The last thing you want when facing a bubble scrimmage is for your little toy shark to be looking the wrong way. Humberto Brenes knew this.

“This is black?” he said, pointing at my blue pen. I shook my head. He asked a TV person if they had a black marker. She gave him a pen and he tried to re-draw the eye on the little plastic shark he has with him for moments of peril. It had faded. A blind shark is no threat to anyone. Not even in Sharknado.

The blue wasn’t working. “I need black,” he said again, working his way through three members of the media standing nearby. The last of which was Brad Willis who then waited patiently for his pen to be returned. Was Humberto the type not to return a pen? Not if his son had anything to do with it. Watching a few feet away Roberto Brenes called his father’s cell phone to remind him to hand the pen back. Brenes Senior did as he was told, with a big smile of course.

Brenes could afford to smile. His stack, while hardly gargantuan, was at least safe, provided he spent the next hour and a half folding. In fact this was the way many others were thinking. One reporter told of a player who had worked out he could fold 42 hands before he went broke. It gave him a sense of well-being. Others though were left on the razors edge. “I just folded eights,” confessed one young player, with no small amount of shame. “That’s who many chips I have.”

Granted, it may not be enjoyable for players, but the bubble remains the most dramatic and entertaining part of any poker tournament, more so at the WSOP where it is lived rather than watched.


The TV stage

The media assemble in the only place they are allowed, inside a central bullpen, from which they can see very little. Some protest, but others take it as a perfect excuse to stand around chatting for a while, watching the tournament clock ticking down.

Hands ticked on and tournament staff became a little more edgy. A raised platform had been installed at which three officials were sitting, waiting for the storm to begin like they were preparing to answer calls on a telethon. Beneath them a dozen staff in red shirts had gathered to be briefed on their job of dragging eliminated players to the payout desk in the correct order. The world was about to be turned upside down and they were about to be informed on the best way to survive. More on their efforts later.

They waited. The players waited. But if the pressure was too much there is always another solution – don’t show up.


Lon McEachern and “The Chair”

One player did this, perhaps deliberately, and his stack was blinded away in his absence. Could this be the eventual bubble boy? Or maybe just his chair, later to be dragged up on stage by Jack Effel to be addressed in front of the cameras, a trick last pulled by Clint Eastwood.

As the clock stopped on 650 the chair was spared this humiliation. Its occupant arrived, tried to look calm about it – styling it off – and sat ready to play.

At that moment Jack Effel called for the clock to be stopped, asking players to remain in their seats. That’s kind of like yelling “fire!” and expecting players to remain in their seats.

Almost immediately players began going for walks, standing up on their chairs, stretching, trying to find friends on the other side of the Amazon Room. It was like kindergarten. Effel tried to reign them in, threatening a three round penalty for anyone caught out of their seats. But just as the crowds at college football games chant “They can’t arrest us all!” prior to rushing the field, the players knew that such threats were nothing more than that.

Hand for hand finally began with Yuri Dzivielevski shoving, then waiting for his departure to be confirmed seconds later. He then disappeared, lost. After his day you couldn’t help thinking that no good could come from trying to find him. Except that there was another all-in on the other side of the room, and another elimination would have delivered Dzivielevski half the 648th place price money.


Yuri Dzivielevski (left) and Marvin Rettenmeier, who took most of Dzivielevski’s chips prior to his departure

But this was Brian Kellogg who, unbeknownst to everyone, had pleased the poker gods in some way. They conspired to deliver a miracle king on the turn to keep him alive. Dzivielevski was left to get lost.

It took only one more hand, Farzad Bonyadi’s ace jack useless against Nick Schwarmann’s rivered straight.


The bubble hits Farzad Bonyadi

In the traditional way Bonyadi was dragged in front of the crowd who were then informed they had all made the money. Bonyadi stood there as an enormous cheer rang out. This is poker at its most Biblical – Bonyadi held out like Barabbas to be pardoned, set free with a buy-in for next year’s main event – his slate wiped clean.


Effel (left) with Bonyadi

Bonyadi managed a smile, whispering to Effel: “get the cameras off me.” He wanted out of there, and got his wish, only after the TV interviewers got their couple of words. No doubt he had a couple of words in mind but he did his duty. The others, well, they’re in the money. Happiness has returned to the main event.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter. Pictures courtesy of Poker Photo Archive.


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