It’s World Series of Poker final table time!

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It’s truly hard to express how excited I am that Bluff Magazine is airing live coverage of the 2009 World Series of Poker final table. For lots of people this would be a total snooze, but I love it. It’s a complete multitasking day for me. I’m listening in, I’m checking the Poker News site to see how they describe certain hands and monitoring the Full Contact Poker message board to read the insulting comments after a player (usually Darvin Moon) does something wacky or when Annie Duke is on the microphone.

I thought about going to see the final table live, but that probably would have been like watching paint dry. Instead of peering over a boat load of people at a table that even on a big screen would probably seem inscrutable, you get lots of commentary on hands and general discussions of who is being tight and who is being aggressive, as well as insight into the overall flow of the event itself

First, let’s acknowledge why this could be more boring than chess. On about 95% of the hands you have no real idea what actually happened and in fact never get to see what cards the players were holding. Even an exciting hand where two players are really going at it, it usually ends with a fold so you have very little idea what cards the players were holding.  But as a huge mind game and a clash of will I find it fascinating

If you were watching live, this update from Poker News was probably the biggest amount of excitement so far.

Two fans of Joe Cada have officially been ousted from the Penn & Teller Theatre. According to some of the people that could actually see what was going on, the two fans got into a fight with each other despite rooting for the same player. The fans were part of the group of Cada supporters that have been heavily frequenting the bar on breaks.

Right now the seven remaining players are taking a dinner break after a ton of really tight play. James Ackenhead was the first player out and won $ 1,263,602. He was soon followed by a really unlucky Kevin Schaffel, who won a little less than $40,000 more for outlasting one player. When there is over 8 and a half million dollars up for grabs, you find yourself belittling small sums like $40,000, despite the fact that I’d probably subject myself to experimental electric shock therapy for half of that much at this stage in my life.

The big name at the center of this final table is still super degenerate gambler, consensus best player in the world, “Tiger Woods of Poker” Phil Ivey. Ivey has been considerably short stacked for the entire day, which has made it a little like a Cavaliers game where Lebron James is forced to wear 20 pound leg weights as he runs up and down the court. Ivey’s stack has forced him to play uber patiently and tight and the same thing can be said for the other players at the table. You normally don’t want to play back at Phil Ivey, but that’s especially true now. No one wants to give this guy any chips and see him suddenly freed to play his whole game. Better to sit back and avoid him while he’s somewhat crippled.

For the majority of the day, Ivey has been under 10 million chips, which has pretty much meant that his entire tournament has been on the line in just about every hand he has played. Ivey’s currently in fifth place and just shy of 15 million, which should hopefully give him some wiggle room, but he’s done a pretty amazing job of being patient for what must have seemed like seven really long hours to this normally, super aggressive player

Action wise, the big story has been the semi-explosion of prohibitive chip leader Darvin Moon. Logger Moon spent his main event being dealt monster hand after monster hand, but who knows what he’s been thinking about or what he’s been told by probably every lunatic with an opinion over the three months off since they stopped play at 9 back in July. He’s gotten to see himself on television, and you wonder if maybe the fact that he’s been told over and over again that the big stack has to push the play may have gotten to him.

Here from Poker News are the two oddest hands of the final table so far.

Hand #45 – Antoine Saout Doubles Up through Darvin Moon

Jeff Shulman has the button. With the crowd still murmuring about the ridiculous double-up of James Akenhead, Antoine Saout opens the next pot to 750,000 from the cutoff. Darvin Moon, sitting in the small blind and a player who hasn’t been very active yet today, is the only caller.

The flop comes down Ks Jh 2c

Moon has first action and leads into Saout for 2.3 million. Saout grabs three stacks of lavender chips and shoves them into the middle of the table in one motion, a raise to 6.75 million. Moon announces that he is all in; Saout beats him into the pot for roughly 9.9 million total. For the second hand in a row we have an all-in and call!

Moon:  Ah 4d

Saout:  Js 2h

Saout has bottom two pair, which is way, way, waaaaaaaaaay the favorite over Moon’s total airball. Moon’s face seems to have turned a bit red with his hand caught firmly in the cookie jar. While we wait for ESPN to give the go-ahead for the board, Saout takes a sip of water to calm himself for what he hopes will be a double-up.The turn 3d is a minor sweat card, as it gives Moon a gutshot wheel draw. The crowd erupts in giddy anticipation, delighted to see that Moon’s not drawing dead. But there’s no suckout. The river  2s is a safe card for Saout, giving him deuces full of jacks and allowing him to secure a double-up to roughly 22.0 million.

That’s the first hit of the day for Moon. He’s down to 49.5 million.

