“The Exceptional Eight” are all set. Eight survivors. Eight millionaires. Eight poker players -- some pros and some amateurs -- on the cusp of collecting the most gargantuan payout in poker history. At present, they're each guaranteed to collect at least $1,237,333 -- but no one who takes the main stage on Tuesday is willing to accept a million-dollar consolation prize. This is about something else.
SEAT 1: Guy Laliberte – The creator and CEO of famed Cirque du Soleil takes a seat in the extraordinary event he inspired to create. There’s something poignantly ironic about Laliberte taking “Seat One” at the Big One for One Drop. The 52-year-old executive and philanthropist from Montreal, Quebec starts final table play ranked in third place – with 21,700,000.
SEAT 2: Brian Rast -- The two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner from Las Vegas is here to add to his list of prestigious titles -- including last year's Poker Players Championship. Rast, age 30, comes to the final table ranked in fourth place, with 11,350,000
SEAT 3: Phil Hellmuth -- The most storied poker player in WSOP history won his 12th gold bracelet at this year's WSOP. He holds virtually every record in the book, including the 1989 World Championship. Hellmuth, at age 47, currently resides in Palo Alto, CA. He is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Hellmuth begins play ranked fifth place -- currently with 10,925,000.
SEAT 4: Antonio Esfandiari -- "The Magician" is a WSOP gold bracelet winner as well as the chip leader coming into the final table. The 33-year-old Las Vegas poker superstar has 39,925,000 in chips and is the man to beat today.
SEAT 5: Bobby "the Owl" Baldwin -- The 1978 World Champion owns four WSOP gold bracelets. He's a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. The 62-year-old resident of Las Vegas is the CEO of MGM-Mirage. He begins play ranked eighth in chips, with 7,150,000.
SEAT 6: Sam Trickett -- The 26-year-old English poker pro is one of the highest-stakes gamblers in the world. He is arguably the king of the British poker scene. Trickett seeks his first WSOP gold bracelet today, and is in great position to achieve a monumental victory -- currently ranked second in chips with 37,000,000.
SEAT 7: Richard Yong -- The 54 year-old poker player and businessman spends much of his time in Macau and China. He's also a philanthropist, not to mention one of the most revered gamblers in Asia. Yong is seeking his first WSOP victory and begins this finale ranked in seventh place with 7,475,000 in chips.
SEAT 8: David Einhorn -- The hedge-fund investor and financial mogul lives in Westchester County, NY. He's been here before, finishing 18th place in the 2006 Main Event Championship, the biggest poker tournament of all time. Einhorn donated all of his $600,000 in winnings to the Micheal J. Fox Foundation. The 43-year-old titan of finance begins this final table ranked in sixth place, with 8,375,000.
Mike Sexton has seen and experienced just about everything humanly possible in the game of poker.
He’s won a WSOP gold bracelet. He’s collected a million-dollar prize at the Tournament of Champions -- much of which he donated to charity. He’s been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Then there's Sexton -- the great ambassador, writer, and television commentator. If there's such a thing as "Mr. Poker," Sexton is it.
Sexton has also endured his share of pain and disappointment. Several deep runs and bust outs in WSOP Main Events. Just coming out short of a second gold bracelet victory many times. Not to mention a roller coaster of financial ups and downs over a thirty-year period.
Indeed, poker sometimes brings joy and satisfaction. It also deals out some disappointment.
One Devastating Blow -- The Costliest Bubble in Poker History.
If there’s one thing for which Sexton can be thankful, it’s that he's not Ilya Bulychev.
Imagine busting out of a poker tournament and it costing $1,109,333.
That’s what happened tonight at precisely midnight to the Russian Bulychev, when he turned into a proverbial pumpkin by busting out in tenth place of the Big One for One Drop. Had Bulychev managed to inch up just one more notch, he would have been guaranteed at least $1,109,333 in prize money.
As things turned out, the Russian unfortunately just missed out.
Bulychev was not happy with the outcome – which may be the gross understatement of the year. Consider that he boarded a plane in Moscow four days ago, flew 12,000 miles around the world, plopped down $1 million to play in a poker tournament, played exceptionally well for nearly two full days (with almost no good cards, he would later say), and then busted out on the biggest money bubble in history.
Interviewing Bulychev was not easy. Sort of like asking the man standing out on the street in his pajamas at midnight how he feels after his house has just burned down. That said, here was the exchange with Bulychev. He gave one short interview, and this is it (Note: The player does not speak English. Questions and answers were provided through a Russian interpreter):
Question: Is this a moment of pain and disappointment, or can you take something away from this that is positive?
Bulychev: I did not have any chips all day. I never had chips. I did not have nice cards and nice hands.
Question: So, are you disappointed with what happened?
Bulychev: Of course.
Question: If you knew in advance that you would play and then come in tenth place – which pays nothing -- would you still have played in this event?
Question: But, can’t you take some satisfaction in playing and lasting so long on so little chips? Obviously, it took a lot of skill to go so far.
Bulychev: I do not think of it as any satisfaction. The only satisfaction is with the prizes and the results -- like first place or second place. That is the satisfaction, anywhere before that is no satisfaction.
Question: What are you going to do right now?
Question: All things you have experienced here on this trip. Is there anything you learned or was there something from this that you can say you were happy about when you wake up tomorrow.
Bulychev: Yes. I met a lot of nice people. The people I met there -- that is the major satisfaction that I will take.
Question: One last thing -- will you play the WSOP Main Event this year, or perhaps return again?
Bulychev: I will fly home tomorrow. After that, I do not know.
-- by Nolan Dalla