“Okay, fellas… back here tomorrow at five-thirty.”
A lengthy hand between chip leader Scott Blumstein and Dan Ott had just ended with an anguished-seeming river fold by Ott. Seven players were left, meaning all were waiting for one more knockout before the first night of the three-night 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event final table would be paused.
But Tournament Director Jack Effel’s sudden appearance and announcement meant there would be no more hands dealt on Thursday. Rather than play down to six as had been planned, play was being halted early. Leader Blumstein looked up to receive the news, appearing as though he were emerging from an especially enjoyable five-and-a-hour reverie.
It was an sudden, unexpected shift from the recurring rhythm of shuffles, deals, bets, and folds to packing up and heading out of the quickly emptying Brasilia room.
That said, it hardly matched the even more abrupt transition that had occurred about an hour-and-a-half before.
Nine players — all that remained from the 7,221 who began the Main Event — returned to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino last night to begin the final table. among them the jovial John Hesp, the 64-year-old amateur from east Yorkshire who prior to a couple of weeks ago was most at home playing monthly £10 rebuy tournaments in Hull.
The friendly, convivial Englishman in the multi-colored shirt and jacket and Panama hat won the first three pots of the night, then kept right on winning to seize the chip lead as his stack grew ever larger to match his big personality.
But the fun suddenly stopped after a rough hand that saw Blumstein earn a massive double through Hesp — one Blumstein afterwards described as a “cooler” in which he’d flopped top set of aces, and Hesp turned two pair (aces and tens).
In a flash, the table had been turned on its head. All at once Blumstein was the big stack, with Hesp having tumbled down to join the distant chase pack.
Ben Lamb had fallen early in ninth to win an even $1 million. Another short stack, Jack Sinclair, would later follow in eighth, cashing for $1.2 million. But there’d be no more knockouts as the bags came out, with Blumstein the one happily stashing away close to half the chips in play.
Here’s what the seven players will each have when play resumes tonight:
It made sense to stop, we realized. Blinds are a whopping 600,000/1,200,000 now (with a 200,000 ante), meaning more than half of the remaining players have sub-20 big blind stacks. With such a chip imbalance and so many short stacks, the next few eliminations could come quickly — too quickly to suit the planned for three nights of prime time poker.
The Californian Bryan Piccioli — saved on Monday by a river two-outer with 11 left — is in somewhat more comfortable shape than others with almost 30 BBs after playing a mostly cautious game yesterday.
Meanwhile Benjamin Pollak of France had the second-best day yesterday behind Blumstein, building to a competitive stack that despite being less than half of the leader’s is especially deep (nearly 65 BBs).
Blumstein might have wanted play to continue last night after he’d won that last pot versus Ott. Let’s keep this rolling, the player from New Jersey might have thought. Don’t give the short stacks a night to regroup and reassess.
Then again, the chip leader wasn’t complaining — he had just enjoyed one of the better days of poker a player can have. As Blumstein told ESPN’s Kara Scott afterwards, “I feel like I’m still in a dream.”
For the others, finding a way to avoid getting hit early by the Blumstein bus and advance will have its rewards. Here’s how the remaining payouts look:
As Mr. Effel said, 5:30 p.m. is when it all gets started again. The schedule says they’ll play down to three players this time, although as demonstrated last night the schedule is always subject to change.
Will the ride to a bracelet be a smooth one for Blumstein, or might there be other sudden transitions to come in this year’s Main Event final table story?
Come back in a few hours and stick close thereafter, and we’ll see together whether the short stacks survive, how Pollak and Piccioli progress, and if Blumstein bowls over ’em all.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.