Joe McKeehen continues his domination, extends chip lead with two days left to play

Neuville, Butteroni, Chan eliminated 7th, 8th, 9th



What started in Las Vegas more than four months ago with the crazy journeys and wild dreams of a whopping 6,420 entrants traveling from 80 different nations, continued with just nine far more serious-minded survivors who took their seats at poker’s most coveted and compelling final table.

Beneath the spotlights and inside the flashy arena where magic is typically performed nightly, the Rio’s Penn and Teller Theater in Las Vegas was packed to near capacity with players and their entourages, as well as illuminati from the poker world.  Cards flew into the air promptly at 5 pm, for the first of three consecutive nights of poker action, which shall ultimately determine the 2015 world poker champion.  With a national television audience watching on ESPN, and millions following all the folding, betting, and raising live via all the major social media outlets, the stage was all set for poker’s biggest night; well, three nights, actually – since the WSOP November Nine continues on Monday and Tuesday.

The biggest news of the first day’s N9 action included the widening chip lead of Joe McKeehen, who at this point appears to be an unstoppable force.  He has dominated play, thus far.  Furthermore, we witnessed the elimination of three players from the Main Event Championship – Pierre Neuville, Federico Butteroni, and Patrick Chan.  Six players now remain.

NOTE:  A complete hand-by-hand recap of the first day's action can be read HERE.



The look of the final table returned somewhat to the ghosts of yesteryear, back to an era when clothes, table images, and personalities were just as much a part of the game as were cards and chips.  Several players came well dressed for the occasion:   

 SEAT 1:  Ofer Zvi Stern, from Israel, appeared the most stealth-like of all the finalists, draped fully in black with tightly wrapped mirrored glasses covering his eyes most of the time.  Stern also committed a WSOP first, vaping during various breaks at the final table. 

SEAT 2:  Pierre Neuville, from Belgium, appeared to be the most relaxed, by far, of the nine finalists.  He waved to the crowd often and was one of the few players who frequently smiled during the action.  Neuville, age 72, was the eldest player to appear at a Main Event Championship final table in 30 years, since Johnny Moss made his last deep run back in 1985, at age 78.

SEAT 3:  Joshua Beckley was patched up with sponsors and adorned in old-style Ray Bans. 

SEAT 4:  Max Steinberg started his own tradition years ago by wearing a suit and tie each time he made a WSOP final table appearance.  This night was no exception, as Steinberg arrived in a bright blue suit, with a necktie tie, which clearly stood out among his darker-dressed, more muted competitors.

SEAT 5:  Thomas Cannuli, 23, paid homage to his peers with a backwards baseball cap and hoodie, clothing which has largely come to dominate many poker scenes over the past decade.  He was one of four players not to wear sunglasses (Neuville, Steinberg, and McKeehen were the others).

SEAT 6:  Joe McKeehen let the world know he’s a fan of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles (which won by the way in a crucial game that was taking place during this final table).  McKeehen’s green Eagles’ jersey mimicked the fashion sense of some recent champs, including Greg Merson and Ryan Riess, who wore Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Lions gear, respectively the years they won.

SEAT 7:  Patrick Chan was dressed in all black, and even had a clothing sponsor.  He wore mirrored shades.

SEAT 8:  Federico Butteroni, from Italy, was expected to make a lasting impression, and certainly did not disappoint.  He came dressed in a suave Italian suit and exhibited the look of a model, not the usual image of most poker players.

SEAT 9:  Neil Blumenfield wore his dapper fedora, along with circular sunglasses, which have become his defining trademark during the WSOP telecasts on ESPN.  He’s clearly one of the most recognizable players at this final table and should be even more memorable should he go much deeper in this event.



Given the monumental weight of each strategic decision, players could be expected to take extra time thinking about what to do.  In recent years, “tanking” – a poker term which means taking a longer period of time than usual to make a decision – has become quite the norm.  However, this championship finale had far more than its share of tanking, delays which seemed amplified by numerous breaks taken as were required by live ESPN telecast.  The first few hours of play saw a total of just 24 hands played, which is only about half the usual number of hands dealt out during most tournaments (to be fair, televised final tables always deal less hands than usual – except when they become very short-handed).

Those watching television coverage could take some solace in the frequent tanking punctuated by commercial breaks, since expert commentary was provided consistently by Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Antonio Esfandiari.  However, social media was considerably more critical of the slowness of play.

Play began at 5 pm.  Play ended at 10:45 pm.  There were just 72 hands played, which amounted to about 13 per hour.  One tweet hash tagged the course of events a “#glacierpace.”   



Patrick Chan, dealt K-Q offsuit on what turned out to be the only flop he saw at the championship table, was eliminated quickly when he called an all-in shove by the chip leader Joe McKeehen, who was holding A-4 offsuit.  Chan, the clear underdog, failed to catch a much-needed facecard as the board ran out (10-6-5-3-9 of rainbow suits) and busted just 15 minutes into play.

“I knew (Joe McKeehen) had a really wide range of hands there,” Chan explained afterward.  “I didn’t need much to call him with in that spot, and figured, at worst, it was a coin flip.”

Despite his early exit, Chan remained optimistic and was thankful for having gone through the one-in-a-lifetime experience as one of this year’s November Nine finalists.  “It was like a dream come true coming onto the stage with all my friends and family here,” he said.

