WSOP 2017: Ready or not, curtain rises on Main Event final table tonight
No more waiting. Who's excited?
After nearly a decades' worth of delayed "November Nine" finales for the World Series of Poker Main Event, having to wait only two days between the tournament reaching nine players and the start of the final table seems like nothing at all.
Poker fans are more than ready. Whether the players are or not doesn't matter -- the final table is here.
From a huge field of 7,221 players -- the third-largest in WSOP Main Event history -- the nine survivors will take their seats at 5:30 p.m. tonight to play out the first of a three-act tournament-concluding drama.
The plan -- with the ever-present asterisk reminding us as usual that everything is *subject to change -- is for the nine to play down to six tonight, for those six play down to three on Friday, then for the last three finish things off on Saturday.
Looking at the stacks, an interesting dynamic will be in play right from the start thanks to the current distribution of chips and the seat assignments.
The two biggest stacks -- by far -- are sitting side-by-side, with John Hesp second in chips in Seat 1 and leader Scott Blumstein on his left in Seat 2. Meanwhile the other seven players around the table are all relatively bunched together in a range from 23-44 big blinds.
Everyone is guaranteed at least $1 million at this point, with the top prize of $8.15 million awaiting the winner. Relatively speaking the pay jumps will be small to start the final table, increasing gradually to increase the tension as the tournament gets closer to its end.
The big stacks: Scott Blumstein and John Hesp
Leader Scott Blumstein hails from New Jersey. That's where the 25-year-old has collected most of his previous tournament earnings totaling just over $312K, almost $200K of which came from a big win at the Borgata a year ago this month.
Our friend and colleague Will O'Connor -- a contributor to the PokerStars Blog in the past -- tells us a story of Blumstein having filled in to do some live reporting himself just a couple of years ago, and in fact he aimed to do so again at the Borgata last summer if he were needed. He wasn't and so played instead, and after his big win and another year of playing he's the frontrunner in poker's most prestigious tournament.
It's a good story, though it still doesn't top that of the other big stack, 64-year-old Englishman John Hesp. His previous cashes barely eclipse $2,200, all earned in £10 buy-in local tournaments at his home casino in Hull. (They were rebuys, let the record show.)
Hesp has spoken with PokerStars Blog a couple of times of late about this "bucket list" adventure he and those following him have been enjoying. For more see "John Hesp's Vegas vacation continues; or, 'When I'm Sixty-Four.'"
The returners: Antoine Saout and Ben Lamb
Meanwhile two other players are making return trips to a WSOP Main Event final table, a remarkable feat the post-Moneymaker age. Both have now managed to outlast 6,000-plus opponents a couple of times to make the final nine.
From Morlaix in northwestern France, Antoine Saout finished third in the 2009 WSOP Main Event, and might well have won it all if his pocket queens hadn't been cracked by eventual winner Joe Cada's pocket deuces when the latter flopped a set after the chips had gotten in pre. With over $5.5 million in tournament winnings, the 33-year-old pro also finished 25th in the WSOP Main Event last year, and has final-tabled a WSOP Europe Main Event as well.
Meanwhile Ben Lamb finished third in the 2011 WSOP Main Event, that run coming just two years after he'd taken 14th in the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
When we spoke with the 32-year-old poker pro at the start of Day 6 at a point when there were still nearly 60 players left to be eliminated before this year's final table. He said then how he was glad the November Nine was no more.
"I'm happy there's no break, honestly," Lamb told us. "I feel like that kind of hampered me back then. It's not like I'm going to get better or anything during that period, but I think a lot of the guys did. They got coaching and became better players."
With over $7.2 million in tournament cashes and a bracelet already, Lamb -- originally from Oklahoma and now living in Las Vegas -- will be shortest on chips but long on WSOP Main Event experience when the first hand is dealt tonight.
Two more Americans: Daniel Ott and Bryan Piccioli
Just four U.S. players made the final nine, the fewest since just three made it in 2011. In addition to Blumstein and Lamb, 25-year-old Dan Ott of Pennsylvania has earned a seat.
Like Hesp, Ott has an especially modest tournament résumé, having only recorded two cashes total -- both at the WSOP this summer -- adding up to just $3,656.
Meanwhile Bryan Piccioli of California has earned over $1.9 million in a decade's worth of tournament poker. He's the only other bracelet winner along with Lamb, having earned gold in a WSOP Asia Pacific event in 2013.
The 28-year-old was involved two of the most dramatic hands on Monday night. First with 11 left he spiked a two-outer on the river in a hand versus Saout to survive, prompting a raucous celebration.
Then in the night's penultimate hand, Piccioli made a big all-in call with pocket tens versus Michael Ruane who had ace-king. The tens held, and in the next hand a super-short Ruane went out in 10th, coming just a spot shy of making a second-straight WSOP Main Event final table after finishing fourth last year. Read more about Day 7's exciting finish here.
The Argentinian wizard: Damian Salas
The PokerStars Blog has known about Damian Salas for a long time, both the live and online versions.
Playing as "pampa27" on PokerStars, the 42-year-old has accumulated numerous big cashes -- more than $2.5 million worth, says PocketFives. Searching our memories (and reporting notes), we know we've watched him win the Super Tuesday at least once (in 2012) and final table it on other occasions.
We also know Salas from the live arena where he's earned over $900K lifetime, in particular from seeing him on the Latin American Poker Tour where he won a High Roller in Uruguay in 2013 amid several other LAPT scores.
From Paris and London: Benjamin Pollak and Jack Sinclair
Benjamin Pollak -- the second Frenchman at tonight's final table -- is another familiar face to those of us who over recent years have covered European Poker Tour events and PokerStars Championships in Europe.
With nearly $3 million in live cashes, the 34-year-old from Paris always seems to be around with two or three tables left, and occasionally gets further such as when he captured three silver spades in EPT side events. He also finished 27th in the 2013 WSOP Main Event, and with the biggest stack of anyone other than Blumstein and Hesp has emerged as favorite pick to win by some observers.
Finally, while Hesp represents Yorkshire in the north of England, 26-year-old Jack Sinclair hails from London. Like Hesp and Ott, Sinclair has barely any previous tournament results, the first coming in the spring and a couple more during this year's WSOP, totaling but $13,500.
After enjoying the chip lead briefly during Day 7, he'll be among the many short-to-medium stacks to begin tonight. Word is Sinclair is getting some coaching from Philipp Gruissem and Anton Morgenstern to help him with the endgame.
As Lamb pointed out, though, there isn't much time for coaching -- just a few hours now, not months. Ready or not, the final table is almost here!
As you follow the coverage on television and elsewhere, be sure to bookmark our 2017 WSOP page for hourly observations on all the happenings the Brasilia room once play begins tonight.
We can't wait! And really, we hardly have to.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.