WSOP 2011: Desert wind disappears under PokerStars flag

wsop2011-thumb-blog.pngTen thousand dollars buys you three guarantees in the World Series of Poker. You'll get a starting stack of chips, a chair, and at least one hand of poker. Beyond that, what happens goes far beyond the borders of a guarantee and into the hinterlands of hope and fate.

There were years--heady times when the WSOP field has nearly as many PokerStars flag-bearers as not--when everyone could expect to find a big red spade on the chests of at least a couple WSOP final table players. It was anything but surprise when the eventual champion also could boast of being a part of Team PokerStars Pro.

But again, there are only three guarantees at the World Series, and a seat at the final table isn't one of them. Sometimes fate reminds everybody of that when they are least expecting it.

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There hasn't been a time we've laid eyes on Phillip Gruissem that he wasn't wearing a black fleece jacket. He zipped it up over his Adam's apple and sat stoic in his chair. At any moment, he could've replaced the Amazon Room with a ski slope in the Alps and fit in just as well.

Gruissem's certain sameness from day to day led us to believe he would never change. Like a billboard on the highway or cow in the pasture, it was just assumed he would always be there and would always look the same.

So, imagine how unsettling it might be to see Gruissem stand from his chair, unzip his the jacket, and reveal what he was wearing underneath. Consider how unsettling it might be to see the long-sleeved black shirt under the fleece make it look as if Gruissem was wearing the exact same thing as always. Now, consider how uncomfortable it would be to see him remove that shirt and reveal yet another black shirt underneath. It was like a German poker player's version of Chinese dolls or a long black onion that peeled and peeled into an infinity of sameness.

All of this would have seemed like some odd hallucination if not for the fact it was Gruissem's undressed denouement to the 2011 WSOP. The man who was always there was now going to disappear into a void as black as his clothes. After seven days of Main Event play, Gruissem got it all in with a pair of sevens. Christopher Moore called with A♠T♠. The T♥ hit on the flop and Gruissem couldn't suck out. The man who won his PokerStars Main Event Passport for $700 walked out in 28th place for $242,636.


Phillip Gruissem on his way to finishing in 28th place

"I like the total lack of emotion from both players," said a drinker on the rail.

It was true. Anyone trying determine who had won the hand by reading Moore's or Gruisssem's face would've found themselves lacking. For once, the rail drinkers were right, oracles in a roomful of guessers. If only they could have foretold what was happening to JP Kelly. The Team PokerStars Pro from the UK had his hardest day yet.

"I lost a 6.6 million pot with AK versus JJ and bluffed into quads earlier," he explained.

That left him with ten big blinds going into the last level of the night. He called for a comeback. It didn't happen. Less than half an hour into the last level of the night, Kelly pushed his last 1,115,000 and J♦T♥ into Andrey Pateychuk's A♠A♣. The flop offered some hope, but the board ran out2♦J♠3♠7♦Q♠. Kelly went bust in 26th place for $302,005.


Team PokerStars Pro JP Kelly

Kelly and Gruissem were PokerStars' last great hopes as the WSOP Day 7 players went to the dinner break. Before them, the players who had started the day, Per Linde, Sebastian Ruthenberg, Andrew Brokos, and Tony Hachem, had all fallen early on Day 7, a day that promised so much more jazz than rock and roll.

Just like that, the hard desert wind that's been blowing so hard against the PokerStars flag disappeared. With 25 players remaining in the field, the Team PokerStars Pros and qualifiers have all gone to the cage.


Tony Hachem walks to the cage

In the Amazon Room, there are three tables of people who still believe in miracles. They are people who have forgotten about those three guarantees and hope for much, much more. The nicest thing we can do at this hour is let them continue to believe.

And wish them the best of luck.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker