For the second straight year, ESPN will be broadcasting its live pay-per-view coverage of tonight’s action, which you can order via your cable or satellite provider or as a live video stream here on the web. Still haven’t decided whether I’m going for that or not -- am leaning against it at the moment.
Here are the chip counts heading into play today:
I believe they are very close to the end of Level 30 -- there might be a couple of hands left at that level. When Level 31 begins, the blinds will be 150,000/300,000 and the ante 40,000. That’ll mean a minimum of 810,000 chips per nine-handed orbit. The jumps are considerable after that -- at Level 32 the blinds go up to 200,000/400,000 with a 50,000 ante, and at Level 33 the blinds are 250,000/500,000 with a 50,000 ante.
(EDIT [added 7/17, 4:30 p.m. EDT]: Just noticed a little while ago that somewhere along the way WSOP officials appear to have added an extra level of blinds/antes, inserting the extra level at Level 27. Compare the original structure sheet to what is listed on the WSOP site. Look particularly at Level 27. The change means my comments here are all one level off.)
The payout structure should have some effect on some players’ sense of urgency here. Just over $22 million up for grabs tonight, but over half of that goes to the top two finishers ($8,250,000 for first; $4,840,981 for second). The difference between 6th and 9th is “only” $400,000, so we might see a couple of the shorter stacks get randy early on in an effort to position themselves a little better to take a shot at the big money.
No telling, really, how long of a night it will be. All of my fussing about the rapidly-increasing blinds affecting play may actually turn out to be a lot of applesauce, depending on how these nine approach the final table. However, I still gotta believe those super-sized blinds will force at least a few instances of players’ shoving their chips in less than optimal circumstances.
Betting is now closed over at the Bodog Sportsbook. The odds over there pretty much follow the chip counts, with chip leader Philip Hilm being the favorite at 14-to-5. The only real aberration is Lee Watkinson -- currently in sixth place, chip-wise -- who has gotten a lot of love to be listed at 3.5-to-1 alongside second-place Tuan Lam.
Trying to pick a winner is a bit foolhardy, I’d suggest. However, I am going to venture one prediction: Lee Watkinson will begin the night in an aggressive mode, and the degree to which he is successful early on will have a big influence on how the final table plays out.
When they went ten-handed Sunday night/Monday morning, they ended up playing a total of 36 hands before short-stacked Steven Garfinkle finally busted out in 10th. I mentioned last post how it took about two-and-a-half hours to play those hands, despite the fact that the great majority of them (27) didn’t even make it to the flop. Play was very tentative, with players routinely folding to relatively small preflop raises.
During those 36 hands, Watkinson took it easy. He folded every hand preflop except for three. All three of those were hands where he was on the button. On one, he called a preflop raise from an early position player, but didn’t put another chip in the pot (folding on the river). On the other two, it had folded around to him and he put in a standard preflop raise that enabled him to take the blinds and antes.
Unless someone else gets wacky early on tonight -- which could well happen -- I think Watkinson is now going to “change gears” and try to make some moves early on tonight. I say this primarily because of his final table experience (he’s made a couple of WPT final tables and a WSOP Circuit final table) and because of how he played when they were on the money bubble at this year’s Main Event. John “Falstaff” Hartness summarized Watkinson’s bubble play for PokerNews:
“Lee Watkinson had a big stack as hand-for-hand play began, and he used it to bully his opponents and increase his lead over his table. With eight short stacks surrounding him, Watkinson raised blind to 150,000 every hand, forcing players clinging to chips near the bubble to go all-in to call him. Watkinson did this all fifteen hands of hand-for-hand play, putting on a textbook display of big-stack bubble play.”
When interviewed on Expert Insight this week (the Day 41 episode), Watkinson said he actually increased his preflop raises as bubble play wore on. “I started out, you know, shortly before they go hand-for-hand, I won probably most of the pots [by raising preflop],” Watkinson explained. “And then [when we] went hand-for-hand, I won . . . I think one guy [once] moved all-in [and I folded] and I won every other pot for like ten hands. I started out, you know, just making normal raises, then [a] little bigger raises, and then . . . the last six or seven hands I started out in the small blind . . . it’s obvious what I’m doing, so I’m not even going through the pretenses here, I’m all-in dark . . . and I did that for the rest of the time [until the bubble burst].”
Watkinson said he believes he picked up around 180,000 chips that way. This at a point in the tournament when the average chip stack was a little over 200,000.
I’m taking this display as evidence that Watkinson will be playing with relatively less fear than his opponents tonight. Of course, one factor that might check Watkinson’s aggression early on is the fact that he has Lam, Hilm, and Khan on his left. One or more of them could play back at Watkinson with some reraises.
Like I said, PokerNews is the place to go for live reports from the final table -- particularly if you aren’t shelling out the $19.95 to watch ESPN’s coverage. Even if you do buy the coverage, the live reports might still be worth your time. Expect B.J. Nemeth to provide excellent, detailed descriptions of every move. (Incidentally, Nemeth was interviewed on Expert Insight as well, on the episode they are labelling “Day 44”.) Dr. Pauly (and others, I imagine) also will be there providing additional commentary along the way.
Here’s hoping this year’s final table produces as many interesting hands and stories at we had in 2006.
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