Drawing Seat 1, John Hesp was the first player introduced at the start of play tonight.
Of course, if they had listed the players on a marquee out front of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, Hesp would have probably earned top billing, anyway.
He’s certainly been the focus of attention through the night’s first 40 hands, during which time Ben Lamb was felted early to finish ninth, Dan Ott and Antoine Saout enjoyed double-ups, and Hesp has built a significant lead over nearest challenger Scott Blumstein.
At the moment Hesp is up over 130 million and climbing, with Blumstein in second position hovering around 90 million. Add up the stacks of the remaining six players and they roughly equal Hesp’s.
The genial gentleman from Bridlington started the day bluffing and showing, taking down the day’s first three pots. His big stack — and fearlessness regarding the stakes and situation — continued to encourage further splashing, and he’s continued to accumulate as a result.
After Hesp was first introduced, he made it a point to offer fist bumps to each of his eight opponents as they followed him to the main stage to take their seats. The camaraderie has continued from Hesp for the couple of hours’ worth of poker so far — as have the fist bumps.
Scott Blumstein is on Hesp’s left, meaning he’s both nearest to him at the table and in the counts. A sequence of two hands in close succession not long ago neatly illustrated how being in such proximity to Hesp could possibly be both fun and frustrating.
In the first hand Hesp opened from early position and both Blumstein and Benjamin Pollak called. The flop came jack-high and after Hesp led with a bet both opponents stuck around.
All checked another jack on the turn, then after a river ace Hesp checked once more. Blumstein fired a big bet chasing Pollak, but when Hesp called right away Blumstein was already nodding and smiling.
Blumstein had ace-king, but Hesp’s king-jack for trips won the pot. Blumstein congratulated Hesp on a well-played hand, and when Hesp held out a fist Blumstein readily bumped it with his own in acknowledgement of the play.
A few hands later Hesp opened again, Blumstein three-bet, and when it folded back around Hesp bombed a reraise for 20 million (20 big blinds).
Blumstein could only smile — the stream showed us a little later he had A♠J♦ — forced to relinquish his cards. This time Hesp did not show his hand, but we saw on the delay he had Q♥Q♦.
Hesp held out a fist again, but Blumstein laughingly backed away this time. Hesp swung playfully as though they’d suddenly transformed into a couple of boxers, with Blumstein’s leaned back pose resembling his avoiding a punch leaning up against the ropes.
The pair continued grinning and laughing, the merriment spreading around the table as even the short stacks have big grins.
Just now Dan Ott claimed a pot, and Hesp made a point to stand and walk over to deliver Ott a high-five, then added a fist-bump with Blumstein after as a kind of punctuation to the hand.
Hesp is having fun. And he’s collecting chips. Others are having fun, too. But their fun won’t last as long as pots keep going the smiling British gentleman’s way.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.