WSOP Main Event Money Bubble Bursts; Several Stars Still in Contention

In a poker tournament of any magnitude, there comes a point where the friendly banter subsides, as the next elimination will send somebody home on the dreaded “money bubble.”

In poker parlance, this simply refers to the last player in the field to leave without a prize, and every tournament produces an unfortunate bubble boy (or gal) forced to watch giddy survivors celebrate their demise.

As one might imagine, the money bubble at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event is among the more intense situations in the game – as demonstrated by last night’s Day 3 festivities.

When play began on Thursday there were 2,572 players still holding chip stacks, but those numbers dwindled steadily throughout the day. Ahead of the action, tournament directors informed the field that they’d be playing through until the money had been made – meaning 1,084 players would be left in the fray.

Over the next 14 hours, well-known pros like Mike Matusow, Jason Mercier, Brian Rast, Sam Greenwood, and Adrian Mateos were all cut down. Joining them on the rail was a foursome of former Main Event winners, as Joe Hachem, Johnny Chan, Tom McEvoy, and Greg Raymer all lost the last of their chips.

For Raymer, who won poker’s most prestigious prize back in 2004, the end was particularly egregious. In two consecutive hands, “Fossil Man” faced maximum poker torture.

First, he lost a chunk of change with pocket tens to pocket sixes when his opponent spiked a set on the river. Next, after waking up with pocket kings and seeing an open and call in front, Raymer jammed his last 80,000 or so forward. He was called in one spot by pocket nines, but once again the deck delivered a two-outer to Raymer’s opponent, who flopped a set of nines. No help came on the turn or river, and Raymer took to Twitter to vent his frustrations:

“Just a devastating pair of hands. Oh, what might have been.”

When the clock had moved past midnight and into Friday morning, the field had finally shrunk to 1,086 players – putting the Rio on the precipice of a raucous celebration. Two more eliminations were needed before those left with chips would secure a coveted Main Event cash – and the $15,000 guaranteed payout along with it.

With tournament officials overseeing hand-for-hand play, in which every table deals a single hand in synchrony to determine final finishing order, a series of short-stacked all-ins played out that the PokerNews live updates team captured for posterity.

Roger Campbell peeked down at big slick in the big blind, and after calling an open, his Ah-Kc looked even prettier on the 9h-7h-2h flop. He held two overs and the nut flush draw, good enough to lead out for 15,000 and look for a quick fold.

Kenny Shih had other ideas, however, popping it to 65,000, only to see Campbell slide his last 225,000 forward. Shih committed the calling chips and tabled Qh-10h for a flopped flush, leaving Campbell in search of the deck’s remaining seven hearts. The turn and river were both bricks though, sending Campbell out of the Main Event just short of the money.

But the drama continued at several other tables, with a pair of all-in players surviving their showdown to stay in the tournament.

A third all-in was made by Quan Zhou, a high-stakes cash game player hailing from China, with the final board reading 10d-Jc-10h-7h-Kh. Facing off against Belgian pro and three-time bracelet winner Davidi Kitai, Zhou went for the big over-bet on the river, shoving 376,000 into a pot containing just over 200,000.

Kitai snap-called and tabled his Ks-Kd with a flourish, having made a full house on the river, while Zhou had only Ad-9d for the stone-cold bluff.

Because both players technically exited on the same hand, Campbell and Zhou were invited to a side table for one last hand – a random deal to decide who would be the official 1,085th place bubble boy. That player would receive a rebate in the form of a free $10,000 entry to next year’s Main Event, while the other would head home empty-handed.

Zhou wound up taking down the random hand, so he’ll be back next year for a Main Event freeroll.

Day 4 brings back 1,084 players for the Main Event’s “moving day,” as short-stacks who secured a cash will be shoving and praying, while big stacks gobble them up in preparation for a deep run.

Leading the pack will be Patrick Lavecchia with his 1,552,000 chips, although Pawel Brzeski (1,546,000), Antoine Saout (1,529,000), and Jeremiah Fitzpatrick (1,523,000) are all within striking distance. The rest of the top-10 includes Derek Bowers (1,376,000), Mickey Craft (1,345,000), Edward Nassif (1,345,000), Scott Blumstein (1,340,000), Artan Dedusha (1,288,000), and Greg Dyer (1,276,000).

Among the recognizable names with a shot at making a deep Main Event run are Kitai (1,116,000), 888 Poker Ambassadors Sofia Lovgren (996,000) and Dominik Nitsche (829,000), five-time bracelet holder Allen Cunningham (427,000), and 1998 Main Event champion Scotty Nguyen (232,000).

You can follow all the action via the PokerGo live stream between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Las Vegas local time, before coverage shifts to ESPN-2 between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.