Players from North America, South America, and Europe at the 2017 WSOP Main Event final table are making it a true “World” Series of Poker. Nine people, including four Americans, have their eyes on poker’s most prestigious prize, this year worth $8.15 million.
Everyone who’s made it this far is guaranteed at least $1 million. In a tournament that started almost 12 days ago with 7,221 players, the final nine return to the Rio on Thursday at 6 pm. This will start the first of three final table days, all of which will be broadcast live on ESPN or ESPN 2 until a 2017 world champion is crowned on Saturday.
Here’s a preview of who’s playing for what:
Don’t Cry for Argentina
Argentina has more than 43 million citizens, but the South American nation is generally underrepresented at the WSOP. Damian Salas has already made history as the first player from that country to reach the Main Event final table, and he was not alone in that pursuit.
Fellow countryman Richard Dubini lasted to the final two tables, eventually going out Monday in 12th place (winning $535,000). But prior to 2017, the farthest an Argentinian had ever gotten at the WSOP main event was Fabian Ortiz’s 17th place finish in 2013. Argentina does, however, have a bracelet victory this year, won by Andres Korn in Event #56, $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em, which paid $618,285.
Ivan Luca won the country’s first WSOP bracelet in a 2015, taking down a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event for $353,391. Luca is the country’s all-time leading money winner, according to the Hendon Mob, but Salas could take over that spot with a first or second-place finish.
Salas will enter Thursday’s play in sixth chip position, with 22,175,000. If he’s able to win, it will be Argentina’s third bracelet in WSOP history, and the second one this year.
Vive La French
Antoine Saout (21,750,000) and Benjamin Pollak (35,175,000) are the first French-born players to make the final table since Sylvain Loosli in 2013 (4th place). Before that, the only Frenchman to finish in the top nine was Antoine Saout, who finished 3rd in 2009.
As crazy as it seems for anyone to final table the Main Event twice in less than a decade, Saout also finished 25th last year.
Pollak, originally from Paris but now residing in London, England, has $2.9 million in lifetime winnings (plus the guaranteed minimum $1 million he will earn this week), but hasn’t won a major tournament title.
The ever-colorful John Hesp will start the day in second chip position, with 85,700,000.
His final table mate from the UK, Jack Sinclair, will approach the bracelet from the bottom end of the chip stacks, with just 20,200,000.
Blinds will start at 400k/800k/100k when play resumes, to give you a sense of what each player is working with.
Hesp’s previous tournament resume is right up there with the Phil Ivey’s and Daniel Negreanu’s of the world. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Last month, he took down a $10 tournament in the UK for $1,000, bringing his lifetime live tournament earnings to a whopping $2,207.
Sinclair also lacks live tournament experience, but it hasn’t shown during the Main Event. He was the most aggressive player at the table on Day Seven, but that aggression cost him much of his stack. Unable to slow down and be more patient, he went from more than 60 million chips to barely above 20 million when his opponents began calling his bluffs.
Prize Money on the Line
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More than 77 percent of the 120,995 total entries in this summer’s 74 bracelet events came from Americans. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the Series is hosted in the United States, and poker in its modern form is considered as American an invention as jazz music or the hot dog cart.
Scott Blumstein (97,250,000) from New Jersey will take the chip lead into the final table. His resume includes a win in a $500 Borgata Summer Poker Open event in 2016 for $199,854, but other than that only a bunch of small scores.
Bryan Piccioli (33,800,000) from New York is a big winner on the tournament circuit. He got to the final table thanks to winning a crucial race late in Day Seven against his friend and 2016 November Niner Michael Ruane. Piccioli needs to finish in 8th place or better to surpass the $3 million lifetime mark. His previous biggest win was a $493,350 score for finishing 3rd place in the 2016 WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star.
Piccioli is one of two past bracelet winners at the final table, having won a 2013 WSOP Asia Pacific event.
Dan Ott (26,475,000), from Altoona, Pennsylvania, is playing in his first World Series, and is one of three players at the final table with less than $15,000 in live tournament winnings.
We’ve saved arguably the best for last: Ben Lamb. The Las Vegas resident is making his second trip to the Main Event final table since 2011 (3rd place) to go along with a 14th place finish in 2009.
Ben Lamb is the only other player to finish in the top 25 thrice during the same period. Coincidentally, he also made this year’s final table.
The 2011 WSOP Player of the Year and bracelet winner has quite a reputation in the high-stakes community. Pros such as Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Hellmuth aren’t bashful in their praise of Lamb’s poker-playing ability.
Hellmuth predicted on ESPN2 that Lamb would win the whole thing when there were still nearly 200 players left.
Lamb has more than $7 million in tournament winnings but you’ll rarely see him in a poker tournament. He prefers cash games, but other high-stakes pros prefer not having him at the table, and not because he doesn’t shower.
Lamb enters Thursday’s play as the shortest stack. Despite the uphill climb in front of him, to some extent he’s already a winner.
Going into the WSOP, Lamb made a well-publicized prop bet with Daniel Negreanu, who bet Lamb that he would win three bracelets during the 2017 WSOP. Negreanu won zero.