WSOP Main Event: Collective tension

wsop2009_thn.gifTournament poker is a game of stress and tension, where a single wrong decision can be the difference between a million and an eternal regret. For the most part, though, at least in the very early stages, the pressure is exerted and endured at the personal level. Your misstep will cost you alone dear, and profit a solitary opponent.

Not so in the passage of play we are now entering. It is bubble time at the World Series of Poker Main Event, which means eliminations now are all the more crucial and all the more cruel. After three and a half days of breakneck play, there are 650 players left in the Amazon Room. The tournament structure dictates that the top 10 percent of the 6,494 starters will make money, ergo another small handful will not.

As a result, the tension and pressure now becomes collective. Shame and demoralization is now flashed across blogs and television screens and announced over the tournament microphone. When the last player busts out of the money, there will be a whoop and a round of applause filled with relief tinged with genuine delight. And it will sound about as cheery to one player as a bar of industrial noise placed directly on their eardrum.

Part of this collective intensity is as a result of tournament rules. As the bubble approaches, the convention is for hand-for-hand play, which means play on all 73 tables must be synchronized. Dealers are only permitted to begin another hand when given the all-clear from the tournament officials. This precludes players from stalling and hoping to inch into the money at the cost of another player on a quicker table.

Typically this is the most fraught moment of any day. The term "bubble" is beautifully appropriate. It is something so fragile and easily burst that to do so seems a violation of natural order. And yet it inevitably will happen, and leaving stinging soap suds on one unfortunate face, and leaving the others to marvel at the rainbow colors.

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Such is the drama, that all spectators were removed from the middle aisles separating the tables when 20 players were still due to bust before the money. Then all the media were exiled at ten players remaining. And then, in a new twist, the tournament director Jack Effel said that he would give a penalty to any player standing up during hand-for-hand play. It's that tense.

As I write this very sentence here, they need to lose another two players. Take a glance below at our "OF THE HOUR" bubble specials to see what happened.

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The bubble still hasn't burst. So have some of this.

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The Team PokerStars Pro Hevad Khan bust just before the money. He got it all in pre-flop with A-K against aces and was eliminated. The former final table players Peter Eastgate, Joe Hachem and Dennis Phillips are still alive, but there won't be a four-way repeat final table appearance.w

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PokerStars qualifier Ron Wasiel playing in his first-ever World Series of Poker and sitting on just barely more than 100,000 chips. In the understatement of the year, he said, "If I could cash in my first World Series, that would be good."

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In the last level, Kevin Saul's flopped set got beat by runner-runner. The winning player screamed and wagged his finger in Saul's face. Later, the finger-waggler--who wasn't even in the subsequent hand--called the clock on Saul after he had been thinking for less than two minutes. When asked how Saul had restrained himself from attacking Finger Man, Saul said simply, "I'm cool like that. I'm not going to let him  get to me." In related news, Finger Boy has now been issued a penalty and is being forced to sit out on the bubble.

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During hand-for-hand, players have been asked to stay in their seats between deals. These people ignored the request: Patrick Bruel, Dennis Phillips, Joe Sebok, Kelly Kim, Scott Ian, and about six dozen other people.

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Reporter to Ben Kang: Are you still in?
Ben Kang: Yeah.
Reporter: Are you gonna make it?
Ben Kang: Yeah