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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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WSOP Main Event final table predictions

20 Jul 2017

By Gary Trask
Kara Scott

Kara Scott (photo by WSOP)

LAS VEGAS – John Hesp and his now-infamous multicolored jacket and Panama-style hat are the surefire sentimental favorites heading into today's World Series of Poker Main Event final table at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

That is the resounding reoccurring theme we saw when we asked a panel of poker pros and media to make their picks for how this year's final table will play out.

Below, is a sampling of those picks and analysis from this esteemed group. Unlike last year, when more than half of our panel wrongly picked chip leader Cliff Josephy to prevail, the opinions are much more diverse this year. Top stack Scott Blumstein is a popular pick, but six other players received first-place votes, and the only players NOT picked to win were Dan Ott and Damian Salas. (Quick note to Dan and Damian: Don't tell anyone, but none of the 22 "experts" we polled last year took Qui Nguyen to win, and we all know what happened.)

See you at the Rio!

Kara Scott, 888 Poker pro and anchor desk host for ESPN/PokerGO WSOP coverage
I think John Hesp has a shot at winning, but if the cards don't break his way, keep an eye on Sinclair to take top spot. Sinclair is fearless and when it works for him, it really works. One double up and he's dangerous.

Watch out for Ben Pollak. He's a tough competitor and a solid player. He can be dangerous and hard to get chips from. I think with only two days off instead of three months, we'll see experience play a lot more heavily this year. Fatigue could be a real factor. Being able to rely on the 'instincts' created by years of play, that will matter when brains are clouded by adrenaline and exhaustion.

Gordon Vayo

Gordon Vayo

Gordon Vayo, poker pro who finished second in last year's WSOP Main Event
I think Bryan Piccioli will come out victorious. He is one of the most experienced players at the table and will be focused and ready when play gets underway. He rode an incredible rush leading up to the final table and has to feel amazing about where he is in the chip counts. If Ben Lamb can get an early double, I like his chances as well.

For second place, I'll go with Blumstein. Although this is his first Main Event, he handled himself with composure closing in on the final table and (although I think it's possible his inexperience leads to a mini blowup as we saw in the K-J hand) he clearly is a smart player who isn't going to play scared.

I think the early dynamics of this final table will be fascinating, with arguably the best player Lamb being shortish and a couple of random factors including Hesp and how ICM-conscious the middling stacks are. I don't expect Hesp to be another Qui Nguyen, but then again, I didn't expect Qui Nguyen to be Qui Nguyen.

Thomas McEvoy, 1984 WSOP Main Event Champion, four-time WSOP bracelet winner and member of the Poker Hall of Fame
I predict the colorful Brit John Hesp will win the event. I played with him on Day 2, and he was aggressive and totally unpredictable.

The current leader Scott Blumstein is my pick for second. Scott and John have a tremendous lead over third and below. The two best players are probably Antoine Saout and Ben Lamb, but they have a lot of work to do to catch up. One of them might make a run at it, but not both of them.

Neil Blumenfield, 2015 WSOP November Niner (finished third)
Obviously, I really like Ben Lamb’s game and, especially given the lack of time to prepare, he and Saout have a big advantage in having been there, and prepared, before. However, given that they are two of the three short stacks, it is a long way to go and things would have break really well for either of them to get to the top three.

Of the two big stacks, I think it's great Hesp is there. He will be fun to watch. But I see Blumstein with a much stronger game, some live as well as online success, and a great seat on Hesp’s left. In the coverage I watched, I think that Blumstein played well and will continue to do so at the final table.

Neil Blumenfield

Neil Blumenfield

Pascale is thrilled that there are two French players at the final table, and they have good position but, again, they will have to run very well to make up the chip deficit. I think Ben Lamb will make a move. He will play as well or better than anyone else at the table and move up towards the chip leaders.

Blumstein will take advantage of the big stack and position to stay in contention to the end. One of the French guys will make a move. Let’s pick Benjamin Pollak.

So, I see the top three as 1) Blumstein, 2) Lamb, 3) Pollak. If Lamb or Pollak can get a competitive stack going to heads up, I think they would be favored, but if Blumstein retains a big chip lead, he’s going to be tough to beat.

Annette Obrestad, poker pro, 2007 World Series of Poker Europe champ
All I want is for John Hesp to win. Anyone else I don't care about . . . LOL.

Tadas Peckaitis, poker pro, coach, author and Casino City contributor
I would say Ben Lamb is the guy to watch, and his experience will surely help him a lot. However, being last in chips, he will have to put in a lot of work and could come up just a bit short to the bracelet. However, if he manages to double up in the beginning, it will cause a lot of trouble to others.

On the other hand, Benjamin Pollak has more chips and enough experience to take it down from big stacks, so I would not be surprised to see him winning it all. I will give second place to Scott Blumstein. Even though he's not the most experienced player in the final table, he has a huge stack, and if he uses it to full advantage he should come up in one of the first places, so why not second?

If the big stacks are scared to take risks and put pressure on professionals, they will have a hard time later on. Knowing that it could happen, I predict an interesting match, where final finishes will not necessarily match the starting stacks of the players.

Dan Podheiser, poker pro and former Casino City Associate Editor

Bryan Piccioli is my pick to win the 2017 WSOP Main Event. He has tons of final table experience both live and online, with $8 million in combined cashes over the course of his career. I think he'll handle the pressure better than most other players at the table, and come on, let's face it: After that two-outer against Saout and winning that big flip against Ruane, it is clearly his year.

Scott Blumstein is my pick to finish second. He's not only the chip leader, but is also an online poker grinder in New Jersey, which gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart.

I don't think Ben Lamb will go out in ninth place, despite entering the final table dead last in chips. He's simply too smart and too good, and he does still have 22 big blinds, which is plenty to work with. And while I don't think Lamb cares too much about leveling up the relatively small pay jumps from 9th-6th, I do think he'll be willing to bide his time and let the less experienced players make mistakes.

Jessica Dawley

Jessica Dawley

Jessica Dawley, poker pro
I think Scott Blumstein will win because of his chip stack and style of play. Bryan Piccioli will finish second, as he will outplay most, but not all, and I'm looking forward to watching how Hesp plays at the final table.

Grant Hinkle, poker pro, WSOP bracelet winner
It is a boring pick, but I think the chip leader Scott Blumstein is one of the players playing the best, and he has a good head start at the final table and has direct position on the inexperienced and healthy chip stack of John Hesp. If I had to pick a dark horse, I'd pick Jack Sinclair. Sinclair was playing great despite relinquishing the chip lead to Blumstein, and if he gets chips again, he will be a force.

Ben Pollak finishes second and benefits from having a chip count that can be patient and selectively pick spots with both the huge chip stacks on his right.

I am rooting for Hesp to finish as high as possible, but I think his inexperience will cost him some big pots along the way.

Chad Holloway, media director of Mid-States Poker Tour, WSOP bracelet winner
The fan favorite seems to be John Hesp, and he would make a fine ambassador. However, he faces some tough, experienced competition. I think one of the two Frenchmen will win it this year. Antoine Saout has the most Main Event experience of anyone remaining, while Benjamin Pollak has been a formidable force on the circuit for years waiting for his breakout win.

Scott Blumenstein holds the chip lead, and it's going to take him far. However, with chip leaders coming up short in recent years, I think we'll see him make the final three, but come up a spot shy of winning gold. No matter who finishes second, at least they'll have a $4.7 million consolation prize to help ease the pain.

This really is one of the toughest final tables in the modern era of poker. I knew six of the nine finalists by name prior to their Main Event runs, which means they've been on the grind for a while.

Also, don't be surprised to see Ben Lamb make some noise. As the short stack, he's at a chip disadvantage, but he's been here before. If he gets some chips, his Main Event experience will play a big factor, as will his familiarity playing on the big stage for the highest stakes

Annette Obrestad

Annette Obrestad

Robbie Strazynski, owner of Cardplayerlifestyle.com
Ben Lamb, for the win. You don't win Player of the Year by fluke, and Lamb (the 2011 POY) has once again proven his mettle and poker chops by weaving his way through another massive field. He might have the lowest chance of pulling through, statistically speaking, as the shortest stack, but the next six largest stacks are easily within striking distance above him in the chip counts.

Indeed, one well-timed double up and suddenly Lamb rockets into third place, so he's right in the thick of things, sitting on over 20 big blinds. Look for this come-from-behind story to become the talk of the summer.

I like John Hesp as the runner-up. The Chris Moneymaker of 2017, John Hesp's Cinderella run to the final table has poker fans swooning the world over. With a huge chip stack, just behind Blumstein, look for Hesp to keep playing his instincts and continue the run into heads-up play. While a Hesp win would be purely magical, you can only lock lightning in a bottle for so long. For that same reason, the short break – rather than a months-long wait until November – will serve Hesp best of all the remaining players. I'll be pulling for him to win, but I expect a Davin Moon-like second place finish from the "people's champion."

Blumstein will ride his chip lead into third place. He'll either be outplayed at the point by Lamb or fall victim to Hesp's run-good. Saout will either be first or second to bust, likely via a cooler. The other candidate likely to bust first will be Sinclair. Having sat atop or near the top of the chip counts for so long and suddenly finding himself so short will haunt the Englishman, who I can unfortunately foresee punting off what's left of his stack with an ill-timed bluff. Piccioli, Salas, Pollak and Ott have all made very respectable showings in the Main Event, and will have nothing to be ashamed of as they each fall in 7th-4th places, respectively.

Haley Hintze, contributing editor, Flushdraw
There are compelling reasons to cite for virtually every one of this year's final nine. For example, chalk talks: Scott Blumstein has demonstrable skills and the stats, with a big lead over seven of the eight other players.

Amateur John Hesp has a hidden advantage – or rather, a non-DISadvantage – in that his professional opponents only have a couple of days, rather than months, to try to find leaks and tells in his game. The demise of the "November Nine" levels the table a bit in that respect.

Saout and Lamb have been in this spot before, so they both know how to handle the moment. Pollak is far more experienced than U.S. audiences realize, so he might be underrated a bit. Along that line, Sinclair and Ott have virtually no tourney success prior to this, but both have background stories that show there's more to their game.

Sinclair, in particular, has been getting training for some time from Phil Gruissem and Anton Morgenstern. At some point, one has to rely on a gut hunch, and for me, I think this year Antoine Saout is going to rise from the short stacks to claim the bracelet.

Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis

Vin Narayanan, former Editor-in-Chief of Casino City, who covered 10 WSOP Main Events
Before I make my predictions, let's talk about Ben Lamb. Lamb is the best player at the table. Lamb is a classy guy. A Lamb Main Event victory would be good for poker. But Lamb is not going to win. Much like Phil Ivey in 2009, players are not going to tangle with Lamb unless they have the goods. This will make it tough for Lamb, the shortest stack at the table, to pick up chips. I see a seventh-place finish in his future.

As for the winner of this year's Main Event, I'm drawing more inspiration from the 2009 final table. I firmly believe if the 2009 tournament had been played under today's format, Darvin Moon would have won the Main Event instead of Joe Cada. In July of 2009, Moon was an unstoppable force – hoovering up chips while his opponents just watched in despair. Everything Moon did turned into gold and he entered final-table action with about 30 percent of the chips in play. The amateur was running over the field. And then came the November Nine. The pause in play gave his competitors a chance to catch their breath and strategize. Moon's chip lead was enough to get him to second place. But the break in momentum slowed him down and cost him the championship.

This year, two players are competing for the role of Moon – Scott Blumstein (97,250,000) and John Hesp (85,700,000). The two control about 51% of the chips in play. Hesp is a 64-year-old amateur from England (Moon was an amateur as well), while Blumstein is a poker grinder from New Jersey who is finishing in the money for the first time in his WSOP career. Of the two, I like Blumstein a tad more. I think his experience as a grinder will serve him well at this final table. And his momentum is real.

As for second place, I'm continuing with the 2009 theme. In 2009, Antoine Saout parlayed the second-smallest stack at the final table into a third-place finish. This year, he has the third-smallest stack at the table. He's also not afraid of the moment. So let's move him up one spot and give him the second-place finish.

Gary Trask, Casino City Managing Editor
I'm going with Pollak to win, Blumstein to place and Piccioli as the "sleeper" pick. For my full analysis and answers to the most pressing questions about this year's WSOP Main Event final table, click here.
 
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