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Best of Vin Narayanan
Money bubble bursts at WSOP Main Event12 July 2009
LAS VEGAS -- When you watch the World Series of Poker Main Event on TV, the most intriguing days are when the field has narrowed down to about 27 players and the chances a player might win or lose the entire tournament turn a on a single hand. When you watch the Main Event in person, the most exciting day is bubble day -- and it's not even close.
Bubble day is a little like watching those reality TV shows where contestants are hanging above a river, holding on to a still ring for dear life and hoping to maintain their grip long enough to make some money. Only in poker, contestants are looking for a way to desperately hold on to their chips long enough so that they'll win some money.
The starting field for this year's Main Event was 6,494 players. Entering play Saturday, 789 players were still alive -- all vying to become part of the final 648 that would receive part of the Main Event prize pool. The player that finished in 648th would receive $21,365. The player that finished in 649th would "bubble out" and not win a dime for his efforts in the $10,000 buy-in event. The winner of the Main Event will take home $8,546,435.
As play began Saturday, there were two distinctly different groups of players in the Amazon Room at the Rio. The "short stacks" in the room were desperately conserving chips, hoping 141 other players would bust out before they did. The "big stacks" thought they were going to make the money, so they were looking for ways to pick up chips from the conservative short stacks. But the big stacks had to be wary, because fortunes could turn quickly, as they did with Hevad Khan.
Khan appeared to be sitting pretty as the money bubble approached. He had over 250,000 in chips, and looked relaxed at the table. Khan, chatting amiably with a player seated next to him, agreed on a wager on when the money bubble would burst. Khan thought it would happen in the third level of the day. The other player thought it would happen during the second level (it happened during the second).
With player busting out all around him, Khan raised all in, holding an ace and king. His opponent, Norman Gautron, called with a pair of aces. The aces held up and crippled Khan.
"I trapped myself," Khan said quietly, almost to himself. Then he addressed the table. "That's poker," Khan said with a smile.
Two hands later, Khan was eliminated. He walked around the table with a gracious smile, shaking everyone's hand. Then he exited the Amazon Room, still stunned that his day was over.
As players like Khan fell by the wayside, anticipation at the Rio grew. Fans and players alike were keeping an eye on the blue screens that ringed tournament floor and listed how many players were left in the tournament. And the lower the number dropped, the more fans, friends and family there were to see which players would make the money.
With around 700 players left, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel picked up the microphone and let players know that hand-for-hand play would begin with 653 players remaining.
The first level of play Saturday ended with 658 players remaining. And ten minutes into the second level, hand-for-hand play began.
Hand-for-hand play in poker is like the shootout in hockey, or penalty kicks in soccer. It's high on drama, and it is as much about survival as it is about true skill.
In hand-for-hand action, dealers simultaneously deal a hand. Then, after each hand is completed, the dealer stands up to indicate to the tournament staff that their table has completed play. When all the dealers have stood up, the next hand can begin.
The purpose behind hand-for-hand play is so WSOP officials can accurately determine what hand a player busts out on. But what it also does is build up the drama surrounding heads-up confrontations, with every player in the room hoping that four people bust before they do.
In the first two hands of hand-for-hand play, two players were eliminated, leaving 651 players. In the third and fourth hands, no players were lost.
"It will happen today," Effel said of the money bubble bursting after no players were eliminated in hands three and four.
In hand five, two more players were lost, leaving 649 still in the tournament. The next player eliminated would be out of the money.
There were no elimination in hands six or seven, but there was plenty of drama.
In hand seven, Louisiana's Richard Harrington decided to put his tournament life on the line and pushed all in with pocket aces. His opponent, who had him covered, called with king-jack and the race was on. The flop gave Harrington's opponent two pair, but Harrington hit running deuces on the river for a better two-pair and stayed in the tournament.
"I'm going to kill him," Harrington's wife Wendy said when she realized it was her husband who had pushed all in. "He's a dead man walking," Wendy said with a smile as she tried to recover from the hand. Harrington stopped by a couple of minutes later to see how his wife was doing, and Wendy simply mouthed "I love you" to the player.
"This entire experience has been incredible and an emotional roller coaster," Wendy told Casino City. "To walk in here Friday to see all of those thousands of people and players and now be in the final 400, it's just amazing."
As hand-for-hand play went on, the crowd and the players got into the act. When David Russell and his short stack went all in with pocket aces, he found a caller holding ace-jack. The crowd, along with some players, started chanting "Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack." A jack did hit on the flop, but the aces ended up holding up as a smattering of boos were heard from the disappointed crowd.
The money bubble couldn't last forever, and in the 12th hand, it burst. Kia Hamadani had to ante up his last chip, and lost to a pair of nines. For bubbling out of the tournament, Jack Link's Beef Jerky is buying Hamadani into next year's Main Event.
Hamadani told reporters after his elimination that there is nothing he'd change about his experiences at the Main Event.
"I've had the time of my life," Hamadani said. "It's been so much fun. And I basically broke even by getting a $10,000 buy in."
After Hamadani's elimination, fans burst into applause and the 648 remaining players cheered their newfound riches. They had made the money at the World Series of Poker Main Event.
After the money bubble burst, the pace of eliminations from the tournament picked up again.
Among the notable players bounced from the tournament after players reached the money were Kristy Gazes, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth and Justin Bonomo.
Phil Ivey moved up the leaderboard Saturday has over 1.27 million in chips. Matt Affleck leads the tournament with just over 1.8 million in chips Ludovic Lacay and Tom Lutz are next on the leaderboard around 1.6 million in chips.
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