Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Final Tables: Not for the Faint of Heart

World Series of PokerI’m sorry CardPlayer doesn’t appear to be planning a live audio play-by-play of the final table of the WSOP Main Event (as they did last year). I assume the ESPN pay-per-view telecast means there will be no such webcast this time around. I suppose Bluff Magazine is doing something along these lines on Sirius radio, but I’m not a Sirius subscriber so I don’t know much about that.

I was listening back to some of last year’s coverage again this week and remembered how entertaining -- even riveting -- it was to hear the first time around. Click here to listen to an .mp3 clip of Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu describing the second hand of the final table, that insane one in which Mike Matusow’s KcKh ran into Scott Lazar’s AhAd. (The third voice you hear chiming in is that of Greg Raymer.) The file is about 3.5 MB. This is still a blast, even a year later.

I mentioned in my previous post how those at the final table at last year’s WSOP Main Event all came from the upper half of the final 27 -- all nine who made it were among the top 13 with three tables remaining. All but one of those who survived to make this year’s final table were also among the top 13 with 27 to go. Here are the chip counts for the final table (scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Pacific time tomorrow):

2006 WSOP Main Event Chip Counts, Start of Final Table

Among these only Paul Wasicka was significantly short-stacked with 27 to go. Wasicka had a terrific day on Tuesday, starting with a mere 700,000 chips (in 24th place) and ending with nearly 8 million (5th out of 9). About a half hour into the day’s play on Tuesday, Wasicka caught a pair of queens and doubled up. He then laid low for the next three hours or so and was down to about 860,000 when he again found himself all in, this time with kings. They held up, and Wasicka was up to 1.7 million. An hour later he was dealt kings again and after watching four other players limp he put his nearly 2 million in the pot and was only called by the one who had jacks. The cowboys held up again, and Wasicka was back to playing poker with a nice stack of 4 million chips.

The most dramatic fall on Tuesday was experienced by David Einhorn who started the day in 3rd place but busted out before the dinner break in 18th. Einhorn’s story ends well, however. Before play began on Tuesday, the hedge fund manager from California had announced he would be donating all of his winnings to charity -- the Michael J. Fox Foundation which is dedicated to discovering a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Einhorn, whose grandfather had Parkinson’s, won just over $659,000 for finishing 18th, a significantly-sized contribution to the foundation’s efforts. Pretty cool stuff.

I believe the blinds will still be 80,000/160,000 with a 20,000 ante when they start back up tomorrow. This means there will be a bit of room for some play when they begin, and that even the short stacks won’t necessarily have to push right away. It will be interesting to see whether Gold and/or Cunningham allow anyone stay comfortable, however. You gotta believe Gold in particular will be applying serious pressure from the get-go.

The payout structure should have some kind of an effect, as well. From 9th to 3rd, moving up a spot means another $400,000-$500,000 with each step. For most of these guys, that's a hell of a lot of scratch, particularly when you consider Cunningham is the only one at the table whose lifetime earnings exceeds a quarter million. (Cunningham has earned over $4 million; Wasicka, about $237,000; Gold and Binger about $100K each; the others, next-to-nothing or nothing.) The difference between 3rd and 2nd is almost $2 million, though, and the difference between 1st and 2nd is nearly $6 million. So it could be some players will think “top 2 or bust” and thus get wild right away, while others may well put their heads inside their shells and hope to wait out a spot or two or three before getting blinded off.

Whatever happens, it’ll surely be relived, replayed, and reviewed endlessly until next year’s WSOP. There’s a kind of permanence about final table play that may also have its effect tomorrow. The fact that the “world” (or some of it) will literally be watching this time certainly won’t lessen the pressure. As Negreanu says at the end of the clip, “if you have heart problems, the World Series of Poker is not for you.”

Image: WSOP logo.

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