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Best of Vin Narayanan

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The bubble finally bursts at a tension-filled WSOP Day 3

11 July 2008

LAS VEGAS -- The bubble popped at 11:24 p.m.

After eight hours of play and a seven-hand hand-for-hand circus Thursday night, the World Series of Poker Main Event field reached 666 players -- all of whom will cash in the tournament.

Hong Kong's Steve Chung finished in 667, one place out of the money. Milwaukee's Best Light, the title sponsor of the World Series, awarded him a $10,000 buy-in into next year's Main Event for his near miss. Chung began play Friday with 212,700 in chips.

The Main Event began with a field of 6,844 players. And after six days of action, 1,308 players remained in the hunt for a piece of the $6,4333,600 prize-pool.

Main_Event_Crowd

The fans, the cameras and fellow players crowd a table after an all-in call was made late Thursday night at the WSOP Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

After three levels, the "Day 3" field had been winnowed to 733 players, and the bubble watch began.

While the players were on a 90-minute dinner break, the tournament floor in the Amazon Room had been reconfigured so the WSOP staff could easily keep an eye on the eliminations. And when the players returned from their meals, they found 75 tables spread out in an L-formation.

The shorts stacks tightened up their play and rarely played hands, hoping to win at least the $21,230 prize that goes to the 666th-place finisher. And the big stacks became aggressive, looking to pick up chips from players just trying to make the money.

Sweden's Steffan Mattsson and 2007 final tableist Hevad Kahn won several pots during this period by eliciting folds with large raises and re-raises.

As the players jockeyed for position, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel announced hand-for-hand play would begin when there were 675 players remaining.

The crowd began to build, as parents, spouses, friends and loved ones poured into the room, crowding the rail, hoping to watch their player cash in the Main Event.

One woman asked a reporter to get a chip count for her, while others pushed to get near the ropes so they could talk with players in between hands.

At 10:05 p.m., the field reached 674, when two people busted out at the same time. Then Effel announced it was time for hand-by-hand play -- poker's version of mortal combat.

Each dealer was to deal one hand, Effel instructed. And after each hand was completed, the dealer needed to stand up so Effel could tell the hand had been completed. After all the dealers completed their hands, Effel would order all the dealers to deal out the next hand.

If a player went all in and was called during the course of hand-by-hand play, the dealer had to wait for the ESPN cameras to arrive to film the potential elimination. The TV producer would then take control of the table, telling the dealer when to deal the next cards, and when to move onto to the next hand.

Players were instructed not to leave their tables and not to stand up so Effel could see the entire floor. The media, except for ESPN and one PokerNews reporter, were told to clear the aisles and the let the TV crews do their work.

But things didn't quite go according to plan. As players finished their hands, they all got up to see what was going on around them. And every time a dealer announced an all-in call, players from throughout the room would rush over to the table in question and jockey for position with the TV crews and other reporters to watch the action.

The players short on chips didn't have the luxury of following the action elsewhere though. They were too busy trying to survive.

"This is torture; it's like some kind of cruel medieval experiment," said a short-stacked George Wedemeyer from Chicago as he walked away from a completed hand during hand-by-hand play. "I had jacks under the gun and had to fold'em. It's idiotic, but I had to do it. You gotta do what you gotta do, no matter how bad you don't want to."

Wedemeyer, who was knocked out during the 13th hour of Day 1 last year, ended up cashing.

Main_Event_Crowd

Victor Ramdin -- and his massage therapist -- zero in on an opponent's hand during Thurday's Day 3 play at the Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

Cleveland's Craig Stein had around 120,000 in chips going in to hand-by-hand play, so he was "pretty sure" he was going to cash.

"At that point of the tournament it's not poker, it's simply a game of survival," Stein said. "Everybody who isn't 100 percent sure that they're going to be in the money is in fold mode. It's frustrating, but it is what it is."

Stein, who was playing in the Main Event for the first time, said that on the second to last hand before the bubble burst, the chip leader at his table made a huge raise (around 80,000) on a guy who would have had to have gone all in if he called. The guy thought about, but folded and then flipped over Kings. As the leader scooped up the chips, he turned over 10-8.

Paul Vicary of London was a short stack at Table Blue 23. As the hand-for-hand combat was going on, he looked like a nervous father-to-be sitting in the maternity waiting room. He was constantly looking at his watch, taking deep breaths and then staring at the tournament clock. He didn't play one single hand during the hand-by-hand play.

"It was a bit tense, that's for sure," he said. "Your hands are tied. Your really can't play your game. It takes a toll on you. There's a lot of mental strain. But I made it. I'm in. Now it's time to get busy."

While the short-stacked players struggled to survive, the chip leaders enjoyed not having to deal with the bubble stress.

"What I like about poker is when you have the chips, you're chatty and happy," said Victor Ramdin, summing up the day for his table. "But when you don't have the chips, you shut the hell up."

Chip leaders: Jeremy Joseph 1.47 million, Jeremiah Smith 1.3 million, Owen Crowe 1 million, Dag Martin Mikkelsen 930,000 and Mark Ketteringham 912,000.

Notable eliminations:Rolf Slotboom, Chau Giang, Vanessa Rousso, Men Nguyen, Thor Hansen, Bill Gazes, Brandon Adams, Nenad Medic, Alexander Kravchenko, Toto Leonidas, Matt Glantz, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, Patrik Antonius and Chris Moneymaker.

Gary Trask contributed to this report

The bubble finally bursts at a tension-filled WSOP Day 3 is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.