WSOP 2011: Close to the money as tension rises in Las Vegas
The money is now so close that the survivors can smell it. After three long days at the tables, they've now got just a few more hours to tip-toe to the bubble, the excruciating yet exhilarating period that only ends when one person leaves with nothing and 693 others will be overjoyed to see him or her go. No-one will spare a thought for that poor soul who slinks off, wild cheers and clapping ringing out from the Amazon Room behind.
The bubble boy/girl will miss out on $19,359 by the narrowest of margins. For those left in, that money will be in the bag, and they'll then set about navigating a safe path through the pay jumps, all the way up to the $8.7 million that's sitting in a well-guarded safe somewhere waiting for the winner.
After playing through Day 1 and Day 2, today's Day 3 was all about building a stack that would carry them through that torturous bubble period tomorrow without too much pain. That was always going to mean big casualties on the way and as a result, we lost over half of the day's starting field of 1,865. If the Main Event were part of a film, the Rio would have been the scene for one of those bloody battles in Braveheart; carcasses everywhere but no mooning Scotsmen. Not that I saw, anyway.
While the players felled each other in a blur of maces, swords and arrows, the tables broke at a breathtaking rate. First the white section in the Pavilion, the overspill room for the Amazon, then the neighboring black section became deserted. Day 4 will see everyone contained in the Amazon Room, guaranteeing maximum tension and nervous excitement.
Players started today refreshed after the day off yesterday, with Ben Lamb leading the field with just over 500,000. It would take nearly three levels before our first player shot through the one million chip mark, Patrick Poirier from the US having that honor.
While today was the first time the field had converged following the split day ones and twos, there were was another important first: ESPN screening the feature table live with hole cards, albeit on a 30-minute delay. It messed with the tournament schedule a little bit (dinner was extended to two hours, for example), but opening poker of this standard to a live TV audience, something the PokerStars did at the PCA and EPT Madrid, has to be a good thing.
As the crucial stage of the tournament drew near, PokerStars was well represented. From Team PokerStars Online, Jorge Arias and Andrew Brokos showed their game is not restricted to the clicking of a mouse, although Arias was to fall late on.
From the ranks of Team PokerStars Pro, we chronicled the progress of Tony Hachem, a man who has stepped out of his brother Joe's shadow following recent good scores. We watched the table featuring Vanessa Rousso and Dennis Phillips, where Rousso was enjoying running up her 40,000 starting stack to 260,000. Then we turned the spotlight on JP Kelly, whose Twitter feed today was a blizzard of run-good as he worked his way up from 99,000 to around 490,000 mid-way through the last level.
A final look at Team PokerStars players still in the mix included Daniel Negreanu, who had been on the main feature table all day, Martin Hruby and Sebastian Ruthenberg on a healthy stack of around 890,000. Humberto Brenes and Sandra Naujoks were hanging on towards play's end. Those lost from the Team PokerStars stable include Jason Mercier, Joe Cada, Vicor Ramdin, Tom McEvoy and Friend of PokerStars Jason Alexander.
McEvoy and Cada were two of a clutch of former champs to fall. We were there, however, when the 2002 WSOP champion Robert Varkonyi's tournament life was saved by a river card. Towards the end of play, he was one of only three past champions still standing, the others being Berry Johnston and Phil Hellmuth.
And so now with today's Day 3 drawing to a close, it gets deadly serious. Tomorrow we reconvene at noon, in one room and with the television cameras rolling to see the bubble burst and the money kick in. Until then, it's good night from the Rio in Las Vegas. We'll leave you with a chat with Daniel Negreanu...