World Series of Poker field thins as players near prize money

Las Vegas – A flurry of eliminations at the World Series of Poker on Thursday brought players tantalizingly close to the prize money – paydirt for investing USUSD 10,000 to buy into the main event.

After two hours of play, 262 players had been eliminated from the remaining field of 1,308. After four hours, 873 players were still at the tables.

But play was expected to slow to a painful crawl as the day went on and tables began playing hand-for-hand, meaning each table would play only one hand, then wait until all others finished their hands before dealing another.

The process ensures tournament officials can pinpoint the person to bust out in 667th place – one spot away from winning at least USD 21,230 in the no-limit Texas Hold ‚em tournament.

The final 666 players represent the top 9.7 per cent of a field of 6,844, all gunning for a chance at the title and the USD 9.12 million top prize that will be awarded when play concludes in November.

„Usually the tournament comes to a screeching halt,“ said tournament director Jack Effel, who said hand-for-hand play would begin with 675 players left. If two players finished on the bubble – tied for 666th and 667th – they would split the USD 21,230 prize for the last player to win money.

„The money doesn’t mean much to the top pros – making the money. That’s when we try to raise every pot,“ said 11-time gold bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, who won the main event in 1989 and held an average stack after two hours of play.

„There will be a lot of people who really care about making the money, and then there will be a lot of pros who just don’t care,“ he said.

Hellmuth said in past years he’s been able to increase his chip stack considerably – from 400,000 to 700,000 or 800,000 – as players got closer and closer to guaranteed cash.

After the field is trimmed to those in the money, play will resume at normal speed, Effel said, and those with short stacks will quickly throw their chips all-in, happy to have cashed in poker’s richest event.

„It’s the craziest thing,“ Effel said. „That’s when they start popping like chewing gum. You’re losing two players a minute.“

Chips have no cash value, but indicate where players stand relative to their opponents. A player must lose all their chips to be eliminated from the tournament, and the no-limit structure of the game allows players to risk all their chips at any time.

Players usually become extremely guarded as they draw close to finishing in the money, because they want to avoid exiting the tournament empty handed. Even players in decent chip position often are reluctant to risk everything.

„We all have our little strategies for later,“ said Jeff Kimber, a professional player from London who gained the chip lead after about 90 minutes of play Thursday.

Kimber doubled his stack at the expense of then-chip leader Brian Schaedlich, a 22-year-old special-education teacher from Cleveland who began the day with 801,000 chips – 270,000 ahead of his closest rival.

Schaedlich went all-in with a queen, three and five on the board, and Kimber immediately called and flipped over pocket queens for three of a kind. Schaedlich turned over pocket aces, the best starting hand in poker, but did not catch a third ace as the dealer showed the final two community cards.

„I’m not going to get away from that hand,“ Schaedlich said as he stewed over doubling up Kimber for 306,300 chips in addition to an already sizable pot. „What can you do?“

Thursday was the first day every entrant left in the tournament played at the same time. The field was so large that the first session was split over four days and the second session was played over two days.