Monday, July 13, 2015

Stories Upon Stories at the WSOP

Yesterday was definitely an interesting day to rail the World Series of Poker Main Event, which I find I’m doing mostly by shuttling between (for live updates and counts), the poker news sites (for spontaneous features), and Twitter (for reactions and discussion).

Lots of interesting stories emerging regarding the players who remain. As the day wore on, I found myself continually seizing on one particular plotline as “the” story of Day 5, then having that one be soon replaced by another and so on right up until the end of play.

Start-of-day chip leader Joe McKeehen spent a good portion of the afternoon on top of the counts, and he finished up with 3.66 million -- above the average (about 2.79 milly) and good for a spot inside the top 20 with 69 players left from the starting field of 6,420. McKeehen intrigues me mostly because I helped cover his win in a WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City in March 2013, a tournament in which he conspicuously distinguished himself as a talented player and dominated at the close.

Brian Hastings ascent up the counts then led to thoughts about his complicated place in the poker world at present (see “The Battle of Hastings”). He finished the night at 4.74 million and in 10th position, and thus will continue to earn attention going forward, thanks also to his having won two bracelets already this summer which allows him to challenge for the lead in that strangely-calculated WSOP Player of the Year race.

Then it was Anton Morgenstern leaping to the fore, the player who entered Day 7 of the 2013 WSOP Main Event in first position with 27 left only to be ousted in 20th place. It wasn’t exactly a blow-up two years ago for the young German -- he experienced some bad fortune in two big hands against Mark Newhouse -- but still, it was a remarkable turn of events.

I still like to rib my friend Stephen Bartley for his tongue-in-cheek-but-still PokerStars blog post he published during Day 6 declaring “Why Anton Morgenstern will (probably) win the main event.” After leading for a short while yesterday, Morgenstern ended today with 4.2 million (17th of 69). See “Anton Morgenstern Getting the Second Chance of Lifetime” on PokerNews to read what Morgenstern is saying about his return trip to the latter stages of the ME.

Speaking of the PokerStars blog, the deep run of Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu will continue to keep them occupied over there as it has throughout the Main Event thus far. He has 3.62 million (in 22nd place) and chances are the closer he gets to the final table the more likely his story will be eclipsing everything else.

Then at another break the not-so-familiar name of Bruce Peery appeared in the top slot, with a tweet by Chris Moneymaker quickly helping everyone learn why he might be of interest to WSOP Main Event fans and historians. “Sick sweat at @WSOP #MainEvent,” wrote Moneymaker, “as best friend from 2003 and guy who lost half my action leading with 145 left.”

As Eric Raskin wrote about in his oral history The Moneymaker Effect (2014) as well as in the preview Grantland article “When We Held Kings,” Peery was the fellow who told Moneymaker not to aim for fourth place and a cash prize of $8,000 in that final PokerStars satellite back in ’03 but to try to win one of the three Main Event packages, ensuring his friend he’d give him $5,000 and take half his action. Alas for Peery, he backed out of the deal and thus missed out on being able to claim half of Moneymaker’s $2.5 million score.

Tim Fiorvanti jumped on that story yesterday for BLUFF, talking to Peery to get more details which Tim shared in “Moneymaker Legend Grows as Bruce Peery Takes WSOP Main Event Lead.” Peery will begin today in 35th position with 2.4 million.

But finally it was Pierre Neuville’s story that ultimately pushed past all of these, just as his chip count managed to exceed everyone, too, by night’s end. The 72-year-old finished with 7.105 million to lead all and grab away the Day 5 headlines.

We’ve all gotten to know Neuville over the years as the very amiable Belgian who earned a reputation as the “Serial PokerStars Qualifier” after winning seats in 23 straight EPT events online. He only took up poker seriously after retiring from a lengthy career in business, I believe, and has earned nearly $2.2 million in live tourney cashes (plus a lot online, too) over the last eight years or so including a two runner-up finishes in EPT Main Events and another second-place in a WSOP bracelet event.

If you don’t know Neuville, check out this interview Remko Rinkema did with him at EPT Deauville earlier this year to hear him explain how “poker makes me younger every year”:

Impossible not to pull for Neuville, and his story -- just like his chip stack -- will take precedence when they get going again today. But with all of these other stories -- and players -- still in the mix, the overall narrative should continue to take some interesting turns.

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