2015 WSOP NOVEMBER NINE (DAY TWO REPORT)
Down to three -- Joe McKeehen holds big chip lead with Neil Blumenfield and Josh Beckley still alive
Steinberg, Stern, Cannuli eliminated 4th, 5th, 6th
“SURVIVING SIX” RESUME PLAY
This year for the first time, the World Series of Poker’s November Nine extravaganza extended into three nights of championship final table action, instead of two. Monday evening included the second of three playing sessions. The field was carved down yet again, this time from six players down to the final three who survived. One is destined to become the 2015 world poker champion.
Cards went into the air promptly at 4:30 pm PST at the Rio’s Penn and Teller Theater in Las Vegas. A national television audience tuned in on ESPN and every major poker news outlet was here to provide coverage, with social media yet again becoming a driving force of breaking news and instantaneous feedback. When players busted, fans in foreign countries thousands of miles away knew the result, often before the competitor exited the stage.
The day’s major developments included the elimination of three more players, following three players who busted out previously on the first day. Moreover, chip leader Joe McKeehen continued to roll towards the championship, maintaining what amounted to approximately a 3 to 1 chip advantage. Other survivors included Neil Blumenfield and Josh Beckley.
The place of play also accelerated a bit, as less tanking and a short-handed table contributed significantly to more hands being dealt, and a more exciting night than the opener.
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JOE MCKEEHEN BECOMES THE FIRST TO CROSS $100,000,000
Since poker’s modern era, when huge fields and millions in chips have become the norm, a watershed moment takes place at the WSOP when a player becomes the first to reach the much covered 100-million mark. Once that lofty plateau is reached, victory has been all but assured. That occasion took place at about 7:30 pm PST on this night when Joe McKeehen catapulted over the nine-figure threshold for the first time. With about 190,000,000 in total tournament chips in play, that meant McKeehen had well over half the chips on the table.
McKeehen’s position of dominance was secured when there were four players still remaining. To give some perspective, about an hour later, the big blind reached the $1 million stage, meaning McKeehen was the only player reasonably safe from elimination, assuming he went card dead for an extended period. The remaining three players had between 15 and 40 big blinds at the time.
McKeehen’s advantage widened even further during the final hour of play. He now rests in comfortable chip position to dictate how play goes on the third and final day, coming up on Tuesday night.
AMERICAN POKER PLAYERS NOW GUARANTEED TO TAKE TOP FOUR SPOTS
This year’s November Nine included players from four different countries – Belgium, Israel, Italy, and the United States. Following elimination in 5th place, that locked up the top four spots for American players.
In recent years, since the November Nine concept was adopted in 2008, world champions have come from Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Denmark – plus three from the United States. Now, after this year, that means four Americans will have won the title, along with four internationals.
With three players still remaining, at least one other noteworthy development will be at stake when play resumes. Neil Blumenfield, age 61, has a chance to become the second-oldest world champion in history, after Johnny Moss, who won in 1975 at age 67. Should he win, Blumenfield would eclipse Noel Furlong by 13 days, who was 61 when he was the WSOP Main Event in 1999. Blumenfield currently ranks second in chips.
By the way, McKeehen and Beckley are ages 24 and 25, respectively.
AN EARLY “TANKSGIVING”
Final table play had been widely criticized following the snail’s pace of play during the first championship session, which played out on Sunday. Only 72 hands were dealt out in 5.5 hours, which made for little poker action and fewer opportunities for confrontation and drama.
Fortunately, the pace of play picked up considerably during the second session, as nearly twice as many hands were dealt per hour (breaks aside). The 13-hand per hour pace increased to a much quicker 21-hand per hour stride on Monday. In just over 3.5 hours, 71 hands were dealt out. That means play resumes on hand number 144, Tuesday. By contrast, it took 328 hands to determine last year’s winner (which was played in two days).
Regardless of how things go from this point forward, tanking and unnecessary delaying tactics by players are certain to be the focus of much discussion following this year’s championship, and prior to the start of the 2016 WSOP. Some influential voices are even calling for the imposition of an official “shot clock,” similar to what’s used in basketball. Players would be given a certain amount of time to act on their hands (limited to perhaps 30 seconds), with “time outs” used sparingly. There’s certainly more debate to come.
THOMAS CANNULI QUICKLY ELIMINATED IN SIXTH PLACE
As was the case on the previous night with Patrick Chan’s quick bust out on only the second hand of the championship table, another short-stacked player was quickly eliminated from the finale. Thomas Cannuli, known something as a poker protégé for his astronomical wins and losses in the six-figure range (which mostly took place online within just a few month’s time) arrived as arguably the loosest cannon of the six players who still remained.
