WSOP 2017: All we know is how much we do not know
The second phase of final table play is now under way in the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event. We'll be bringing you updates from the Brasilia Room of the Rio Hotel & Casino at approximate hourly intervals, but here's something we're happy to admit: we've absolutely no idea how many of these there are going to be tonight, nor what they are likely to be reporting. It's futile trying to predict anything about this game, even something apparently so simple as how long it's going to last.
As discussed, there's no denying that last night's abrupt end to play took most people in the Brasilia Room by surprise. It was right around 11pm and Dan Ott had just made an agonised fold, yielding a pot to Scott Blumstein. And then Jack Effel, clearly responding to a direction he heard through his earpiece, said, "Okay, fellas. Back here tomorrow at five-thirty." And that was it.
Thinking about it while wandering back down the Rio's convention corridor last night, the sense of the apparently snap decision gradually emerged. Four players have stacks of fewer than 20 big blinds and, in theory, they could all be knocked out in less than an hour. That kind of eventuality would make for a mighty short night of television coverage, possibly not even enough to fill the two-hour prime-time ESPN1 slot allocated to the WSOP, from 9-11pm ET.
That's one possibility. But there's another scenario--equally likely, one suspects--that instead of busting immediately, the short-stacks double up, possibly through chip-leader Blumenstein. It is not impossible for, let's say, Antoine Saout to double in the first level, then John Hesp to do so a few hands later. And why not Damian Salas or Dan Ott too?
In that scenario, Blumstein would still just about lead, but neither he nor any of his opponents (including Bryan Piccioli and Benjamin Pollak, who are already comfortable) would need to be reckless. They have all shown a tendency to date to err on the side of caution, and it could make for a long night tonight as we still aim to get down to three.
This is arguably the most obvious lesson we have learned from covering the final tables of major tournaments over the years: it's very, very difficult to predict how long they will last.
On the one hand, you sometimes have the kind of performance turned in by Stephen Graner in Prague where, as overwhelming chip-leader, he quickly knocked out everyone else. On the other hand, you could end up with an Elliot Smith vs. Terry Tang from Macau this year, where we had a 10-and-a-half hour heads up battle, contributing to a 13-hour final.
By far and away the most important factor is not players' skills or even stack sizes. It's the way the cards fall. It explains why press-room conversations in the hours running up to the resumption of play today have found people predicting all of the following: two super quick nights ahead; a quick night tonight, followed by a long night tomorrow; a long night tonight, followed by a quick night tomorrow; and two long nights ahead.
For all that, we can at least take a look at how previous comparable finals played out. The WSOP Main Event has had 50,000-chip starting stacks for only two years prior to this, so it's really only those two that are relevant.
In 2015, when Joe McKeehen steam-rollered the final three days, the tournament only made it to Level 39. Last year, when Qui Nguyen rose through the ranks to win, overhauling Cliff Josephy's chip lead, it made it to Level 43--fully six hours more.
Last night, play finished at roughly the mid-point of Level 38, and there are slightly more chips in play this year. With breaks for adverts and various other delays associated with a live television broadcast, a two-hour tournament level is lasting about three hours of real time. (They're seeing about 15 hands an hour.)
It could very easily mean another couple of days lasting around six hours each. But, yet again it's worth repeating, that could very easily not be the case as well.
Previous WSOP Main Event finals (50K starting stacks)
2015 - Level 39 (Chips in play: 321 million)
2016 - Level 43 (Chips in play: 337 million)
2017 - Level ?? (Chips in play: 361 million)
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.