to nearly everybody in the room. The players began heads-up play with nearly even stacks. Though their stacks weren't incredibly deep, there was a lot of play left. Still, it happened just like this:
On the button, Quillan raised to 15K and Jerry called. The flop came 7d 5h 7s. Jerry checked, Quillan bet 20K, an Jerry made it 40K to go. Quillan called. The turn was a 2h and Jerry pushed for 65K or so. Quillan though for maybe a minute before calling and showing K5. Jerry turned over QsTs for queen high. He had six outs and missed. Just like that, Jerry finished in second place and Quillan won a $1 million first prize.
The hand was enough of a surprise to everybody that, for a moment, no one was really sure if it had happened.
In fact, it did.
And, so, what of second place finisher Jerry Watterson?
Jerry says December was a hard month for him. He'd been practicing very hard for this tourney. He drove two hours away from home to play in a tournament with a similar structure. Looking back, he would like an opportunity to play some hands differently. He told us played a lot of garbage to build his stack and people are going to be surprised when they see his hole cards on TV. He spent the entire day setting up false tells and using them to his benefit. It propelled him to a heads up finish.
When we finally talked to his wife, also a Lisa, she said she knew her husband had a brilliant mind and she wasn't surprised. Nor were his friends at the NeverBeg poker forum, which he told us was a "great poker community." Jerry, though, was more humble. He said Quillan had a better read on him than anybody else in the event.
Jerry's wife said she was doing well after her husband finished second and earned $300,000. She said it would take her ten years to earn that kind of money as a teacher. They are going to buy a house with the money he won here.
In the end, though, it was a celebration for the Canadian. It was a series of little moments that were both dwarfed by the enormity of the prize, yet quaint in a way only a person like Nagel could offer.
When a reporter asked why he thought Canadians are better at poker than Americans, Quillan said, "It's because when it's cold and there's nothing better to do than play poker."
Later, Quillan's wife was getting ready to call her best friend when she got a text message from the friend that said, "Hi, sweetie. I need good news." Well, she had good news, but she couldn't reach her. We're not sure if she ever did. She couldn't even call her mother because she'd left her three-month-old baby there and didn't want to wake the child. All the while, her husband barely broke a sweat.
Quillan's wife said this is "so-Quillan." He never gets ruffled or riled about anything.
To meet Quillan Nagel is more than puzzling over his name or trying to figure out how a ballet dancer turned into a poker player. It's to meet 30-year-old man who has an incredible head on his shoulders. In dance, he told us, things go wrong and you have to deal with them. Poker is the same way, he said.
He's a rational man, with a giving spirit, and a ready smile. He's not the prototypical poker player. Appropriately, he's not prepared to decide what he'll do with the million bucks.
"I'm 30 years old," he said. "There's a lot of life out there."