WSOP 2017: Sinclair leads final 14, but nothing in poker is inevitable
Following the knockout of start-of-day chip leader Christian Pham in 19th, the attention of spectators in the Brasilia room has been divided between the final two tables -- the "feature" on the main stage surrounded by stadium-like seating, and the "secondary" nearby from which observers must watch from the rail.
Truth be told, everyone's attention has been divided for days. As my colleague Howard Swains noted late last night, the delayed, cards-up live stream of this year's Main Event has changed the way we watch poker, even for those of us sitting mere steps away from the action. Everyone has one eye on the tables and the other on their laptops and mobile devices, constantly aware of both big hands happening live and their echo-like replay happening a little later on the screens.
There have been four more eliminations since Pham's bust, carving the field down to 14 players. They've all left for the dinner break, as have most (but not all) of the spectators. But they're still playing poker on the live stream, perpetually a half-hour behind real life.
All four knockouts were thus experienced in the same two-step fashion -- first live and full of suspense and dramatic impact, then delayed, muted somehow, lacking tension.
First on the secondary table the British bracelet holder Richard Gryko reraised all in for a little less than 20 big blinds over an Antoine Saout open and the Frenchman thought a few beats before calling. King-queen offsuit for Gryko actually had a fighting chance against Saout's two tens. But three postflop streets later -- with crowd reactions after each -- and Gryko was gone.
Just three hands later on the same outer table, new chip leader Dan Sinclair bet big on a ten-high flop, Michael Krasienko jammed for more than 22 million as a raise, and Sinclair called, sending the crowd into a momentary frenzy.
Krasienko had two queens. Sinclair's two kings were just one pip higher, but towered high. Another king on the turn and it was over in an instant, quickly stifling the cries for queens from Krasienko's supporters.
We'd hear those cries again, of course, a half-hour later through our earbuds. But the result was the same. It had to be.
A while after that on the feature table came a more matter-of-fact knockout when Alexandre Reard of France ran ace-queen into Ben Lamb's ace-king, and an uneventful runout sent the Frenchman away in 16th.
Those three all collected $340,000 for their finishes, carrying everyone to a money jump. That meant an hour later when another of the Frenchmen, Valentin Messina, went out in 15th, he earned $450,000.
Messina's last hand was similar to his fellow countryman's, his queen-jack offsuit failing to catch up to Lamb's ace-jack suited. The crowd applauded, a half-hour after that they applauded again on the stream, and a little while later everyone left for dinner.
In each of the last four knockouts, the best hand won. It doesn't always happen that way.
We all know, of course, that the poker gods aren't real. Or at least they're only as real as we imagine them to be. Ideas of fate in poker are underscored by professions that this or that outcome was or was not "meant to be."
The delayed stream confirmations of elimination hands and of everything else experienced earlier is producing a false effect, momentarily toying with our sense of the difference between what's to come and what's already past.
Worth adding as well, the fact that this year getting to the final nine is not the end goal -- at least here in July -- but only a temporary stop along the way to finding a winner this weekend is having an effect, too. The excitement is there, but the sense of urgency less so. Such could change post-dinner, though, and most likely will once they get down to 10 and the final table bubble.
Right now young Jack Sinclair has a healthy chip lead over the field with 62.4 million, well ahead of his elder countryman John Hesp in second postion with 38.35 million.
Meanwhile Michael Ruane of New Jersey -- on a quest to for a second straight Main Event final table -- is among the short stacks with New Yorker Bryan Piccioli and the Russian Karen Sarkisyan.
But anything can happen. Nothing is inevitable. Don't let the stream trick you into thinking it is.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.