We are now more than a week into the World Series of Poker’s glamour event. The Main Event has featured some exciting play and a cutdown to the bubble at a much faster rate than expected.
It’s really getting down to the nitty-gritty of the action now for the most anticipated event in the world of poker.
Main Event Gets Tighter
People wondered what the Main Event would look like in its return to live play. The good news is that it hasn’t lost any of its momentum, despite the more than two years of hiatus. (Last year, the Main Event was a hybrid of online and live play, with only the final tables taking place with the players in a room together.)
As of this writing, there were only 96 players left in the Main Event, with all the preliminary flights out of the way and another four rounds of whittling down taking place. There might not be a lot of star power left in the tourney at this point. But that’s the thing about the Main Event: it mints stars every year that it takes place.
Heading into Sunday, the leader was a German pro named Koray Aldemir. While not the kind of guy who would jump out as being well-known to the casual fan, Aldemir is a guy who has put together a solid career as a tournament regular. He’s earned over $3 million in his career, a number that figures to go skyrocketing if he can keep this up.
But other players who have made it to the top of the leaderboard so far this year have either dropped off the chase or have busted out completely. In other words, Aldemir shouldn’t get too comfortable. But it’s still a promising start for him as he tries to be an unlikely winner of the most prestigious of all poker events.
Moneymaker Makes Promising Return
Perhaps there was no more iconic event in the history of poker than the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. That was the one that came right on the heels of the Texas Hold’em boom, when it seemed like every network in the world had a poker TV show on the air and recreational play was at its high.
The man that won that event was Chris Moneymaker, and he became an instant superstar with the victory. Moneymaker came out of nowhere to win that event after winning a $40 satellite to get there, making seemingly every right move and blowing through some of the best poker players in the world. It seemed like he’d be a force for years to come.
Maybe his play that year put too much pressure on him to live up to it. Or maybe he was an example of how a small sample size of play can be overblown when it comes to judging the skill level of a specific player. But the bottom line is that Moneymaker never quite got back to that heady level.
The Lean Years
From that point, Moneymaker became a celebrity in the world of poker and took advantage of it by cashing in with sponsorships and the like. Photos of him with stars off stage and screen became commonplace. Yet he wasn’t able to win any more major events, and his 2003 Main Event win remains his only WSOP bracelet.
For those reasons, he became somewhat of a controversial figure in the world of poker. Top pros complained about the fact that his renown far outweighed his actual level of play. And Moneymaker himself seemed ambivalent about the game, playing less and speaking frankly about the stress being a poker player can put on loved ones.
Perhaps that’s why Poker Stars, who had backed him and likely staked him a lot for appearances and tournaments since the Main Event win, ended their relationship with him last year. It seemed like it might be the final straw for Moneymaker’s career in poker, which had pretty much been one glorious peak above a lot of valleys.
An Excellent Effort
Moneymaker probably evoked some curiosity coming into the tournament as a Main Event entry this year. But without any expectations whatsoever, Moneymaker climbed into the Top 20 a couple of times in the early days of this season’s Main Event. The old wraparound shades were right back in the mix.
As a matter of fact, Moneymaker and Qui Nguyen, the 2016 winner, were the last two Main Event winners standing in 2021. It wasn’t to be for Moneymaker, as he bowed out on Saturday when he was knocked out by Jesse Lonis. Lonis used those chips to propel him to the fifth spot in the standings.
Maybe saying it was a redemptive run for Moneymaker is a bit too strong a statement. But the guy showed a lot in stepping up for a good performance at a time when nothing was expected of him. In that way, this Main Event was a lot like the one 18 years ago for Chris Moneymaker.
Phil’s Big Entrance and Quiet Exit
Phil Hellmuth has made a lot of noise in this World Series of Poker. He added to his record bracelet total with a win and made five final tables, making a statement as perhaps the dominant competitor in the entire event. And he also made news with a tirade for the ages, for which he later apologized.
Hellmuth came into the tournament in one of his more unforgettable costumes, keeping up his tradition of grand entrances to the Main Event. In this case, he was decked out as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings saga. Alas, the magic pretty much ended there for poker’s most polarizing player.
Doyle Doing Damage
One of the more memorable returns to the World Series of Poker this year was made by Doyle Brunson. The poker legend had promised to come back and play, and he did better than that by entering the Main Event. Just an appearance by Brunson would have sufficed for poker fans, but he proved he still had plenty left on his fastball.
Brunson stayed alive for a couple of days, coming up with some crafty play at times against guys and girls who were 60 years or so his junior. On the second day of play, he was knocked out of the event. But it wasn’t like Brunson made errors in his decision-making that caused him to bust.
In reality, he just hit a couple of bad beats, and most observers felt that a lesser player would have been out of it much sooner. We can only hope that Brunson, aged 88, has only whet his appetite for more WSOP play. Would you put a deep run in the Main Event past him after all he’s accomplished?
As mentioned above, the bubble burst in the World Series of Poker, with the Top 1,000 players getting some kind of cash out of it. The player who finished 1,001st found out the hard way how cruel poker can be. But at least the event’s organizers showed him a kindness that the cards didn’t.
Kevin Campbell was the unlucky fellow, playing in the hand that burst the bubble and getting his chips in with a pair of aces. His opponent in the hand, Chris Alafogiannis, called with an ace-nine off suited. After the flop and the turn, Campbell had the edge still, but Alafogiannis had paired up his nines.
On the river, the card turned over was a nine, giving Alafogiannis the set. Campbell was out just one from the money, and it was the worst kind of luck that brought him low. But he also received the good news that he would be invited back next year and would have his $10,000 buy-in comped by the tournament organizers.
Credit Card Gamble
Philadelphia’s Joe Marincola just couldn’t let the idea of playing in the WSOP Main Event go. He and a bunch of poker buddies held a satellite tournament amongst themselves to sponsor one entrant, and he finished second in that event, not good enough. Most would have given up their hopes there.
But Marincola signed up for a new credit card with zero interest to start to pay for the $10,000 buy-in. The danger there, of course, was that the bill would come due if he didn’t get in the money. Add in the interest rates if he didn’t pay in time, and it could have been a costly decision.
Marincola proved that his belief in himself was well-founded. Not only did he make the bubble, but he ended in 288th place, earning $38,600 for his efforts. It looks like he’ll be able to make those credit card payments with no problems whatsoever, with some money to spare.
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