This was just a really wacky play by Moon. He had nothing and tried to bluff a player who couldn’t afford to fold anything, much less bottom two pair. Then there was the even more baffling:

Hand #90 – Begleiter Shoots the Moon

Joe Cada has the button. Under the gun, Darvin Moon raises to 1,300,000, and Steve Begleiter puts on his thinking cap. With the deliberateness of a surgeon, Begs stacks out a re-raise to 3,900,000 and slides it forward. Moon thinks about it for just a minute before making the call, and the two men went heads up to the flop.It comes 3s 4s 2d and Moon instantly checks. Begleiter, again very deliberate, continues out with a bet of 5,350,000. Moon peeks back at his hole cards before re-capping them, and the crowd begins to stir as they sense the drama unfolding. Sure enough, Moon makes a healthy check-raise up to 15,000,000. Begleiter takes a big gulp and a big breath of air as he studies Moon. After a couple more minutes, Begs announces an all in for 21,000,000 total! It’s just 6,000,000 more to Moon, but he’s not calling quickly. He rocks back in his chair, clearly not liking his predicament, but he’s got a ton of chips in there already. After a few more minutes of head shaking and frowns, Moon returns his cards to the muck! Begleiter’s cheerleaders erupt in ovation at that monster pot.

This hand will definitely be shown on Tuesday night’s ESPN broadcast. It’s hard to fathom what Moon could have possibly folded for 6 million chips once he had already put about 20 million into the pot other than a complete bluff. Sure saving 6 million chips is still a really big deal, but it’s still shocking when you consider the action leading up to it.

Moon still has a big stack with over 41 million chips, but his play so far has to be considered a tad embarrassing.

The chip leader is Eric Buchman, who took down the monster pot of the final table so far.

Hand #68 – Kevin Schaffel Eliminated in 8th Place ($1,300,231

Eric Buchman has the button. In middle position, Kevin Schaffel makes a raise to 1,250,000, and Steve Begleiter puts in the call from the cutoff seat. With position working for him, Eric Buchman squeezes in a re-raise to 5,750,000. When it comes back around to Schaffel, he drops the hammer and moves all in for about 17,200,000. Begs gets the message and quickly runs for cover, but Buchman is not so quickly pacified. He stands from his chair and leans over the table to get a better look. A short chat follows, and it ends with Buchman making the call to put Schaffel at risk.

Showdown

Schaffel: Ah Ac
Buchman: Kh Kc

For the second time in less than 5 hours, we’ve got aces versus kings at the final table of the Main Event. The crowd again presses in toward the table as the dealer runs out an astounding flop: Qs Jh Ks

Schaffel looks absolutely gutshot as Buchman finds his king to take a huge lead with two to come.

“Still two cards, still two cards,” Schaffel’s fans reassure themselves. “He’s got a straight draw.”

If the flop was crushing, the turn card was soul shattering for Schaffel. The Kd spiked the board to improve Buchman to quad kings and leave Schaffel stone dead, his eighth-place fate already sealed before the river was even out on board. The crowd once again exploded in shock and awe as Schaffel shook hands with the table and bowed out gracefully.

It’s hard enough to see your Aces go down to Kings, but Buchman making quads on the turn is just soul crushing and akin to pouring salt into an open wound. Schaffel even had Buchman suited with both of his Aces.

So Schaffel gets his money in way good to be one of the chip leaders and instead finds himself barely beating the minimum pay out.

Life is unfair, it’s time we all realized it.

The most aggressive player so far has been Frenchman Antoine Saout.

Cardplayer Magazine’s Jeff Shulman still hasn’t shaved and has been very quiet so far. Shulman, angry with the WSOP powers that be, has threatened to throw away the winner’s bracelet if he wins, but despite being coached by Phil Hellmuth recently, has played very tight and been a relative non-factor

Hellmuth has been by far the most interesting person to listen to on the air, despite the fact that he has a piece of Shulman at stake and is openly rooting for him. Hellmuth, once you get past the fact that he’s a complete egomaniac, is really fascinating to listen to when he’s discussing the game. Poker has been taken over by super aggressive play and yet Phil – Mr. Patience – Mr. “I’ll fold to you until I have the hand that breaks you” – Hellmuth is still somehow thriving.

At one point, Hellmuth acknowledged that Darvin Moon told him that he couldn’t read Shulman at all. Surprisingly, Hellmuth decided not to share this information with his student, fearful that it might throw off his game.

The low part of the broadcast so far? Probably Annie Duke kissing her brother Howard’s ass. “Are you the best Chess player among the Poker Pros, Howard?” As a pair they are like a shrill witch saluting a wallflower – somehow both annoying and boring at the same time. 

The chip standings at the dinner break

Darvin Moon: 41,250,000
Phil Ivey: 14,900,000
Steve Begleiter: 38,100,000
Eric Buchman: 54,725,000
Joe Cada: 10,700,000
Antoine Saout: 28,725,000
Jeff Shulman: 7,175,000

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