2008 World Series: At the eye of the storm

An hour or so ago, people returning to the Amazon Room from a rare step into the outside world were reporting something very peculiar. Here in the middle of the Nevada desert, in the heat of the summer and during a drought, there was a rainstorm. And with characteristic Las Vegan excess, it wasn't just any old rainstorm: a ten-yard dash could soak all clothes to transparent and people were diving into the swimming pool for shelter.

Under the sturdy roof of the Rio Convention Center, we were at least dry. But a different downpour that started last week showed no sign of abating, with players being eliminated from the main event of the World Series of Poker at a startling rate. By the second break of the day, at the end of level 24, just 44 players remained of the 79 that started the day. It didn't matter if you began with five chips or five million, the walk to the rail was equally brisk.

Thankfully, PokerStars players are a hardy bunch and have learnt to weather storms even more fierce than this one. Among those still sitting in dry clothes as all else washed away were David "Chino" Rheem, from Florida, Jamal Bunkuz, from Venezuela, and Jonathan Plens, from Canada. Each had at least a million in chips at last count, with Rheem in particular sitting pretty. He had 3,250,000.

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David 'Chino' Rheem

Rheem has been having a ball since arriving in Vegas. Not only did he take fifth place in a $5,000 hold 'em tournament in June for $93,624, but now he’s lying in 13th place in the main event. This is in addition to winning a super satellite in April for a $ 25,700 seat in the WPT Five Star World Poker Classic. The 28-year-old from Miami has enjoyed a string of tournament successes including five WSOP cashes in the past three years, most notably $327,981 for second place in a 2006 hold 'em event where he only succumbed after a five-hour heads-up battle with Allen Cunningham.


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Jamal Kunbuz

Jamal Bunkuz has been to Vegas many times but this is the first time he’s ever played in the World Series or, for that matter, any major poker tournament. Back home in Valencia, an industrial city in Venezuela, Jamal imports electronic goods for a living – and plays poker for fun in a local casino. He’s won a few tournaments there but those pay-outs have been around the $200 mark, not the $154,400 or more that he’s guaranteed here.

“I’m really enjoying it”, Bunkuz said. “And I’m also learning a lot too – particularly discipline, making the right decision at the right time.”

The 50-year-old father-of-three has also made plenty of friends here in Vegas, including Team PokerStars Pro Humberto Brenes. He now plans to renew that friendship in Punta del Este in Uruguay in August, where he’ll be playing in the Latin American Poker Tournament.


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Jonathan Plens

Canadian Jonathan Plens is best known online as “therookieqq9” and has had a string of good results in recent online tournaments including £24,640 - his biggest win to date – in a PokerStars $100 rebuy in April. He started playing five years ago and, until now, his greatest live success was second place for $95,118 in the Spring Poker Festival E-WSOP Trial in Vienna in 2006.

The 29-year-old former dealer from Toronto is good friends with Sorel Mizzi and Russell “rdcrsn” Carson who are both backing him in the WSOP. Mizzi said: “Jonathan is one of the most underrated players that there is online but he’s been crushing it for a while now and is starting to get the recognition he deserves. I’d say he’s certainly one of the top five players left in the field here at the World Series."