On what turned out to be his last hand of the 2015 WSOP, Cannuli foresaw a potential dream-come-true sequence when he looked down at his two hole cards and peaked at pocket aces, Hold’em’s best possible two-card combination. Even more thrilling than getting dealt aces was the prospect of doubling up into contention. Opponent Max Steinberg moved all-in one seat ahead of Cannuli, holding pocket tens. Cannuli snap called the raise, stood up, and went over to his rail of supporters, where he was hugged and as things turned out – consoled in defeat.
The flop was Steinberg’s dream and Cannuli’s worst nightmare – as a ten came. That gave Steinberg trip tens, reversing the fortunes of the two players. The board got more interesting on the turn as the four cards came J-10-6-Q. The queen on the turn gave Cannuli four additional outs. However, an 8 on the river sealed the bad beat and knocked out Cannuli in 6th place.
“That’s all part of the game. Bad beats are something you can’t control….you can’t whine and be a baby about it,” Cannuli said afterward, surrounded by a huge rail of supporters and assembled members of the press. “It’s over, it’s done. You have to take it all in stride – the good with the bad. For me, I’ll move forward and it’s back to the grind for me.”
Cannuli, a 23-year-old professional poker player from Cape May, NJ which is near Atlantic City, was the youngest player to make this year’s November Nine. His payout amounted to $1,426,283, but prize money was the last thing on Cannuli’s mind on Tuesday night. Refusing to wallow in disappointment or fantasies of what could have been otherwise, Cannuli handled the bad beat with class and dignity, acknowledging others who had supported him along the way in his decision to try and make it as a poker pro, against the odds.
“I want to say that the WSOP gold bracelet would have been really amazing, but nothing means more to me that all of you (family and friends) who are here with me at this moment,” Cannuli said. “This is the best rail in history. I plan to make it here again. I will be back.”
ZVI STERN OPENS UP AND THEN TAKES THE FIFTH
Zvi Ofer Stern became a lightning rod following the first day’s action. The 37-year-old Israeli businessman and part-time poker player received widespread scrutiny, particularly on social media for tanking during many of his table decisions, but then seemed to deliberately play much more quickly on the second day.
“I heard about that but really didn’t follow it that much,” Stern said during his post-tournament bust-out interview. “I wasn’t trying to stall. Maybe it seemed like I was taking too long, but it's very useful for me to make sure I'm making optimal decisions. We were playing for a lot of money and I wanted to think everything over very carefully before I acted.”
Stern initially arrived at the final table ranked second in chips, but made a risky bluff move that failed, when he ran into Josh Beckley’s pocket aces. That cost Stern about half of his stack. Then, as the player suddenly lowest in chips with about 20 big blinds, Stern shoved most of his stack into the pot with A-J, which was re-raised all-in instantly by Neil Blumenfield, holding A-K. Stern called with the remainder of his chips and was decidedly a big underdog. He failed to improve as the board ran out 7-5-3-K-Q. A king on the turn sealed Stern’s fate as the 5th-place finisher. He collected $1,911,423 and became only the third player in WSOP history from the nation of Israel to make the Main Event finale (Tomer Benvenisti, 5th in 2003, and Amir Lehavot, 3rd in 2013 were the two others).
“I am really happy with the way I played,” Stern said. “Maybe tomorrow I will have some regrets. But right now I am really happy and really thankful, also. This has been really positive for me and for poker in my home country. I hope to use this as a learning experience and come back again next year.”
MAX STEINBERG FINISHES FOURTH
Max Steinberg enjoyed lots of support from the crowd and appeared to appreciate the weighty role that was largely thrust upon him during the extended layoff as potentially poker’s ideal ambassador. Most of his large entourage gathered inside the Rio dressed up for the occasion, mirroring their favorite poker player’s dashing and debonair fashion sense. Steinberg, who customarily marks each of his WSOP final table appearance by wearing a suit and tie (this is his fifth such occasion), arrived fully prepared to leave quite an impression – and he did.
Unfortunately, the cards didn’t cooperate for Steinberg in the end. He became the final player of the night to be eliminated, in fourth place. Steinberg had previously dodged a major bullet when he managed to spike a 10 on the flop against Tom Cannuli’s pocket aces. Steinberg later remarked that the good fortune put him on something of a freeroll.
