The first stage of our three-day plan is complete. Sort of.
Through five-and-a-half hours of play on Thursday evening in the Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, the final nine of the World Series of Poker Main Event was cut by two.
What started with 7,221 two weeks ago, then reached nine on Monday, is now down to a last seven following the elimination tonight of Ben Lamb and Jack Sinclair tonight.
Lamb earned $1 million for ninth place on his second trip to a WSOP Main Event final; Sinclair took $1.2 million for eighth on his debut.
The original plan had been to play down to six tonight, but tournament organisers called an abrupt halt to proceedings at 11pm with chips still in front of seven.
Those stacks now look like this, with Scott Blumstein taking an overwhelming chip lead into tomorrow’s second phase of final-table play.
Scott Blumstein: 178.3 million (149 BBs)
Benjamin Pollak: 77.525 million (65 BBs)
Bryan Piccioli: 35.75 million (30 BBs)
John Hesp: 22.475 million (19 BBs)
Dan Ott: 16.350 million (14 BBs)
Damian Salas: 15.625 million (13 BBs)
Antoine Saout: 14.550 million (12 BBs)
Blumstein was leading overnight, but gave his stack a major boost in a single enormous hand against John Hesp. It was chip leader versus closest challenger for more than 150 million in tournament chips and an estimated $5 million in real-money equity. Blumstein flopped a set of aces and Hesp turned top two pair. For once the sea of good will that had propelled Hesp along his extraordinary journey turned against him.
Until that point, this final table had been all about Hesp, who seemed a good bet to pull of one of poker’s most sensational triumphs. The 64-year-old from the north of England was playing for the first time in a tournament with a buy-in five times what he had ever previously grossed from playing poker.
His bucket-list trip to the WSOP had the makings of a far-fetched Hallmark channel movie, especially after he started today’s final by whipping fans into a frenzy by raising the first hand and showing a bluff. But it soon became too good to be true.
The early end to tonight’s play at least guaranteed there will be more Hesp to be seen tomorrow.
Lamb and Sinclair are not so fortunate. Lamb, who finished third in 2011, only lasted four hands today before his A♥9♥ couldn’t beat Sinclair’s A♣Q♥. But Sinclair’s own tournament soon foundered when his K♠J♠ lost to Bryan Piccioli’s A♠A♥.
All of Damian Salas, Dan Ott and Antoine Saout were all-in at other times during today’s two levels of play. The latter two were called and doubled up, but they still have short stacks returning to the Brasilia Room on Friday.
Blumstein is looking exceptionally strong, while Ben Pollak also put on a clinic of patient but ruthless efficiency to move into second place overnight. Hesp will now have a chance to regroup to see if he can keep the miracle alive.
We’ll return tomorrow with full coverage. Cards are in the air at 5.30pm.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.