WSOP Main Event: Squeezing tighter

wsop2009_thn.gifThe chatter among media representatives and tournament officials over the past couple of days has usually included the following line: "Yeah, but it's certain to slow down soon." The observation refers to the furious pace of eliminations since the bubble burst on Saturday; we have shed more than 450 players in what amounts to little more than four levels, meaning two days have been called to a premature close.

No one, however, seems to have told the players. Although seasoned tournament observers predicted a slight hurry-up in the post-bubble period, none expected the extent of the flurry, and even in yesterday's closing stages, players were still getting all their chips in the middle, despite the relatively low blind levels. There's a chance that overnight, the remaining players have made calculations based on "M" and the like, or read the countless internet forums where this is being discussed, but we really cannot be sure.

The loose target today is likely to be a reduction from 185 to about 90, with between four and five levels of play scheduled. So far, though, we have paid scant regard to these schedules, and today may be no different.

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Tournament staff unbag chips at the start of day six

What we do know is this: today will another crucial passage of play, again featuring countless stars of the game. For Team PokerStars Pro, Noah Boeken now leads the charge and the table draw has put him right next to his countryman and colleague Thierry van den Berg. Expect "Double Dutch" headlines throughout the day. Dennis Phillips and Joe Hachem are also on the same table: Phillips was in or around the tournament chip lead this time last year, taking it all the way to November's final table. On day six in 2005, Hachem was already champion.

Our braniacs are today centred on Peter Eastgate. Not since Greg Raymer and Hachem returned in 2005 and 2006, respectively, has a defending Main Event champion even reached the money. We are now attempting to figure out in what place Eastgate will need to finish in this monstrous field to outdo his colleagues as the most successful returning hero. Have no doubt, this is already a terrific achievement from the Dane, and it is now just a case of by how much can he surpass all expectations.

And then there's ElkY. After a wonderful day three, when he flew to the top of the leaderboard, the Frenchman endured a difficult day four and five. But Bertrand Grospellier still has in the neighbourhood of a million chips. That's enough to make a comeback surge.

All this, plus the obvious focus on those PokerStars qualifiers still in the mix. Remember the names Affleck, Akenhead, Ramage, Shou and plenty more. They could be household names come November.

Play is due to begin at noon, Vegas time. We are ready.