WSOP 2017: Ruane, Hallaert, and Saout making a familiar Day 6 scene

There's something uncannily familiar about one of the secondary feature tables here at the start of Day 6 of the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event.

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Wait a minute... do I know you?

When Mark Newhouse managed what seemed an unthinkable feat of making back-to-back final tables in 2013 and 2014 (finishing ninth both times), it seemed a kind of statistical fluke. The number playing those two years were 6,352 and 6,683. For one player to make the final nine both times felt like some kind of glitch in the matrix.

There are so many strong tournament players who never come close to one WSOP Main Event final table, let alone two in a row. For Newhouse -- or anyone -- to manage it is some kind of anomaly, not expected to happen again anytime soon. If ever.


Defying such expectations, with just 85 returning for Day 6 of the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event today, there are still two players with a chance to match Newhouse's feat -- last year's fourth-place finisher Michael Ruane and sixth-place finisher Kenny Hallaert.

There were 6,737 players in the Main last year, and 7,721 this time. Couldn't happen again... could it?

Ruane began Day 6 at one of the secondary feature tables, returning to a stack of 3.45 million (43 big blinds). With his now familiar tousled hair and today wearing a Bob Dylan black tee, Ruane seems as relaxed as a person can be spending yet another July playing poker for $8 million-plus.

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Michael Ruane

For those who follow poker, little was familiar about the player from Hoboken, New Jersey prior to last year's Main Event. At the time he had less than $50,000 in career tournament cashes -- and none since 2012 -- before earning over $2.5 million for his fourth-place finish.

That gap in live cashes corresponded to Ruane's post-Black Friday tour of various global stops, inculding Malta and Costa Rica, then up to Montreal, Canada for a couple of years before returning to New Jersey. By then his preferred online poker had returned to the Garden State, and he has again been playing there with only occasional excursions to play live.

Ruane spent minutes leading up to the start of play taking final phone calls and filling out a bio sheet. Like Hallaert, he's well familiar with the ritual.

It was last year with 25 players left that Ruane had at last reached a feature table. That's where he became involved with James Obst in a memorable hand saw Obst flop a set, Ruane turn a jack-high straight flush, then the board pair on the river to give Obst a full house, sevens full of tens.

The hand began multi-way, with Ruane raising another player's bet, Obst reraising, and only Ruane sticking around. Obst then check-called a Ruane turn bet after the latter had made his straight flush, pushing the pot over 20 million.

On the river Obst led with a quarter-pot bet, Ruane jammed for almost 12.5 million. Obst had that covered by a bit, but somehow was able to get away from the hand.

"Looks like you have a straight flush," Obst said before letting his cards go.

Even without earning the river bonus, Ruane had been handsomely rewarded, the pot helping carrying him to the final table and ultimately that fourth-place finish.

After experiencing that good fortune against Obst last year, it might appear he drew a less favorable circumstance to start play today. Out of 84 other players returning, one of only two players left who has finished deeper in a WSOP Main Event is on Ruane's left -- 2009 WSOP Main Event third-place finisher Antoine Saout who had 8.26 million to begin (103 BBs). (The other is Ben Lamb who took third in 2011.)

Meanwhile Hallaert began on one of the outer tables, starting the day with 4.37 million chips (55 BBs). He's dressed in a comfortable white jacket. The full backpack with water bottle hanging on the back of his chair provides evidence of his having been on such protracted tourney journeys before and he knows what provisions are needed the longer it goes.

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Kenny Hallaert

Unlike Ruane, the player from Hansbeke, Belgium is much more frequently seen at tournaments. He's amassed nearly $3.2 million over the last decade-plus in earnings, nearly half of which came from his sixth-place Main Event showing a year ago.

However like Ruane, Hallaert doesn't quite think of himself as a full-time live pro, still calling himself an amateur while working as a tournament director. But he's established himself as a gifted navigator of large-field no-limit hold'em events with several impressive results to prove it, including final-tabling the 22,374-entry Colossus in 2015 and earning a SCOOP title in a 789-entry $1,050 event as "SpaceyFCB" in May.

In fact Hallaert is making a third consecutive deep run in a WSOP Main Event, having finished 123rd in 2015. That's three straight years of making Day 5 or better, a feat he alluded to before play yesterday with a bit of tweeted trivia:

Prior to play today, Hallaert took a moment to pose for a picture with fellow Belgian Matthias de Meulder and the Flying Dutchman Marcel Luske, the latter two drawing seats side-by-side at a nearby outer table. Hallaert meanwhile had Superman -- that is, the cape-wearing, muscle-bound Jonathan Dwek, on his left to start play today.

Just a few eliminations into the day, however, Halleart's table broke, his new seat draw putting him back on a feature table. In fact... he's on Ruane's table, having been assigned the seat on the other side of Saout, who like the other two looks plenty comfortable at this late stage.

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Antoine Saout

After his third-place showing in 2009, the Frenchman Saout made it all of the way to 25th in the Main Event last year, adding to what is now $5.5 million-plus in career cashes. And further fueling the feeling of déjà vu around here.

All three are well familiar with being under the bright lights. And increasingly familiar to all of us following along as well.

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Ruane and Hallaert in a hand together... again

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