Around the WSOP Main Event: Money bubble drama; Matusow 'retires'
By Gary Trask
It was clearly evident early this morning inside the walls of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Amazon Room, when the countdown to making the money for the 48th annual playing of poker's most prestigious tournament generated the type of pressure-cooker situation that is, quite simply, hard to fathom.
As we have described in past years, the WSOP Main Event money bubble is a true $15,000 swing. You pay 10 grand to enter, and only a fraction of the players go home with a profit, which means you could literally play 30 or 40 hours of poker, outperform three quarters of the field, and still go home with nothing.
This year's Main Event drew the third-largest field in history with 7,221 entrants, meaning 1,084 players would cash. As we got down to that crucial number early Thursday morning, players with short stacks were stalling and stalling and stalling some more, watching the big board and hoping they could back-door their way into the money. With that in mind, the players with big stacks were raising, trying to bully their way to a healthier stack.
At 12:57 a.m., Tournament Director Jack Effel instructed the dealers to switch to a hand-to-hand format, meaning every table would play a hand, and when it was completed, they would wait until the entire room of other tables had done the same. If there was an all-in call at their table, dealers were told to notify tournament officials.
At 1:13 a.m., Effel was told that four tables had all-in calls. He announced that each table would play out individually and that all players should remain in their seats. Instead, what seemed like the entire room rushed over to each table, cell phones raised high in the air, trying to capture the moment.
At the first two tables, the all-ins at risk survived, prompting a cheerful reign of boos from the other players, who wanted to be done with it and end the night. But at the next two tables, Quan Zhou and Roger Campbell were eliminated, which, of course, drew a wild cheer from the remaining players, most of whom rushed the rail to hug their friends and family and order a round of drinks.
Per tradition, the WSOP annually awards the official Main Event Bubble Boy with a free entry into next year's event. So now, all that was left to do was decide if Zhou or Campbell would earn that honor. Instead of a coin flip or playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors," the two dejected players, naturally, sat down for one hand of poker. No betting. Just deal the hole cards and flop, turn, river and decide who wins. When Zhou was declared the winner, the room erupted once again in wild cheers, while Campbell put his head down briefly and then shook hands with Zhou, a veteran pro with more than $1 million in career earnings.
The only thing worse than finishing 1,085th at this year's Main Event is taking 1,086th place and not getting that $10,000 comp for next year. But Campbell, a 66-year-old from Illinois, took it like a pro's pro.
"That's poker," he told Casino City with a shrug. "I've played in the Main Event four times before and never cashed. This year, it looked like I was going to do it. But it didn't happen. I guess I wasn't smart enough to fold."
It was even more devastating for Campbell because with 1,086 players left, he had a healthy stack of more than 225,000 in front of him, which was just below the average in the room. He called a 15,000 raise from Kenny Shih from the big blind, and after Shih raised it to 65,000 when the flop hit the table, Campbell moved all in with ace-king offsuit.
"I had the nut flush draw," he explained. "It was the right move."
Right move at the wrong time. Shih flipped over the queen-10 suited for the flush, and Campbell failed to get the higher flush on the turn and river.
"Like I said, that's poker," Campbell said again. "I've been on the right end of it and I've been on the wrong end of it. Tonight I was on the wrong end."
Campbell, who runs an ambulance company back home, had already shifted around his work schedule due to his unexpected deep run in the tournament. He said he was looking forward to getting back home and getting back into a routine.
"This will sting a little bit, but I'll be OK," he said. "I'll be back next year and, you know what? I won't change how I play. You can bet on that."
Barred player hides identity, removed from tournament
A player who was previously barred from all Caesars Entertainment properties and from playing in World Series of Poker events was able to hide his identity from tournament officials and not only enter the Main Event, but contend — that is, until the scheme finally caught up to him and he was removed from the tournament during the dinner break for Thursday’s Day 3.
When players returned from dinner break, the player's seat was empty, and the roughly 630,000 in chips he previously had in front of him were gone as well.
According to WSOP.com, the player had “knowingly bypassed security, going at great length to hide his real identity when registering for this tournament. When tournament organizers found out, his stack was terminated and the chips were removed from the tournament. He left the premises without incident.”
The dog days of the WSOP summer
Former model, actress and Miss Norway contestant Aylar Lie understandably attracts her share of attention when entering a poker tournament, but not for the reasons you may assume.
Fans and fellow players alike tend to do a double-take when walking by the 33-year-old's table, mostly because she plays with her dog, Siba, sitting on her lap. The 12-year-old rescue dog (Lie thinks she is part Pomeranian and part Chihuahua) travels all over the world with Lie and her boyfriend of one year, Albert Daher, playing poker.
"Albert is the professional poker player; me and Siba are the wannabes," Lie explained with a laugh.
Lie said that most players are OK with her sitting down at the table with her well-behaved companion, but she admitted it can sometimes play to her advantage.
"People look at me with a dog in my lap and assume I can’t play poker," said Lie, who has amassed nearly $100,000 in winnings over the last two years, with cashes in Barcelona, Dublin and Las Vegas and a win in a $730 No-Limit event at this year's Merit Mediterranean Poker Cup in Cyprus. "But for the most part, people tend to love her and enjoy having her at the table."
As the Main Event headed to Level 15, Lie and Siba were alive and kicking with 180,000 chips, after seeing their chip stack dwindle to less than 15 big blinds a few hours earlier. But, alas, their run came to an end with 1,107 players remaining, meaning she busted 23 places away from the money.
Daher, meanwhile, had almost double the average stack with 530,000 chips toward the end of Level 15. The Lebanon native has more than $1.3 million in career earnings and took fifth place earlier this summer at the WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Six-Handed Championship, which was worth $138,644.
The Mouth "retires" from WSOP grind
After being eliminated from the Main Event on Thursday, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow sped out of the Rio on his scooter (and when we say “sped,” we mean it. Those suckers are fast) and then a few short hours later took to Twitter to announce his “retirement from tournament poker.”
After giving it a lot of thought its with a heavy heart that im retiring from tourney poker! I left my heart on table for 6 weeks! Ty all— Mike Matusow (@themouthmatusow) July 14, 2017
The 49-year-old has been playing professionally for more than two decades and has amassed more than $9 million in career earnings. His WSOP resume includes four bracelets and 43 cashes, with his best Main Event finish coming in 2001 when he took sixth.
His bombastic personality earned him his nickname and made him one of the most recognizable players in the game, but he has mellowed a little bit in recent years due to a bout with intercostal neuralgia, a painful disorder of the nerves that run between the ribs.
Matusow added on Twitter that while his “brain wants to continue to compete” his body has had “days of awful pain.”
“I fought hard and have no regrets,” he closed, while adding that he’ll still play cash games and a few WSOP events in the future but “never a full schedule again.”