It was a festive scene last night in the Brasilia shortly after the penultimate day of the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event concluded.
A rapid-fire sequence of knockouts had swiftly reduced the field to just three players, all that remains of the 7,221 who started the event two weeks ago. The jovial John Hesp was the fourth-place finisher, the 64-year-old amateur from Bridlington in Yorkshire in the north of England.
It was a “bucket list” adventure for Hesp who had only notched a handful of tournament cashes before in £10 rebuy tournaments at his local casino in nearby Hull. Hesp’s biggest previous cash had been for £785 (about $1,000 USD). For finishing fourth, Hesp earned $2.6 million.
We had gotten to know Hesp over the course of his magical run through this year’s Main, quickly discovering his personality to be as colorful as his wardrobe.
As it happened, Hesp’s run concluded on the same day new inductees were announced for the Poker Hall of Fame. Ten-time bracelet winner Phil Ivey was named — hardly a surprise. Meanwhile the late Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott also was chosen by the voters, easily the most famous poker player previously to come from Yorkshire.
Much as people have been watching with wonder Hesp play poker on television over recent days, so too did Ulliott’s starring turn on Late Night Poker beginning in 1999 thrill viewing audiences and help ensure the spread of poker’s popularity in the U.K. and beyond.
Responding to the news of Ulliott’s induction, Devilfish’s family mentioned how he would have been pleased to watch Hesp’s deep run, noting in particular how Hesp “represents what poker is all about — a true game of the people.”
“I met Dave, actually, several times at the Napoleon’s Casino in Hull,” Hesp told us last night. “Dave was a Hull man, born and raised, and he obviously brought a lot of fun and excitement to the game.”
“I loved him to bits. He was a character who was flamboyant in life and he brought a lot to the game. I give my best wishes to his family and say how much he brought to the game as a Hull guy,” he added.
“I’m just a regular Bridlington guy,” added Hesp, again — as he’d done many times throughout the last several days — marveling at how others have responded to his becoming more than just a regular story for those following this year’s Main Event.
The three players who remain are all regular guys, too. That said, there’s nothing regular about the situation in which they’ll find themselves in tonight. This will be one special game of cards, one they’ll remember all of their lives.
Benjamin Pollak returns to the fewest chips though possesses the most extensive poker pedigree, having amassed nearly $3 million in tournament winnings over the course of a decade-long career. Once an engineering student and also a practitioner of magic, the 34-year-old from Paris, France has played a circumspect game at the final table, finding a couple of difficult folds like a well-trained escape artist.
Meanwhile 25-year-old Dan Ott of Altoona, Pennsylvania came to this final table with a live tournament history resembling Hesp’s, featuring only a couple of previous cashes (both at this year’s WSOP) worth only $3,656 total. Indeed, one of those cashes he split with his twin brother, Dillon, in a tag-team event. A Penn State University grad with marketing degree, Ott had been short-stacked for much of the final, but has benefited from aggression and good timing to build his stack and survive to the final day.
Both Pollak and Ott face quite a challenge, though, in Scott Blumstein. The 25-year-old player from New Jersey with about $312K in career cashes began the final table with the chip lead and through constant pressure plus a bit of run good will have nearly 63 percent of the chips when play resumes tonight. Two years ago Blumstein was helping report on poker tournaments, but after winning a big one at the Borgata in last summer the Temple University graduate has made playing his focus.
Here are those current counts for the final three:
And here are the remaining payouts:
They’ll come back with just over an hour-and-a-half to go in Level 41, where the blinds are 1M/2M with a 300K ante, meaning Ott will have just over 44 big blinds to start and Pollak almost 23.
The first deal of the last night of the 2017 WSOP Main Event comes at 5:30 p.m. The scene is sure to be festive once again for those of us who’ll be in attendance. But for three regular guys, it will be the most memorable, intense game of cards they’ll ever play.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.