Cantu, Can Do

When the 189 players arrived back at the Amazon Room Saturday morning all the buzz was centered on the biggest names remaining.

Could Phil Hellmuth make a run for bracelet #12? Will Allen Cunningham make his second final table in three years? Would Gus Hansen continue to climb the leaderboard? Does Mike Matusow have another improbable Main Event deep run in him?

But after Level 22 the buzz in the now half-empty Amazon Room is less about those players and more about Brandon Cantu, the 27-year-old who has shot himself up to a top five chip stack. Cantu is no stranger to World Series of Poker success. In 2006 he captured his only bracelet in a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event with 2,775 players.

In 2007 he took down the World Poker Tour’s Bay 101 Shooting Stars and in the process joined some elite company as one of only 28 players to have won a WSOP and WPT tournament. But this tournament, obviously, is different – it’s is, after all, the Main Event.

“Today has been an emotional roller coaster,” said Cantu, who has 3,200,000 chips, good enough for 3rd at the dinner break. “I’m absolutely not happy about my play at all. I’m lucky to be here. I played absolutely terrible so far.

“The cards are falling right, I’m playing bad. Today is actually the worst I’ve played in quite some time. I didn’t do this all week, but for some reason I’ve decided today is my day to come in here and stink up the joint.”

He’s in contention but he’s not in the lead. That honor goes to Nikolay Losev of Sweden with 3,500,000 chips. He began the day in 2nd place with only 2,100,000 chips but found himself on the winning end of a number of pots through the early rounds of play Thursday.

As for the big names, two of them hit the rail. Hansen was the first to go, busting out in 160th place after a couple of rough hands. Not long after that the gathered crowd in the Amazon Room got news they didn’t want to hear.

“In 117th place, from Las Vegas, Nevada,” started floor supervisor Jimmy Sommerfeld. “Allen Cunningham.” The collective moan that followed was louder than most of the cheers any players had received throughout the day. Shawn Sheikhan busted in 105th
But there are still some recognizable faces still alive. Mark Vos is in the top 20 with 1,750,000, Victor Ramdin has 1,000,0000 and 2008 Aussie Millions winner Alexander Kostritsyn is also in the hunt with 2,160,000. But the biggest name left in the field may just be the biggest name in poker; Phil Hellmuth.

The “Poker Brat” came into the day with a below average chip stack has showed off his ability to manage a shorter stack against weaker competition. As he headed to dinner with his wife Kathy and other family members he had the attention of ESPN and a stack of 1,280,000 just below the average of 1,487,826.

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