Chan returns to home to Brooklyn, NY not only $1,001,020 wealthier, but also considerably richer for the thrilling experience of being one of only 71 players to have made the November Nine, since the delayed finale concept was first adopted in 2008.



Federico Butteroni, only the second Italian native to make the championship finale (following fellow countryman Filippo Candio’s 4th-place finish in 2010) went out during the third hour of play.  Lowest in chips from the start of play, Butteroni didn’t catch many hands.  So, when he peaked at his hole cards and saw A-J, that seemed the opportune moment to shove following a small raise from the big stack. 

“I didn’t see an ace during the entire first hour and a half,” Butteroni explained afterward.  “So, when I saw the ace with a jack, that was the biggest hand for me of the night.  I can’t have regret about anything.  The decisions were easy.  The cards played themselves for me.”

Unfortunately, McKeehen had made his move with A-K, clearly a dominant hand, and made an instant call.  The board came 10-6-3-9-7, which gave neither player a pair, but was enough for McKeehen to scoop, holding the two highest cards.  Good-natured Butteroni took the defeat in stride.

“It was a really nice journey….I can’t complain,” Butteroni said in his post-tourney press conference.  “I’m so happy for the World Series of Poker for letting me have my dream….when I was playing, it was representing not just myself.  I was representing Italy, so I wanted to make them proud, especially all those who supported me, including my friends and family.”

Butteroni’s 2015 WSOP ended with loud cheers from the Italian-based cheering section.  He collected $1,097,056 in his biggest win ever.   



Much was made of Pierre Neuville’s age coming into this year’s finale.  He stood out from most of his much-younger peers, along with Neil Blumenfield as the first and only two players to make the November Nine who were over the age of 60.  Neuville, a popular player on the Europe poker circuit who delighted many viewers with his positive attitude and eternal optimism, was a favorite of many poker fans, and he certainly didn’t disappoint them with this impressive performance.

Unfortunately, Neuville ran bad at the worst possible time, failing to win a major pot in the final few hours, resulting in his elimination in 7th place.  On his final hand, Neuville took quite a bad beat.  He was dealt A-J suited.  The Belgian was delighted to get a call by McKeehen, who called the raise which was only about 3 million, barely a speck compared to his chip stack.  McKeehen smiled and turned over the J-6 of hearts.  The flop was kind to Neuville, who had the dominant hand and dodged one of three remaining 6’s.  However, one heart on board matched a second on the turn, and then a third on the river – giving McKeehen a heart flush.  It was a brutal end for Neuville, who shrugged and then smiled, as he received condolences from everyone at the table.

“This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Neuville told the press afterward.  “I owe so much to so many people just for being here.  And to have this moment is more than I can express my thanks for.  I have been around for a long time.  Sometimes you run very good, and sometimes you run very bad and there is nothing you can do about that.  For me, it was a night I ran bad.  But, I have to say I ran very good at the WSOP this year and that’s what I will remember.”

Neuville departs this year’s Main Event Championship with at least two accolades – being the oldest player November Nine finalist in history, plus winnings of $1,203,293 in prize money.  This marked his 20th career cash at the WSOP.

“I plan to be back here at the WSOP again next year, and 20 more years after that,” Neuville said to cheers as he exited the stage. 



Just six players remain in the WSOP Main Event Championship.  However, most of the world’s attention will focus on Joe McKeehen, the 24-year-old poker pro who has not only played flawlessly so far, but has seen just about every direct confrontation go his way.  Consider that McKeehen managed to eliminate all three of the players who went out during the first night, and now has what some might look upon as an insurmountable chip advantage.  He’s 3 to 1 in chips over his two closest rivals -- Ofer Zvi Stern, from Israel and Neil Blumenfield, from San Francisco.

Interestingly, the three players who currently sit in 4th-6th chip positions haven't seen their status change much, even after a full day's action.  Max Steinberg lost a little of his stack, while Josh Beckley and Tom Cannuli both remained with about the same chip counts following more than five hours of play.  However, all players are now guaranteed at least $425,000 more than when they started play, since that's the next payout for 6th place.  Hence, this was quite a profitable day, even though none made much of a move in chips.

So far as "insurmountable advantages" for McKeehen goes, we shall soon see about that.  Recent history hasn’t been particularly kind to chip leaders midway into the final table.

Entering the second day’s session, the chip counts are as follows:

Joe McKeehen – 91,450,000
Ofer Zvi Stern – 32,400,000
Neil Blumenfield – 31,500,000
Max Steinberg – 16,000,000
Josh Beckley – 10,875,000
Thomas Cannuli – 10,425,000

At day’s end, as chips were being bagged up, McKeehen acknowledged that he’d had everything go almost to perfection.

“It went very well,” McKeehen said in a somber tone that revealed his steely-eyed focus combined with a calm sense of optimism.  “There’s still a lot of poker left to play.  But I have to be very happy with how things went at the table tonight.  My goal is to continue playing my style.  But this was a good day, that’s for sure.”    

Play resumes inside the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio, starting at 4:30 pm PST.  Action will be broadcast on ESPN2. 

Play is expected to continue until three players remain.  The Main Event Champion will be determined on Tuesday night.