Every World Series final table has carried with it a sense of anticipation, but none quite like the one we watched today.
It was an historic final table four months in the making. Nine men from around the world reconvened after an extended poker vacation. They walked into the Rio Hotel and Casino Penn and Teller Theater this morning knowing that when they left tonight, they would know if they still had a chance at winning poker's most coveted prize and nine million bucks.
Tonight, we know who among those nine men have that shot.
Denmark's Peter Eastgate and Russia's Ivan Demidov will return to this theater Monday night to play heads up for the World Series bracelet.
Among the November 9 who started here today were six members of the PokerStars family. The Million Dollar Men were better known as Dennis "FordMan1954" Phillips, Darus "Dennis_TO" Sahurto, Ivan "hasuling" Demidov, Ylon "TenthPlanet" Schwartz, David "Chino" Rheem and Peter "Isser" Eastgate. They faced off against off against Craig Marquis, Scott Montgomery, and Kelly Kim.
Although the event started slowly, it quickly turned to a bloodbath. Marquis was the first to go after opening-shoving pocket sevens into Scott Montgomery's A-Q. Marquis loved the 7c-Ah-Td flop. Just to keep the audience engaged, tournament director went through the long recitation of ways Montgomery could suck out.
"He could catch running aces. He could catch running queens," etc, etc.
He failed to mention the possibility of running jack-king. He should've mentioned that. Sure enough, the Jd on the turn and Ks on the river and Craig Marquis went from overwhelming favorite to the ninth place finisher in the 2008 World Series of Poker, earning $900,670.
Kelly Kim and his short stack gave the Cinderella story lovers an opportunity to root for a comeback. After surviving well past when anybody thought he would, Kim finally gave up the ghost, getting pocket fours all-in against three players. He was out-flopped by Darus Suharto's 9c-Tc and Kim went out in eighth place for a $1,288,217 payday.
Still alive were all of the PokerStars Million Dollar Men. With six out of the seven left in the field, it was only a matter of time before one had to go. That man was David "Chino" Rheem. An early favorite among prognosticators, Rheem had a hard time finding consistent traction today. Finally, he got his short stack all-in, and got it in good. Rheem open-shoved with As-Kc and got a call from Peter Eastgate in the small blind. Eastgate held Ah-Qd. As always, everything looked fine until the flop: Qs-5s-7d. Rheem bricked twice and was eliminated in seventh place $1,7772,650.
"I would have changed the last hand," Rheem offered, when asked if he would have done anything different. "One hand I got unlucky and that cost me my bracelet. But that's poker."
That, of course, is poker, and now Rheem returns to the cash games and tournament circuit with a reputation only enhanced by this World Series experience. "I'll try to stay positive and say there's always next year," he said. "But the odds, you know..."
Rheem gets a hug from Suharto on his way out
While the stories of these eliminations were worth reporting, the big story of the day had been Dennis Phillips' epic fall from the chip lead. Starting with more than 25 million chips, he'd fallen below ten million and looked ripe to exit early. It took getting A-Q in against Ylon Schwartz' Q-Q and flopping an ace to get back in the game.
Phillips celebrates, Schwartz endures
Chino Rheem's exit left Darus Suharto as the short-stack in the event. Suharto found himself in a position in which he had to start looking for good opportunities. When Scott Montgomery opened for a standard raise at the 250,000/500,000/50,000 level, Suharto shoved all in for a little more than 8 million. He held Ah-8c.
Though he sat with a Terminator look behind his shades, a close up camera highlighted his heavy breathing. To the outside observer, it was impossible to say whether he was putting it on or in fact nervous. Montgomery decided it was time to look up Suharto. He made the call with a half smile, turning over As-Qd. Suharto winced. He knew he was in trouble.
Though neither player paired on the flop, it was soul-crushing anyway: K-J-2, all spades. Montgomery's ace of spades was just begging for one more of its kind. It came on the turn. The 4s gave Montgomery the nuts. Suharto's magnificent run at the 2008 World Series of Poker was finished. He earned $2,418,562.
Suharto reflects on his final hand
Of all the things that happened today, and there were many, the most startling came next. In a raise, re-raise, all-in battle, Montgomery pushed and got snap-called by Demidov.
In what would become the biggest pot of the tournament yet (worth around 50 million by our count), Montgomery turned over a startling Ad-9d. Not as surprising was Demidov's Ks-Kd. Montgomery had Demidov's 24,435,000 covered. The crowd called for their man's ace or their man's king as the dealer laid out a perfectly frightening 6d-4d-6c flop, Two diamonds and the three remaining aces remained for Montgomery.
He missed twice, sending Demidov into an uncharacteristic dance around the stage. At once, he was the new chip leader.
Demidov rakes in his chip lead
Montgomery went out a few hands later, getting one-outered on the river by Peter Eastgate. He finished in fifth place for $3,096,768.
Four-handed, play slowed down dramatically before finishing the night in one-two-punch fashion.
First, Peter Eastgate raised pre-flop to the now-standard 1.5 million. Schwartz called from the small blind. Both players checked a flop of 2s-Kh-8h and after the Kd came on the turn, Schwartz checked but Eastgate bet another 1.75 million. Schwartz called.
The river was the 5d and again Schwartz checked, Eastgate bet 4.6 million and Schwartz moved all in, for 12.5 million more. Eastgate called and tabled pocket fives, hitting his full house on the river and beating Schwartz's A-10, for ace high. Schwartz's fourth place finish earned him $3,774,974.
With three remaining, crowd favorite Dennis Phillips was the prohibitive short stack.
After Demidov folded his button, Eastgate raised from the small blind, called in the big by Phillips. The flop came Jc-4d-3s and Eastgate led out for 1.5 million. Phillips moved all in over the top, his entire stack worth 15,275,000 sliding into the middle. But it didn't even get there before Eastgate called and flipped pocket threes for the flopped set. Phillips showed 10-9 off-suit. "I couldn't keep on folding!" he declared.
In his exit interview, Phillips said, "We've had a real blast. Who would've ever thunk it? Now I get to play golf tomorrow. McFadden's everybody!" and off to the bar they went.
Peter Eastgate returns tomorrow with 79,500,000 to Ivan Demidov's 57,725,000.
Live coverage from the final table of the World Series of Poker will resume at 10pm local time Monday. Join us here as we watch history as it happens.
All photography by Joe Giron/IMPDI