Bubbles at the WSOP come in many anxious styles, but I can’t remember a previous one so squeezed by other external forces.

All calculations at the start of this near record event predicted the bubble would burst early on Day 4, when player 1,287 of 8,569 entries went home empty handed. But as Level 15 began on Day 3 at the 2019 renewal here at the Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, they were already 50 off the money and losing players at more than 100 per level. WSOP stats guru Kevin Mathers told the world: “Looks very likely we reach the $ tonight.”

Quickly the volume went up, the winces grew more pronounced, formerly standard decisions were rendered agonising, and the $15,000 min-cash metamorphosed into something life changing. Temporarily at least, the $10 million up top was rendered far too distant to think about.

Team PokerStars Pro Aditya Agarwal, whose tweets from the Main Event have been blunt and to the fact, but somehow also increasingly desperate, ordered himself a massage. “I know, man,” he said when someone observed that it had been a grind for him all day.

In the Amazon Room, Chris Moneymaker was also having his flesh kneaded, but was in far more comfortable shape. He started the day with only about 56,000 but had more than 650,000 having enjoyed one of those days. (Not one of those days, one of the other type.)

Chris Moneymaker: Back in the Main Event money

Kalidou Sow was also still in the field, making it three red spade representatives. They had outlasted even Igor Kurganov and Andre Akkari, whose big stacks disintegrated in the late Day 3 running.

As the clock ticked through Level 15, one player by the media rail got his stack in with A♥A♦ and was up against J♣J♠. A jack turned, the beaten man wound his headphones cord around his phone and prepared to leave, pretending not to hear a table-mate say: “You wait all day and that’s what you get it in with!” It was meant to be a joke, but he’s not getting many bookings this guy.

Plenty of late-night hijinks in the Main Event

Players in the Little One for One Drop filtered through on a tournament break, and though it was past midnight on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, the corridors through the Amazon Room were busier than at any other point this week. A couple of other players started protesting at the stalling happening on their table, prompting a brusque floorman to state as a solution: “We’ll just get to the end of this level, bag up and come back tomorrow.”

“That’s not going to happen, is it?” one of the inquisitors asked.

“It is if y’all take long enough.”

He wandered off, headed towards the latest shout of “Clock!” Players on most table were now allowed only 10 additional seconds per decision, while on at least one, they were down to three seconds. Finally an official announcement came over the microphone, with a quarter of an hour left until the scheduled close: “Players all that’s going to happen in 16 minutes is we’re putting the blinds up. We’re going to play to the money tonight.”

The tortuous process of hand-for-hand play thereby got under way, with players in two rooms (the Pavilion and the Amazon) and on three TV stages. “Dealers please stand up when you are done. Players please sit down, we need to see the dealers.” About 10 minutes went by, then: “Dealers please take your seats.”

This was all Charlie Ciresi, a man who has done this many times. He also done the next bit on a fair few occasions too. All of a sudden he announced, “Congratulations Main Event players, you are all in the money.” There had been zero hands of hand-for-hand play.

Charlie Ciresi marshalls his troops

Those who had hedged their bets on the final pre-money bustout happening in the Amazon Room had miscalculated. Over there, on the handful of tables still playing in the Pavilion Room, a man named Ryan Pochedly, from Lakewood, OH, was being knocked out.

According to tournament reporters, Pochedly had around 300,000 behind and was looking at a board of 7♥8♦3♠K♦7♣ and called an all-in shove with ace-king. But Julian Pineda had 6♠7♦ and had made trips, in a three-bet pre-flop pot. Ouch.

With more than $500,000 in tournament career earnings, Pochedly didn’t react quite so dramatically as some of his predecessors, for whom the Main Event is the be all and end all. Pochedly picked up a “celebratory” belt as the bubble boy, and his buy-in for next year’s event.

Moneymaker made it, with 681,000. Sow made it with 250,000. And Agarwal too could finally relax.

That’s $15K locked up, but it’s only going to get tougher from here.

WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive

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