A little over a half-hour remained in Level 12 when the field shrunk down to 57 and we’d arrived at the cash bubble. As hand-for-hand play commenced, the procedure was explained to all.
“Players leaving their seats will receive a penalty,” said Melina Villegas over the public address. “I’m not sure what it is yet, but it will be a penalty” she added, eliciting a few grins amid the tension of the bubble having arrived.
Hands were then dealt at the final eight tables, and soon came a wild one at Table 6 when Claudio Garrone and Rubens Zogbi committed to a preflop all-in only to discover both held pocket aces. Five cards later the pair chopped the pot, and play continued.
It was nearby at Table 5, however, where most of the drama would be concentrated over the remaining half-hour.
First came back-to-back hands involving Antonio Poncio of Argentina and Pablo Melogno of Uruguay. In the first, Poncio had been leading with post-flop bets, including one on the river when the board showed J♠10♦A♥10♣K♣. When Melogno didn’t call that last one immediately, Poncio appeared to smile, although his expression quickly changed when Melogno did in fact push out chips to call.
With a wearied look, Poncio showed 7♦7♣, and Melongno showed Q♠J♥ for a straight to win the pot.
One hand later the pair were at it again, with Poncio in the big blind looking a little steamy when calling a preflop open by Melongo. The flop came 6♥Q♥8♦ and Poncio checked. Melongo bet 5,300 — about half the pot — then Poncio check-raised to 15,300. Melongo asked his opponent what he had left, learning he had nearly 60,000. Further queries were met with Poncio smiling once again, then with a laugh pulling the brim of his cap down over his face. Melongo called.
The turn brought the K♥ and a fairly quick all-in bet from Poncio. Melongo thought a while, then finally folded, showing the 8♠ as he did. Poncio lifted up his cap with a nod, showing his A♣A♦ as he dragged the pot.
The mood swiftly changed, however, just a couple of hands later. The table had folded around to Eduardo Santi in the small blind, and the Argentinian pushed out a bet of 11,500. Bolivar Palacios of Panama was sitting a seat over, and it looked at first like we were in for just another bit of innocuous back-and-forthing in the blinds.
Palacios checked his cards. After a few seconds it was clear he wasn’t folding. Perhaps this wasn’t such an innocuous hand after all.
As Palacios contemplated what to do, the attentions of most observers were interrupted by the animated shouts of Carlos Mironiuk sitting across from the players involved.
Apparently Mironiuk had been admonished about keeping his seat, but a couple of others on that side had wandered completely away from the table, prompting some pleas of unfairness from Mironiuk. All was handled swiftly, however, by the calm tones of Tournament Director Mike Ward, who punctuated his response to Mironiuk with a hug that left the Argentinian — and most everyone else at the table and standing around it — chuckling heartily.
Everyone, that is, except Santi and Palacios. While eyes had been diverted, Palacios had reraised to 26,100, then Santi made it 60,000 to go. Palacios thought for several seconds, then suddenly said he was all in, and Santi instantly called.
The chuckles quickly turned to expressions of surprise when Santi showed A♦A♣ and Palacios K♣K♦. More aces on the bubble! And kings, too, this time.
The pair had begun the hand with a couple of similarly big stacks, and Santi had the Panamanian covered. Palacios looked predictably gutted, while Santi sat with his hood on, head in hands, waiting and hoping his rockets would hold.
The flop brought a queen, the face card bringing murmurs thanks to its proximity to Palacios’ needed king. But the next highest community card to come would be an eight, meaning Palacios was out in 57th, and Santi was our new chip leader with 56 left, his stack suddenly up over 380,000.
The break followed immediately after, the timing welcomed by most. Twenty minutes to breathe. After that, the tension will return as the remaining 56 work out how they’re going to be dividing that $836,620 prize pool.