The 2011 World Series of Poker Championship Event drew its remaining players into the room on Thursday, with 1864 players still holding the dream of being the next World Champion. It was a historic day at the WSOP as, for the first time ever, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN, was granted unprecedented live coverage of the Championship Event on a thirty minute delay per regulations from the Nevada Gaming Commission. The live broadcast, hosted by longtime ESPN announcer Lon McEachern and poker professional Antonio Esfandiari, provided all the drama that any serialized television program could hope to produce.
There was plenty of action around the Amazon Room prior to the start of the ESPN broadcast on Thursday evening. Comedian Jason Alexander was a big mover in the early going, taking his stack from 167K to 285K after winning what he called “two big hands.” Canadian Sorel Mizzi also was on the march as he doubled up with pocket Aces against an opponent’s A-K, which put Sorel at 235K. On the down side, a few top pros – Jennifer Harman, Jason Mercier, Dan Shak and the United Kingdom’s Neil “Bad Beat” Channing and Sam Trickett – were ousted in the early action.
One of the more difficult eliminations of the pre-ESPN play was that of two time WSOP bracelet winner Greg Mueller. Holding pocket Aces against a Q-J, Greg got his chips to the center on a K-8-5-10 board, only to see one of his opponent’s six outs strike when a nine came on the river. “Played great today,” Greg lamented over Twitter. “Got it up to 70ish then got AA and got it all in on K-8-5-10 vs QJ …BOOM 9! Str8t! Out! 160k pot!”
By the time the ESPN broadcast time rolled around (7PM on the East Coast), the two featured tables had been determined. At the main table was none other than Daniel Negreanu, who was not given any break as to his opponents. Joining him on the felt were top pros Kristy Gazes, Shaun Deeb, Finnish pro Sami Kelopuro and Germany’s Max Heinzelmann. Although Daniel was sitting in good shape with around 180K in chips, Deeb, Heinzelmann and Kelopuro were at or over that number.
Daniel made some waves early during the ESPN broadcast after having a debate over table manners. While making a difficult decision with a board containing three diamonds, Daniel was heads up against his opponent when he commented, “I had fifteen outs on the river,” which basically told his opponent that he was holding an A-K, with one being diamonds. After his hand hit the muck, he was called to task by a tablemate about telling his opponent what he had to elicit a reaction (also known as the Jamie Gold rule, after the 2006 World Champion’s tactic of telling his opponents, either rightly or wrongly, what he was holding). This set off Daniel, especially after the Tournament Director agreed with the table.
“Do you want no discussion, no table talk? This is a stupid rule,” Daniel raged over and over. For the next fifteen minutes or so, he continued to bemoan the decision to whoever would listen. He took the talk to Twitter as well, where players, TDs and fans added in their agreement or disagreement with the call.
After Daniel’s tirade, one of the most dramatic hands during the ESPN2 broadcast was seen. After a raise in front of him, Shaun Deeb three bet from the small blind, only to see Max Heinzelmann four bet out of the big blind. After the original raiser released his hand, Deeb upped the bet again and Heinzelmann moved all in. Deeb snap-called and turned up pocket Aces, while Heinzelmann could only muster an A-6.
The K-6-10 flop was innocent enough, but a Queen on the turn opened up some more outs for a potential split pot. Stunningly, the river came with another six, giving the German trip sixes against a devastated Deeb’s two pair. Almost even in chips before that penultimate hand, Heinzelmann shot up the leaderboard to over 400K in chips while Deeb was left with only 20,000. A few hands later, Shaun Deeb was eliminated from the tournament.
Give Shaun credit, he did accept an interview with ESPN2’s Kara Scott after the devastating beat. He admitted that there was “some history” between him and Heinzelmann and that he knew that the German wouldn’t back down to his aggression. “I got him to do exactly what I wanted to do,” Deeb said to Scott. “The outcome wasn’t what I expected.” Shaun’s graciousness in defeat is something that should be studied by players in how to react to adversity.
By the time play ended on Thursday, only 852 players remained from the 1864 that had started the day. Jason Alexander couldn’t continue his hot run and was eliminated around the mid-point of the day’s action, joining fellow comedian Brad Garrett on the rail. Former World Champions Tom McEvoy, Huck Seed and Joe Cada, along with pros Matt Matros, Annette Obrestad, Patrik Antonius and tournament director Matt Savage, were some of the top pros who also were eliminated during the day’s play.
Currently sitting atop the leaderboard is Patrick Poirer, who is over the one million chip mark with his 1.328 million stack. He is joined by Darryl Jace, who is the only other player over a million with 1.282 million. Sitting in fourth place is Compton’s David Barter, who is in great shape with 917,000 in chips.
There are other Canadian players in the Top Fifty who will more than likely make it into the money during action on Friday. Toronto’s Peter Jetten moved up the ladder steadily throughout the day on Thursday and will start Friday’s Day 4 with a chip stack of 657,000, good for 22nd place. Joining him will be Burlington’s Timothy Adams (26th, 639,500), Saint Jean’s Marc McLaughlin (39th, 593,500), and Edmonton’s Janet Callaway (42nd, 568K) and Kyle Johnson (45th, 552,500) as Canadian players inside the Top Fifty.
There are still several top pros left among the survivors, but they will have some work to do if they are to make a significant impact on the tournament. Former World Champion Phil Hellmuth was up and down throughout the day on Thursday, but he survived to come into Day 4 play on Friday with 77K in chips. 2011 WSOP bracelet winner Ben Lamb, Jean-Robert Bellande, Jake Cody, Erick Lindgren, Allen Cunningham, Vanessa Rousso and former World Champions Berry Johnston and Robert Varkonyi will all be looking to move up the ladder through Friday’s play.
Although action will start at noon Pacific time, poker fans will be able to watch the action throughout the weekend courtesy of ESPN2. Friday night, ESPN2 will begin coverage at 7PM (Eastern) through 9PM, take the dinner break with the players, then come back from 11PM to 2:30 Saturday morning. Saturday’s coverage starts at 3:30 in the afternoon (Eastern) and will last to 10PM, take a break, then come back from midnight to 2:30AM Sunday morning. Although there is no other coverage scheduled for Sunday, ESPN2 will provide coverage up to the determination of the “November Nine” on Wednesday night.
The money bubble should burst at some point prior to ESPN2’s broadcast this evening; although it would be great drama if the players could somehow hold off until the live cameras are rolling. There is still a ways to go, however, before the 2011 WSOP Championship Event’s “November Nine” will be determined.