WSOP 2017: Poker mythbusting: Is Day 4 'Moving Day'?

Followers of poker tournaments sometimes talk of "moving day"--supposedly a particular day on which the dominant players make a big move up the chip counts and set themselves up for a run at the title.

But here's a confession from someone who has been covering poker tournaments for more than a decade: I can never remember what day "moving day" actually is.

A Google search suggests it's usually the day after to money bubble bursts, which would make it Day 4 at these epic WSOP Main Events. But is there any evidence to suggest that Day 4 actually influences the eventual results? I'm sceptical.

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Eugene Kotlyareveskiy: Big mover so far on Day 4

Based on the crammed elevators and lines at the hotel registration desk this morning, I can confirm that this, Friday, is moving in and moving out day. (The former is for regular Vegas-goers starting their weekend; the latter is for WSOP players who missed the money and will now, regrettably, actually make their pre-arranged flights.)

However, I'm not certain if this is the day when future world champions start heading up the counts. So join me, please, as we attempt to determine what kinds of moves have been made on Day 4 of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Grab your dust masks, we're heading into the archives.

2016

At the start of Day 4 in 2016, the top ten chip counts looked like this:

1. Kenny Hallaert - 1,709,000
2. Jared Bleznick - 1,607,000
3. Duy Ho - 1,480,000
4. Kilian Kramer - 1,400,000
5. Mark Zullo - 1,390,000
6. Myung Mike Shin - 1,385,000
7. Antonio Esfandiari - 1,381,000
8. Nolan King - 1,355,000
9. Jasthi Kumar - 1,351,000
10. Marc-Andre Ladouceur - 1,302,000

The first thing we can immediately notice here is that only one of the top ten would eventually go on to make the November Nine: Kenny Hallaert, who finished sixth. It means that the other nine certainly did move, but in the wrong direction.

At this stage, Gordon Vayo, the eventual runner up, was in 592nd place, Cliff Josephy was in 414th, Michael Ruane was in 41st, Vojtech Ruzicka was in 121st, and Griffin Benger was in 45th. Qui Nguyen actually wasn't yet even on the official chip-count lists. He was likely among the "Did Not Report" contingent, which usually represents an admin error of some kind, or illegible writing on a bag.

If we then look at the top ten for the start of Day 5, we can see something perhaps even more interesting--if total wipeouts to is the kind of thing that turns you on.

1. Bryan Piccioli - 4,026,000
2. Daniel Colman - 3,711,000
3. Thomas Miller - 3,684,000
4. Pierre Merlin - 3,396,000
5. Farhad Jamasi Ocoee - 3,380,000
6. Goran Mandic Zagreb - 3,216,000
7. Adi Abugazal - 3,180,000
8. Daniel Zack - 3,085,000
9. Melanie Weisner - 3,078,000
10. Tom Middleton - 3,025,000

Take a look at that: absolutely nobody who went on to win more than $1 million is anywhere near the top of the counts. In fact, Benger was the highest-placed eventual November Niner in the end of Day 4 counts. He was in 24th place. Qui Nguyen still wasn't appearing. Vayo was in 127th, Josephy was 84th, Ruane was 118th, Ruzicka was 149th and Hallaert had dipped to 69th.

This is beginning to look pretty bad for the theory that Day 4 is moving day, but let's haul out another dust-covered box and see what happened in 2015.

2015

Here's how the top 10 lined up at the start of Day 4 in 2015:

1. Amar Anand - 1,139,000
2. Joseph McKeehen - 1,052,000
3. Brian Hastings - 1,034,500
4. Fedor Holz - 994,000
5. Jason Roberts - 948,000
6. Emmanuel Lopez Caballito
7. Jake Toole - 940,000
8. Chad Power - 917,500
9. Stephen Graner - 916,000
10. Dmitry Chop - 901,500

And here's how it lined up at the end:

1. Joseph McKeehen - 3,122,000
2. Upeshka De Silva - 3,067,000
3. Erasmus Morfe - 2,502,000
4. Brian Hastings - 2,464,000
5. Thomas Cannuli - 2,271,000
6. Charles Chattha - 2,157,000
7. Jewook Oh - 2,153,000
8. Jay Sharon - 2,118,000
9. Jake Toole - 2,106,000
10. Mozheng Guan - 2,034,000

Fairly quickly, Joe McKeehen's name leaps from both top 10s. The eventual champion did all his moving quickly in 2015 and then simply set up shop towards the top of the counts. Thomas Cannuli has also made his move. Cannuli, who went on to place in sixth, was 57th at the start of Day 4, but fifth at its end.

