It was clear at the start of Friday that we were in for an extraordinary day. It always is when they play down to a final nine at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. What we could not have possibly imagined in our wildest dreams is that a man exceptionally close to all of us here at PokerStars would be featuring in the photo at the top of the page, much less right in the middle of it.
But it’s true. He is second of nine remaining. On Linked In, they call him PokerStars’ Senior Manager of Player Relations, Engagement and Communities, but to everyone else across the poker world, he is Garry Gates, the guy you go to if you need absolutely anything, and if you are absolutely anyone.
He has calmed the tantrums of the highest high rollers; he put the platinum into the Platinum Passes. He’s brought the love to player liaison; and mentored a whole generation in the media room. A photo surfaced on Twitter tonight, taken by former poker reporter Chris Hanel, that showed Gates in 2007 abusing his media credential to sneak an aspirational photo at the WSOP final table. But now Gates is sitting there for real.
“It’s special,” Gates said. “It’s really, really special. I hope to make everybody proud.”
Gates, like his eight remaining opponents, guaranteed themselves a $1 million payday when they watched Robert Heidorn get knocked out at 2am tonight, bringing this 8,569-runner tournament to its final table. They now pause for a day before playing a three-day finale at the end of which the new World Champion will have a bracelet around his wrist and a $10 million check in his hand. It’s all a little bit surreal.
The final table has a cosmopolitan flavour, with players from six countries represented. At the very top is Hossein Ensan, Iranian-born but a long-naturalised German, who is very well known in European poker circles. He took up poker late in life, but has been teaching the young guns new tricks for the past six years. He won an EPT title in Prague at his third final table, and is now, at 55, playing yet another long tournament like a beast.
Ensan has 177 million chips, having won almost all the big pots he entered. Close to the end he extracted maximum value from a flopped set of tens, which turned a full house, and left Timothy Su plummeting down the counts. Su sits in eighth going into the final, while Ensan sits pretty at the summit.
Ensan said he couldn’t focus on what he might end up winning. “What can I say? Money is very important for everyone, but this much money? I don’t know.”
As for Gates, he got heaps of his chips when he knocked out Mihai Manole in a grim spot — Gates’s A♠10♦ spiking a ten to beat Manole’s A♦J♣ — and he latterly doubled up with pocket kings against Ensan’s A♥K♥. He then knocked out Henry Lu when both players flopped top pair of jacks, but Gates’s kicker was better. Gates then spent the rest of the night riding the wave of support that has flooded his way, and will continue to wash over him for the rest of his life, regardless of what happens next.
“Any poker player who loves the game dreams of making the final table,” Gates said. He paid testament to his supporters, both those in Vegas and those sending messages of good will from afar. “My best friends in the world,” Gates said, as well as pointing out his girlfriend, two brothers and dad who have come in from Pennsylvania. He also said all of Erik Seidel, John Juanda and Jason Koon have sent him messages, while the likes of Jason Mercier and Chris Moneymaker have been tweeting their support.
We had to wait until about 1am for the inevitable pre-final flashpoint, which occurred in a pot when they were 11-handed. It involved the overnight chip leader, Nick Marchington, and the Italian high roller Dario Sammartino.
Marchington shoved on a flop and Sammartino asked for a count, but was apparently told the wrong amount by the dealer. Sammartino put the chips forward — only enough to call the amount spoken by the dealer — but the error then became clear. Sammartino was ultimately made to put in the extra too (the official line is that a dealer’s count is advisory only, and Marchington had been clear that he was all in). Marchington’s queens beat Sammartino’s tens on a low board, but Sammartino was apoplectic about the way it played out.
It gave Marchington a lifeline, however, and booked his spot in the final. At the very beginning of the day, Gates had suggested that he and Marchington were going to play heads-up, and that remains a possibility. We are on tenterhooks as we wait to find out.
The full line-up for the final is as follows, and you can read some more about all of them here. The final table payouts are also below.
Hossein Ensan, Germany, 177 million
Garry Gates, United States, 99.3 million
Zhen Cai, United States, 60.6 million
Kevin Maahs, United States, 43 million
Alex Livingston, Canada, 37.8 million
Dario Sammartino, Italy, 33.4 million
Milos Skrbic, Serbia, 23.4 million
Timothy Su, USA, 20.2 million
Nick Marchington, UK, 20.1 million
World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event
Dates: July 3-16, 2019
Prize pool: $80,548,600
1 – $10,000,000
2 – $6,000,000
3 – $4,000,000
4 – $3,000,000
5 – $2,200,000
6 – $1,850,000
7 – $1,525,000
8 – $1,250,000
9 – $1,000,000
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive