It is a situation that really only happens in the World Series of Poker Main Event. You move all-in on one of the biggest money bubbles of the year, you get called, and then you just have to sit and wait as nearly 700 players finish the hand they're on, while the ESPN cameras, swarms of media, and your fellow players surround the table. As you sit, your opponent keeps a straight face, giving nothing away about his holdings. All you can do is sit, wait, and hope that somebody else gets it all-in and loses or that you get a miracle flop, because there is a chance you go home empty-handed.
For Zhen Cai, the wait was particularly rough to see if his Main Event run was over, because in the situation he was in, his opponent almost certainly had aces.
"[I came into today] really short, 65,500. So, my goal today was just to cash. I was in a really bad spot, so I'm happy," Cai explained. "I was second under the gun, I get queens. The entire day, I've been telling the table I'm only getting it in with aces, but with less than six big blinds and queens, I just put it in there. Everyone folds except the big blind. He looks down and tells me, 'You have to have aces', then snap-calls me cause he has aces. I knew I was in trouble when he did that, because he was really short-stacked too and wouldn't risk it if he didn't have aces. He had me covered by 30,000."
Then the waiting commenced as four other tables finished out hands that resulted in all-ins with calls. During the down time, Cai could only hope for the best.
"I figured he had aces, but I kept saying to myself, maybe he doesn't? Maybe he has jacks? Maybe he has ace-king? It was just a lot of hoping that I am somehow gonna win the hand, whether he had a worse hand or whether I was gonna suck out," said Cai.
Cai's opponent did indeed have aces and they did win, but Cai felt increasingly better about his chances at collecting at least a small payday when the first all-in Tournament Director Jack Effel announced resulted in an elimination. By the end of the five hands, there were three eliminated players, Cai, John Dwyer, and Kori Hunter.
The trio quickly learned they would not only be splitting the $18,406 693rd place payday, but they would get to gamble one last time before their WSOP ended for the summer. Thanks to online poker room WSOP.com, one of the three would be earning a seat into next year's Main Event. The way they would determine who got that seat? A high card.
Cai didn't have to sweat much, as he drew a king to claim the seat, giving him motivation to be back for what will be the Florida cash game player's fourth Main Event.
"This is my third [Main Event], first cash. Baby steps to the final table and winning it all, I guess." It was a solid effort from Cai, who ended Day 2 with 367,900, but just couldn't get anything going on Day 3, leaving him short-stacked near the bubble.
Now, he has a chance next year to put together an even better run and take that next baby step towards the November Nine.