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Best of Vin Narayanan
Poker's biggest stars still alive in WSOP Main Event14 July 2009
LAS VEGAS -- My mission this afternoon when play resumed at the World Series of Poker Main Event was to hunker down in the stands and watch the ESPN featured table, enjoying the same experience as the rest of the poker fans in the Amazon Room in the Rio. But those plans had to wait for a couple of hours when I discovered Joe Hachem, J.C. Tran, Peter Eastgate and Dennis Phillips were all playing on the same table in the outer reaches of the room. And joining that magnificent foursome at the table were Billy Kopp, one of the chip leaders, and Thai Tran, who was fast becoming one of the big stacks in the room. This was obviously the table to watch.
Tran and the two former Main Event champs, Eastgate and Hachem, were seated next to each other and clearly on friendly terms, sharing a few a laughs and jokes together. Phillips, who had a player in between him and Tran, wasn't involved in the main conversation. But judging by the lighthearted banter at the table, they clearly liked and respected him.
Just moments after Phillips had won a big pot, he and Tran engaged in a hand. Tran ended up winning the tiny pot with a small post-flop bet. Phillips told Tran what he had and Tran laughed. "Just finish stacking your chips," Tran said with a smile.
Phillips had about a dozen of his friends following him along the rail. And as devoted as they were to the man from St. Louis, they were equally interested in getting pictures of all the stars at the table.
"Mr. Tran," shouted one fan. "Could you please move closer to the table so I could take a picture?"
Tran obliged and the photo was taken. Another Phillips fan was intent on getting a picture of Joe Hachem.
"Come on, move," said a fan, quietly urging a photographer to get out of the way. The photographer eventually moved, and the picture of the 2005 Main Event champ was snapped.
The action at the table was predictably conservative. Tran, Hachem and Eastgate were all nursing relatively short stacks and looking for opportunities to either double up or pick up chips.
Eastgate looked frustrated as he desperately looked for chances to double. He had taken to folding with an overhand slam of the cards. And at times, he just buried his head in his hands. But he kept grinding away, and picked up chips when he went all in with his ace-queen against pocket jacks. He hit an ace on the flop to double up and keep him in contention.
Tran thought he found an opportunity to double up early on. But when he turned up ace-king on an all in bet, his opponent had ace-king as well, and they chopped the pot.
Eventually, ESPN caught wind of the star power at this table. And after the first level of the day concluded, the players were moved to the ESPN featured table.
The change to the featured table didn't alter the pace or style of play. But it did change the atmosphere -- and the appearance of one player.
Kopp, who had started play sans sponsorship, showed up at the featured table wearing UltimateBet patches. And the crowd was electric. After watching relatively unknown players for two hours, they were ready for a table full of stars. The capacity crowd cheered and yelled for every big pot and showdown.
One of the fans in the crowd was poker pro Michael Carroll, who finished 27th in the Main Event last year.
"It was tough for me to be in the room," said Carroll, who busted out of the 2009 Main Event last week. "But I had to come and support Dennis (Phillips)."
"We became close last year," Carroll added. "I like Eastgate too. I got to know him as well. What they've done, making it this deep two years in a row is absolutely amazing."
After two hours of careful play at the featured table, fireworks erupted. First, Phillips eliminated Tran. Then Kopp took down Hachem. Both players exited to warm ovations from the standing-room crowd at the featured table. Eastgate was the last of the three short stacks at the table to exit, finishing in 78th place. He suffered a brutal beat on his last hand when his two-pair was topped when the board gave Kopp his fourth heart for a flush. Eastgate's title defense was the best by a defending Main Event champ since Greg Raymer finished 25th in 2005.
As much fun as the featured table was, the one moment of pure unadulterated joy that came out of Monday's action happened at table Green 152, adjacent to the featured tables. Leo Margets, one of the two remaining women in the field entering play today, went all in with her final 868,000 in chips with ace and king of clubs. Her opponent showed and ace-queen offsuit, and three clubs hit the board to give Margets the flush and a double-up.
Margets' reaction to the flush was priceless. First, she stared at the board open-mouthed. Then she jumped up and down for joy. Then she ran to the rail and unleashed a torrent of happy words in Spanish to her friends on the rail. In fact, she spoke so quickly the only word I was able to translate was "running." Then she went back to her seat and looked like she was about to cry. She didn't, but she came close. I can just picture Norm Chad in the ESPN telecast right now saying "there's no crying in poker."
Margets was all smiles for at least the next hour, hopping up to talk to her friends on the rail whenever she could. Later on in the night, Nichoel Peppe busted out of the tournament, making Margets the last woman standing in the tournament. Before leaving the tournament floor, Peppe gave Margets a hug and wished her luck for the rest of the tournament.
What will tomorrow bring? Who knows? But with Phil Ivey (6.3 million), Antonio Esfandiari (5.6 million), Tom Schneider (2.9 million) and Phillips (2.3 million) among the 64 players remaining in the tournament, the possibilities for magic are endless.
Three bonus photos from Day 6
Poker's biggest stars still alive in WSOP Main Event is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Best of Vin Narayanan