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Tom Cannuli: Big Day 4 mover in 2015

Cannuli, who is also running up a stack this year, is the exception. There's not a single other eventual November Niner who made any kind of significant move on Day 4. Josh Beckley was in 68th, Neil Blumenfield was in 93rd, Max Steinberg was in 46th, Pierre Neuville was in 77th, Frederic Butteroni was in 21st and Patrick Chan in 92nd. Zvi Stern was hovering in 16th; he was closing in.

2014

In 2014, it was a very unfamiliar list of names at the top of the chip-counts at the start of Day 4 (with the exception of Stephen Graner, who has been in the Day 4 top 10 in two different years):

1. Andrew Liporace - 1,128,000
2. Mehrdad Yousefzadeh - 1,124,000
3. Raul Mestre - 988,500
4. Jesse Wilke - 975,500
5. Scott Blackman - 935,000
6. Andoni Larrabe - 923,000
7. Stephen Graner - 911,000
8. Per Karlsson - 891,000
9. Rasmus Larsen - 883,000
10. Roman Valerstein - 850,500

The same can mostly be said of the leaders at the end of the day too--at least with regard to the eventual November Nine. Although this one is not a total bust:

1. Matthew Haugen - 2,808,000
2. Zach Jiganti - 2,364,000
3. Griffin Benger - 2,329,000
4. Michael Finstein - 2,316,000
5. Bruno Politano - 2,289,000
6. Dan Smith - 2,229,000
7. Andoni Larrabe - 2,195,000
8. Kyle Keranen - 2,157,000
9. Farid Jattin - 2,122,000
10. Pakinai Lisawad - 2,088,000

Benger and Dan Smith are obviously household names in the world of poker, but they whiffed the WSOP final table in 2014. Only Andoni Larrabe, the eventual sixth-placed finisher, and Bruno Politano, who came eighth, was in the top 10 at the end of Day 4. Larrabe had actually moved there before Day 4 began, however.

Of the others who ended up playing for the $10 million first prize, Martin Jacobson, the eventual winner, was 18th after Day 4, Felix Stephensen was in 102nd, Jorryt Van Hoof was in 282nd, William Tonking was 101st, Billy Pappas was in 97th, Daniel Sindelar was 17th and Mark Newhouse was 27th.

Extending the sample size

Three years is obviously a small sample size, but if any pattern has developed over these years it is that Day 4 may not be moving day after all. Of 27 eventual November Niners in those years, only four (McKeehen, Cannuli, Politano, Larrabe) players were in the top ten at the end of Day 4 and one of them, McKeehen, was there already anyway.

However, I also looked back on four previous years--the extent to which easily-accessible records are available. The pattern largely continues:

2013: None of the top 10 at the end of Day 4 made the November Nine.
2012: None of the top 10 at the end of Day 4 made the November Nine.
2011: One (Pius Heinz) of the top 10 at the end of Day 4 made the November Nine.
2010: One (Matt Jarvis) of the top 10 at the end of Day 4 made the November Nine.

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Jake Balsiger: 13th at end of Day 4 in 2012; eventually finished third

This now means that six from a total 49 November Niners made their move on Day 4--a number so small as to surely be insignificant.

I'll extend my confession from this article's first paragraph: I'm not 100 percent certain that people really do consider Day 4 to be "moving day". But I think it's fair to say that whether they do or don't, it isn't. And that makes much more sense.

Yesterday was a long one at the WSOP Main Event and exhaustion has certainly begun to set in. This feels more like consolidation day than anything else, or "Don't Get Knocked Out Day" or "Make Your Moves Tomorrow" day. Neither have quite the same ring to them, but they may be nearer the truth.


WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.