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Best of Vin Narayanan
LAS VEGAS -- The World Series of Poker Main Event is the biggest poker tournament in the world. It's also the biggest televised poker tournament in the world. And on Day 4 of the Main Event Friday, both sides of the equation were on display.
Play began shortly after 1 p.m., as the 474 remaining players tried to put themselves in position to reach the final table.
There was plenty of star power on display with the Phil Hellmuth roller coaster beginning the day at the ESPN featured table, Allen Cunningham gobbling up chips at ESPN's secondary table and Mike Matusow in one of the outer tables.
But the real interesting interplay between TV and poker came as players were eliminated from the tournament.
During the first two hours the day, there was about one elimination every minute. And each bust out was carefully choreographed scene designed to ensure that the players were paid out the right amount of money and the television cameras could capture any dramatic moments.
Any time a player went all in and was called, a dealer yelled "all-in call" and waited for WSOP supervisor to reach the table. Once the WSOP supervisor was there, he would check with an ESPN producer to see if the television cameras wanted to film the hand.
ESPN has several producers roaming the aisles in the Amazon room, wearing earpieces and microphones. If the producer decided the hand needed to be filmed, he'd toggle his microphone and ask for a camera crew to come over. Once the crew was set up, the producer would give the signal that play could continue.
If the ESPN producer indicated that they wouldn't be filming the hand, the supervisor would then allow play to continue uninterrupted.
If a player was eliminated, the WSOP supervisor would hand players a slip of paper telling him what place he had busted out in. The player then had to go to a "mini booth," where they presented their elimination slip, Total Rewards card and photo ID. The information was then entered into the system so the players could proceed to the registration desk to pick up their winnings and fill out the paperwork for taxes.
To the credit of the WSOP staff and ESPN, players rarely had to wait more than minute to see what there fates would be, and there was virtually no line at the mini booth despite the steady exodus of players from the tournament.
Among the players eliminated, there surprisingly little anger on display at the checkout center. Instead, the emotions ranged disappointment to some pride in finishing well and enjoying the experience.
Sweden's Stefan Mattsson, who had won over $457,000 at the last two WSOP Main Events, finished in 277th and said he was "very disappointed." But his most pressing issue at the moment was finding a bag he could carry his $35,383 that he won in. He needed to hop in a cab to keep his dinner reservation, but didn't think it was safe openly carrying the cash. Mattsson found what he was looking for in the media room, where he found a small brown bag with handles.
"No one will think I'm carrying money in this," said a smiling Mattsson, the only player to cash in the last three Main Events.
When Florida's Kevin Schaffel finished in 324th place, the disappointment was etched on his face.
"I was OK (in chips) most of the time," Schaffel told Casino City. "I reached 600,000 thousand yesterday before ending at around 400,000.
"The I went card dead and lost half of that in the first round today. It's really disappointing to come this far and get nothing today."
This was the fourth Main Event for Schaffel, whose best finish was 42nd in 2004 Main Event.
"Play was probably looser this year," Schaffel said. "I saw some bad play on occasion. But I never received any of the gifts I saw."
While Mattsson and Schaffel were disappointed with their finishes, Frank Browne was feeling pretty good about his Main Event experience.
"I basically learned how to play poker in cash games in Atlantic City," Browne said. "I've never been interested in tournaments. And I'd never played in tournament with more than a $300 buy in."
"This might change my mind," said 31-year-old from Somerdale N.J. "The players were extremely classy. And the experience was really great. They (the WSOP) do a really great job here."
Browne earned his buy-in by finishing first in a poker league he formed with 25 friends. Three other players in the league qualified by winning the season-ending tournament, but none of them cashed. He will be taking home half of the $28,950 prize he received for finishing 375th. The other half will be divided up among his friends in the poker league.
While Mattsson, Schaffel and Browne were allowed slip away from the Amazon Room without granting any TV interviews, Johnny Chan had no such luck.
When the two-time Main Event champ busted out, he got up from his chair and tried to exit through a side door. WSOP staff intercepted him and directed him to the mini-booth to process his paperwork. Then ESPN grabbed for an interview, and Chan explained to the camera what went wrong at this year's event.
Notable eliminations: Johnny Chan, Stefan Mattsson, Evelyn Ng, Hevad Kahn, Dag Martin Mikkelsen, Maya Geller-Antonius, Cliff Josephy, Jean-Robert Bellande and Brian Schaedlich.
Notable chip counts: Jeremy Joseph, 2.1 million, Cristian Dragomir, 2.065 million, Shawn Sheikhan, $1.5 million, Gus Hansen, Victor Ramdin 1.35 million, 1.36 million, Allen Cunningham, 1.27 million, Jeff Madsen, 770,000, Phil Hellmuth, 570,000 and Mike Matusow, 550,000.