Two words describe the bubble period at the World Series of Poker Main Event: tension and chaos. They’re useful because you can arrange them in any order of adjective and noun. It’s chaotic tension, and it’s tense chaos. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
This year, for what I think is the first time in the Main Event, players were spread across two rooms, which ratcheted up both of the constants. It was even more tense than usual because players knew that someone in the other room might have been knocked out, and it was even more chaotic than usual because nobody was able to tell them.
When you add to that the fact that it was past midnight and they were playing an additional level to what was originally scheduled, you’ve got the recipe for the extremes of what high-stakes tournament poker can offer. And it proved to be a brilliant bubble.
It actually burst in stages. At the end of Level 15 tonight (the point at which play was scheduled to end), 1,101 players went for a 20-minute break knowing that when they returned, 16 of them would be leaving the Rio Hotel’s Convention Centre empty handed.
Naturally, the line for the bathroom with the four broken urinals was their primary concern, but bubbling the biggest $10K in the world was a close second.
When they returned to the tournament floor, everyone’s stacks were absent the 500-denomination chips, which were coloured off as the ante rose to 1,000. And they were also quickly absent the 15 players that took them down to the hand-for-hand phase of play.
This rush of knockouts was all the more impressive given how much stalling was going on. Short stack stalling on the bubble is now pretty much accepted in massive tournaments like this, and I witnessed precious few incidences of clock-calling despite the new powers. At Ilkin Amirov’s table, for instance, one opponent turned to him and said, “You haven’t even looked at your cards.”
“I have looked at my cards,” Amirov insisted, but then spent another three or four minutes looking vacantly forward before mucking.
It must be noted that Amirov was absolutely not alone. In fact, there was only one really comfortably-sized stack at his table and everyone seemed happy enough to allow him to continue. It was a pattern repeated across the room.
But then, sure enough, they really were two off the money and this was where it got complicated. As the tournament clock clicked through Level 16 and the real-world clock hit 1am, tournament organisers had to make sure nobody would bust without their disappointment being recorded. There were 122 tables: 30 in two sections of the Brasilia Room (the TV stage was empty) and 92 in two sections of the Amazon Room, half of which was empty too.
“Dealers complete the hand you’re on and I need you to stand up,” the tournament director said over the microphone. One dealer did so at a peripheral table, only for the player in Seat 1 to say, “You’re probably higher sitting down.” Honestly, this guy wasn’t that short. It was harsh.
The reason for making the dealers stand up–in addition to giving everyone an idea of what it would be like if you could force penguins to stand in line–is to ensure that tournament officials know when action is complete and they can start another hand.
But with bloggers and massage therapists and waiting staff milling around (one of the latter tipped a tray of beers and coffee over a particularly unfortunate dealer) sight lines were obscured. Players too were getting up, jigging around, wandering over to friends and back. “All players, please sit in your seats at this time so we can see the field.”
And then it all happened in a flash. Suddenly there were four players all-in at the same time in the Amazon Room. Players in the Brasilia Room, where there was no one all-in, were only getting updates via piped microphone announcements from Jack Effel. It was a little confusing, to say the least, especially when Effel announced that Faraz Jaka was all-in and under threat against a flopped flush.
Jaka didn’t get the runner-runner he needed for his pair of kings to overtake the flush, but then it became clear that Jaka actually wasn’t the one under threat. “Faraz is going to double up this gentleman here,” Effel said. That was actually the second bubble-up–Tex Barch doubled up on Felipe Ramos’s table–but there were still two more to go.
Over they went to Table 61, and this was an elimination.
Kenny Shih opened to 15,000 and Roger Campbell called in the big blind. After an all-heart flop, Campbell bet 15,000. Shih raised to 65,000 and Campbell shipped for 225,000. Shih called with a covering stack.
Campbell was behind with his A♥K♣ to Shih’s Q♥10♥ but he had a draw to the bigger flush. However the 10♣ and 2♦ did not hit him and Campbell was out.
This was greeted by a huge whoop in the Brasilia Room–let’s say the kind of whoop that would greet a sarcastic waiter dropping a whole tray of dishes in a packed restaurant. But that was nothing compared with the unfettered joy that greeted the next one.
Nobody in Brasilia had any real idea how much of an extraordinary bubble hand this was, as they got the bare bones only from the piped announcements. However, Poker News’s Frank Op de Woerd watched it all and it was a doozy: Quan Zhou, the Chinese high-stakes regular, bluffing off a stack of around half a million to bust out of the money. (Bear in mind, plenty of other players had sub two big-blind stacks. One guy had two antes.)
It played out as follows: Davidi Kitai opened to 14,000 from under the gun and Zhou, with whom Kitai will have crossed swords in the biggest tournaments in Europe, three-bet to 32,000. Kitai called and took in a flop of 10♦J♣10♥.
Kitai checked and Zhou checked.
The turn brought the 7♥ and Kitai bet 27,000. Zhou raised to 70,000 and Kitai called. The K♥ fell on the river and Kitai checked. Zhou still had 376,000 in his stack, but moved it all-in. Kitai snap-called with K♠K♦. Zhou was forced to expose his A♦9♦. It was a huge bluff, but it failed. It also burst the 2017 Main Event bubble.
“Yeeeeaaaaassss!” shouted everybody, on the rail and at the tables in the Brasilia Room.
“We got the electricity(!)”
(Don’t judge. Who knows what you might shout in this situation.)
Campbell and Zhou then played a two-handed elimination decider to see who would get the traditional bubble prize, namely a buy-in to next year’s WSOP Main Event. Zhou, who could have still been in this year’s renewal had he not had his moment of aggression, won it, so will be back next year.
It left Campbell as the last to leave with completely nothing–and his disappointment may be overshadowed by Zhou’s huge blow-up.
It was a dramatic end to proceedings, but brings us down to the 1,084 we need to start chopping up this enormous prize pool.
The game is on folks. The game is on.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.