“I shouldn’t have made it this far, so I certainly can’t complain,” Steinberg said afterward in front of his cheering throng of supporters. “When I hit the 10, that gave me added life.
Actually, hitting the card actually gave Steinberg an extra $1.2 million, presuming he would have busted out 6th instead of 4th. As things turned out instead, the 27-year-old poker pro and fantasy sports expert collected a whopping $2,615,361 in prize money.
“This was an amazing experience,” Steinberg said. “Poker is going to always be a part of my life and I know I will look back on this and remember what a great time I had.”
Steinberg tweeted throughout play. Demonstrating the class that has come to define his public persona, he sent out this final post on Twitter: “Thank you so much for the support everyone! I'm so grateful for 4th and good luck to everyone else in the field.”
With a “good luck” message from the fourth-place finisher, the final stage on what’s to be the final night at poker’s supreme final table is now all set.
TUESDAY’S TRIO ON DECK
Just three players now remain in the WSOP Main Event Championship. The field includes players from Pennsylvania (McKeehen), New Jersey (Beckley), and California (Blumenfield). Entering Tuesday’s night’s finale, here are the chip counts:
Joe McKeehen – 128,825,000
Neil Blumenfield – 40,125,000
Josh Beckley – 23,700,000
[Blinds are 1,000,000 / 500,000 with a 150,000 ante. That means each orbit of three hands will cost each player 1,950,000 in chips]
Cards go into the air live at 6 pm sharp PST in Las Vegas. General admission seating inside the Penn and Teller Theater is free and open to the public to anyone over the age of 21. Television broadcast coverage begins on a 30-minute delay in ESPN, with co-host Lon McEachern and Norman Chad calling all the action, along with Kara Scott. They will be joined by poker analysts Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Antonio Esfandiari.
Poker’s biggest night will soon be underway, where the 6,420 players who began their journey, 6,417 of which are since long gone will ultimately play down to one world champion, who collects $7,683,346 and the covered WSOP gold bracelet.
ADDENDUM (Includes Player Bios):
World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table Down to Final Three. Meet the remaining combatants:
Joe McKeehen – 128,825,000 in chips
The chip leader remains 24-year-old poker professional Joe McKeehen from North Wales, Pennsylvania. He has total tournament earnings of $3,514,982, including $883,494 in eight previous WSOP cashes. McKeehen has won two WSOP Circuit Rings, and his biggest cash before this final table was for $820,863 when he finished runner-up in the inaugural Monster Stack event at the WSOP in 2014 that featured another huge field – 7,862 players. Joe played 22 events during the 2015 WSOP, cashing in four, including the Main Event. His previous best finish in this event came in 2013 when he finished in 489th place. McKeehen entered the final table as the chip leader with nearly 33% of the chips in play, and it was he himself who eliminated the 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th place finishers in succession. He went into Monday’s play with six players holding 47% of the chips in play. Though he had a somewhat uneven day for him, he eliminated Max Steinberg on the final hand of the night to end with 67% of the chips in play – 128,825,000 and a commanding lead heading into the final day of play.
Neil Blumenfield – 40,125,000 in chips
Blumenfield, 61, from San Francisco, California (born in Chicago), looks to become the first 61-year-old winner of the WSOP Main Event since Noel Furlong in 1999. In fact, Blumenfield, at 61 years, 5 months and 2 days, would surpass Furlong’s age by two weeks, and make him the eldest Main Event winner since Johnny Moss was 67 in 1974. Blumenfield plays poker as a hobby and looks to become the first amateur winner of the event since Jerry Yang in 2007. Just prior to entering this year’s Main Event he was laid off his software job, and wasn’t even sure if he should spend the $10,000 to enter given his uncertain job status. He’s a UC Berkeley graduate and a former High School Debate Champion. Blumenfield has $44,395 in earnings via two previous cashes at the WSOP and has a total of one tournament victory and $130,468 in poker tournament winnings. This was the fifth-consecutive year Neil played the WSOP Main Event, and he had one prior cash when he finished in 285th in 2012. He sits in second place with 21% of the chips in play.
– 23,700,000 in chips
Beckley is a 25-year-old poker professional from Marton, just outside Philadelphia. He has cashed four previous times at the WSOP – all coming this year – for $19,403 and his total lifetime live tournament winnings are $219,526. He played 14 events during the 2015 WSOP, finishing five of 14 in the money, with this being his first ever final table at the WSOP. He started this final table seventh in chips, but remained patient throughout, carefully picking his spots to put chips at risk, and managed to reach the final day of the event in third place, with 12% of the chips.