Well, well, well. Here we are. It’s Day 8 of the 2019 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event and the finishing line is in sight. That’s because the final table starts today — at 6.30pm local time — and we will now begin a three-stage process before identifying the new world champion.
They cut the last nine down to six this evening. They then go from six to three tomorrow. And then Tuesday night, two more players will be shorn from contention to leave only the new World Champion.
Banners bearing the photographs of the former winners hang from the walls around all sides of this cavernous playing quarters, and each and every one of the 8,569 people who played this event have imagined seeing themselves alongside the greats. They handed over $10,000 in the speculative hope of making it $10 million, and getting their hands on the most prestigious piece of jewellery in the game.
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It’s in touching distance now for these nine, and all eyes of the watching poker world will be scrutinising their every move until we have our last man standing.
Our principal focus is our dear friend and colleague Garry Gates, who is making everyone working for PokerStars or in the media room here at the Rio wonder in they’re actually in a dream. We’ve all seen many poker tournament won and lost, but we’ve never had someone we know so close to such an enormous prize.
The good news is that Gates is taking it in his stride, savouring the moment and relishing the prospect of slugging it out on the biggest stage.
“The nerves, they’re here, they’re present,” he said. “But I think I’m controlling them well enough. I’m just taking it in. This is exciting. This is once in a lifetime.”
Gates used his day off to hang out with friends and family who have jetted in from far and wide to support him, and he went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant on the eve of this most significant day. Though the pasta did its best to sabotage Gates’s tournament — he found himself at Walgreens at 4.30am — he has been squeezing in naps and is feeling psyched.
“He got more sleep than I did,” said Marissa Rodney, Gates’s girlfriend, who has been by his side for almost all of the deep run.
Gates said he took some time yesterday to look through the hundreds of messages that have been flooding in his direction, as well as across social media. Then he found himself buzzing through his media commitments at the Rio and continuing to find inspiration wherever he looked.
“It honestly felt like I was walking into a heavyweight fight,” he said.
“Coming down the hall and seeing the lines, seeing the guys with my shirts on…Let’s do it man.”
At this precise moment, 15 minutes before play is due to begin, he is mingling with supporters and opponents alike, talking with great enthusiasm and excitement and charming everyone who comes into his orbit.
He’s always been World Champion standard at that kind of thing. Turns out, there are even more strings to his bow.
Play begins at 6.30pm.
World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event
Dates: July 3-16, 2019
Prize pool: $80,548,600
Hossein Ensan, Germany, 177 million
Garry Gates, United States, 99.3 million
Zhen Cai, United States, 60.6 million
Kevin Maahs, United States, 43 million
Alex Livingston, Canada, 37.8 million
Dario Sammartino, Italy, 33.4 million
Milos Skrbic, Serbia, 23.4 million
Timothy Su, USA, 20.2 million
Nick Marchington, UK, 20.1 million
1 – $10,000,000
2 – $6,000,000
3 – $4,000,000
4 – $3,000,000
5 – $2,200,000
6 – $1,850,000
7 – $1,525,000
8 – $1,250,000
9 – $1,000,000
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive