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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 and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Zobian survives rocky Day 7 to advance to WSOP Main Event final table

12 Jul 2018

By Gary Trask
 Aram Zobian celebrates with his rail after securing a spot at the WSOP Main Event final table on Wednesday night.

Aram Zobian celebrates with his rail after securing a spot at the WSOP Main Event final table on Wednesday night. (photo by Gary Trask)

LAS VEGAS -- With a mighty stack that gave him what seemed like a commanding chip lead in the 49th edition of the World Series of Poker Main Event, Aram Zobian went to bed Tuesday night with great expectations. So much so that he reluctantly gave the green light to his extended family and friends back in his hometown in Rhode Island to start looking into flights to Las Vegas so they could be on the rail for what was sure to be the biggest score of his short career.

But, as we all know, poker can be a very cruel game. Within hours of the cards going into the air for Wednesday’s Day 7 action at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Zobian’s stack and dreams of an unlikely Main Event victory were crippled. The 41.5 million chips he bagged at the end of Day 6 had been whittled down to just over 11 million. Just like that, a spot at the coveted final table wasn’t such a sure thing, and suddenly the flights from T.F. Green Airport in Providence to McCarron International in Las Vegas were put on hold.

As the night wore on, Zobian more than withstood the damage that had been done. He slowly, confidently and strategically hung around, rebuilt his stack and survived after, perhaps, one of the most improbable hands in Main Event history decided the final nine.

So when the Main Event final table finally burst at 11:41 p.m., the 23-year-old was not only one of nine players remaining from a huge starting field of 7,874 players, but his family and friends were indeed heading to Las Vegas.

“They’ll be here tomorrow, which is great,” he said. “I wanted to hold off and not get ahead of myself, especially after having that chip lead and then relinquishing it.”

“I had positive expectations coming in. Obviously, I could have busted any time along the way, but that’s not what happened, so here I am.”

Zobian, who will have 18,875,000 chips — a staggering 93.9 million off the pace of leader Nicolas Manion — when play resumes Thursday at 5:30 p.m. local time, said he grew up in a tight-knit family. He is the middle child, with four siblings (two older brothers and a younger brother and sister).

“We spent a lot of time together growing up and my parents are still together,” he said with a fond grin. “But me and my siblings have kind of grown apart in recent years for some reason. Maybe this is something that can bring us all together again. That would be a bonus.”

When pressed for more details about his family life, Zobian, who has a strong build and stands in at around 6-foot-1, resisted as if we had tried to steal his big blind.
Despite a rocky Day 7, Zobian was a picture of composure at the table on Wednesday during WSOP Main Event action.

Despite a rocky Day 7, Zobian was a picture of composure at the table on Wednesday during WSOP Main Event action.

“I’d rather not get into my personal life too much,” he said politely.

But when asked about his poker skills, Zobian was more than happy to oblige. He’s not much different than the guy you’ve seen plugging away the last few years at your local casino. He learned how to play in home games, and eventually moved on to casino cash games, mostly at Twin River Casino in Rhode Island and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. When he started having success in low-limit cash games, he moved onto tournament play, both online and live.

“He’s put a lot of work into his game,” said Boston native and fellow poker pro David Gunas, who was on Zobian’s rail Wednesday and got to know him while playing on the same tables at Twin River. “He’s a good kid. He deserves this. He’s got a solid math background and he’s a pretty fearless and calculated kid, in general. It’s been fun to watch.”

Three years ago, Zobian decided to take the plunge and start playing professionally, and in the last two years he’s been playing more tournaments.

“I would say I’m mostly self-taught, but I’ve had a lot of help from couple great players like James Campbell and Valentin Vornicu, who have been a huge, huge help to me recently,” Zobian said. “I really think what’s helped me the most is my willingness to take a shot when most others wouldn’t; to really attack a spot because I feel like it’s the correct thing to do, and not be afraid to lose chips, or even lose my tournament life. That kind of approach goes a long way at the poker table.”

When told he looked more comfortable sitting at the table under the bright lights of the ESPN cameras than he did speaking off-hand with a reporter, Zobian nodded in agreement.

“I’m not fazed by the big stage at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I have been nervous. I would say I was more stressed; stressed about how I played some hands. I not especially happy about my play today, to be honest. I had to really make it work. Had to really grind.”

Now that he’s officially made it to a WSOP Main Event final table, marking his first-career WSOP cash, the days of being an unknown in the poker world are over. No longer will he only be recognized by the throng of fans flying in from Rhode Island on Thursday morning. His previous 25 live cashes totaled just over $110,000. Now, he’s part of an elite group of Main Event final tables and is guaranteed a payday of at least $1 million.

Is he ready for this?

“Without a doubt,” he said with supreme confidence. “I have the personality to deal with that exposure and that’s to my advantage. I want to use it as a positive and send a positive message to other people that something like this can be done.

“As a kid, I grew up watching the World Series of Poker on TV, so this is amazing. As a poker player I don’t think it changes too much. Anyone can make a run. But as a person it means that you really can do what you set out to accomplish.”

No. 15 for Hellmuth
Say what you want about Phil Hellmuth, but you can't deny that he commands attention.

As the WSOP Main Event dwindled down to 10 players and moved to one table, the excitement, as you can imagine, was building and the crowd was growing inside the Amazon Ballroom. But as word spread that Poker Brat was in a heads-up duel to win his 15th career bracelet in the $5,000 No Limit Event 71, many folks darted down the hall to cram into the tiny PokerGO studio for a chance to see history.

Hellmuth eventually prevailed, coming back from a deficit of nearly six million chips when heads-up play began, to finally outlast Steven Wolansky.

When WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel went to congratulate Hellmuth, he thanked him for allowing him to escape back to the Main Event.

“Oh, you mean that little tournament going on down the hall,” Hellmuth said with a hearty laugh.

Hellmuth, who has more than $22 million in live career earnings and is the all-time leader in WSOP cashes with 132, has certainly run into his fair share of controversies over the years, most of them self-induced. Most recently, he berated James Campbell during a hand earlier this week so badly that the day after he apologized on Twitter and offered to buy him into next year’s Main Event.

Nonetheless, the poker community came out in droves with words of praise and congratulations late Wednesday night when Hellmuth took down bracelet No. 15.

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