Only three players are now left at the World Series of Poker Main Event. In a crash-bang 40 minutes of play late Friday, Bryan Piccioli, Antoine Saout and John Hesp were knocked out, ending the second phase of the final table and leaving Scott Blumstein, Ben Pollak and Dan Ott to play for $8 million–and the Main Event bracelet–tomorrow night.
Hesp’s elimination, which ended proceedings at around 9.45pm, was greeted with a level of disappointment among casual poker fans not seen since the early boom years. Hesp was an ebullient amateur, living the dream of every low-stakes recreational player the world over. He far out-lasted even the most ambitious expectations, and fell only narrowly short of the kind of victory that could have had Moneymaker-esque significance.
“If I’ve done anything in my life, I think I’ve managed to show this game doesn’t have to be boring,” Hesp said, adding that he has recently become aware of the sudden celebrity he earned over the course of his deep run. Encouraged to Google his name a few days ago, he was stunned at what came back.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Hesp said. “It was only then that I began to appreciate the level of international interest.”
Hesp departed at the end of a frantic portion of play, which in turn followed a long period where it seemed nobody would be knocked out. Play had slowed and short stacks were doubling up. By about 9pm, Piccioli and Pollak were the only players who had not been all-in and called at the final–but it soon changed, to Piccioli’s detriment in particular.
“These chips just keep flying around,” Piccioli said after his elimination, observing that despite Blumstein’s dominant stack, he was not running the table.
But only a few moments after Piccioli had said it, Blumstein turned the screw and finally managed to budge one of his most obdurate opponents. Saout had been all and called pre-flop on three separate occasions, doubling up each time. But then Blumstein and Saout played a hand through flop, turn and river that ended with Blumstein’s straight beating Saout’s trip jacks and the last of Saout’s chips went in.
Specifically, Blumstein opened to 4.2 million with 5♠3♠ on the button and Saout, with K♣J♦, called in the small blind. Both players checked a flop of J♣7♦6♣ and Saout also checked the 4♣ turn. Blumstein, having turned a straight, bet 5.6 million and Saout called.
The river brought the J♥ and a third check from Saout, despite his trips. Blumstein moved in, with Saout’s 26.1 million stack now effective. Saout wasn’t able to get away.
“I had trips on the river, I let him bluff sometimes, and sometimes he values some worse hands, so I think it’s very difficult to fold this one,” Saout said, who took $2 million for fifth.
This was Saout’s second trip to the Main Event final, but said he never quite felt that he was in with a shot this time. “I never had chips,” Saout said. “At the beginning of the final there were two big stacks and everyone else was short. So basically there was no play… no flop, nobody defends the blind. But I survive most of it… I made it to the five. I was lucky sometimes to double-up.”
Piccioli was similarly disappointed, exhausted and proud of his achievements at the World Series marathon.
“It’s been so long,” he said. “I played Day 1A, which was two Saturdays ago. It’s been 13 days. I’ve been in this tournament for 13 calendar days and it’s finally over.”
Piccioli was one of the most animated players at the final table, still boosted after his last-gasp reprieve–he hit a two-outer eight to survive–when 11 players were left. He also had one of the most vocal rails this week, which had joined forces with that of Ott to chant loud and long into the night.
But the cards conspired to turn faction against faction when Piccioli moved all-in with A♣7♥ and Ott made a mandatory call with K♠K♣. There was no miracle this time for Piccioli and his journey was over. He earned $1.675 million.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I always dreamed of making it here when I started playing poker. My dream was to make the Main Event final table. I always knew that if I made it I would have an incredible support group with me, and they lived up to expectations and beyond. It was amazing.”
Piccioli acknowledged the start of his career as an online grinder, and had a word for anyone making their first deposit on a poker site.
“If you’re passionate about it, things will come,” he said.
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On the subject of passion, let’s go back to Hesp for a moment. This 64-year-old granddad from the north of England has been a revelation at the World Series this time around. A regular in tournaments costing only £10 to play, Hesp decided to tick the WSOP off his bucket list this year and have a stab with the big boys.
He out-lasted all but three of them, winning $2.6 million, and becoming a new poker sensation both in the UK and his adopted home of Las Vegas. He was in possession of the biggest stack in the room with eight players left yesterday, but then lost a massive cooler to Blumstein and never really recovered, despite one double up today.
Ultimately, he committed the last of his chips with 9♣7♣ and couldn’t beat Pollak’s A♦J♠. That sent him off to do one more round of interviews, pose for about a hundred more pictures, and shake a thousand more hands. We have not seen the last of John Hesp.
“The money is nice, obviously–everyone would say the same,” Hesp said. “Before I came here, I wasn’t a multi-millionaire obviously in any way, shape or form. But you don’t have to have lots of money to be rich in life, and I was rich in life before I came here. And I’m even richer now…. I just hope I’ve actually [been able to] bring life and fun to the game.”
But we must now refocus. Tomorrow is another day–the biggest on the poker calendar.
Blumstein remains the dominant chip leader and his 226.45 million is more than what Pollak (45.85 million) and Ott (88.375 million) have combined. But neither Pollak nor Ott has put a foot wrong yet at this final, and the title is still very much up for grabs.
We’ll reconvene in the Brasilia Room at 5.30pm. Please join us.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.