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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief 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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WSOP Main Event Final Table questions and answers

20 Jul 2017

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS – On Thursday afternoon, more than 40 hours after the final table bubble burst dramatically at the World Series of Poker Main Event early Tuesday morning, the nine players who scratched and clawed their way through the third-largest field in tournament history will return to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

Cards go in the air for the final table at 5:30 p.m. local time inside the Brasilia Room, and while each player has already secured a $1 million payday, the winner goes home with $8.15 million — not to mention a gaudy gold bracelet and a place in poker history forever.

Over the past two-plus days, everyone — the players and their families, tournament officials, the media — had a chance to catch their breath and process what's turned out to be a dynamic group of nine players. We have youth (four players in their 20s) and we have age (a 64-year-old). We have international flair. We have players with a ton of success both at the felt and online, and we have one of the best "feel-good" stories in recent WSOP memory.

What we don't have is a clear-cut favorite. And that's why this could very well be one of the most entertaining Main Event final tables ever.

So, after speaking with fellow media members, bookmakers, blackjack dealers, Lyft drivers and bartenders over the last few days, here are some of the more pressing questions people are asking about this year's WSOP Main Event final table, and our best effort to answer them.

After the top two stacks — Scott Blumstein (97,250,000) and John Hesp (85,700,000) — there's a big drop-off to No. 3 (Benjamin Pollak – 35,175,000). Can anyone catch the two leaders?

Of course. We've seen bigger comebacks before. In fact, in 2009, eventual champ Joe Cada overcame a staggering 46.715 million-chip deficit to win it.

Over the last nine years, Joe McKeehen has enjoyed the largest lead going into the final table when he held a monstrous 33.3 million-chip advantage over his closest pursuer in 2015, and he went on to streamroll his way to victory. But the surly McKeehen is just one of two chip leaders since 2008 to win the Main Event, the other coming in 2010 when Jonathan Duhamel rode a 19.1 million-chip advantage to win the coveted bracelet.

Also, during the last nine years, on the occasions where the chip leader did not win it, the average chip deficit the eventual champion had overcome was more than 20 million.

So, yes, it wouldn't be a huge upset if someone other than Blumstein or Hesp took it down.

OK, but Blumstein and Hesp are the distinct favorites, correct?

Antoine Saout from France is making a rare trip back to the WSOP Main Event final table.

Antoine Saout from France is making a rare trip back to the WSOP Main Event final table.

Yes, they are the favorites, but I wouldn’t say distinct. The good folks at bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook have Hesp at 3-to-1 and Blumstein at 11-to-5 (as of early Thursday morning). But lurking close behind are Pollak (11-to-2) and Antoine Saout and Bryan Piccioli, both listed at 8-to-1. And even though he's the short stack with 18,050,000 chips, Ben Lamb is 12-to-1.

Interestingly enough, USFantasy Sports opened its pari-mutuel odds with Lamb at 50-1. We were told on Wednesday morning that someone placed a single $500 wager on Lamb, immediately dropping his odds in the win pool to 1-9.

Why are people picking Lamb if he is the short stack?

Because he is the most talented, most accomplished and most well-known name at the table.

This is the second WSOP Main Event final table in six years for Lamb. The 32-year-old from Oklahoma was third at the 2009 Main Event. Overall, he has 14 previous WSOP cashes worth $6.2 million, and he is the 2011 WSOP Player of the Year. He and Piccioli each have one WSOP bracelet, and they are the only players at this year's final table to have one in their jewelry box.

Lamb is a regular in live high-stakes games, so he'll be comfortable with his surroundings this weekend. He's already a near-Poker Hall of Famer, but a Main Event championship would cinch it.

Plus, he's into the bling.

"To win $8 million would be great, but I don't know if you saw that bracelet, but it's fucking huge," he said with a laugh early Tuesday night, a beer in hand minutes after the final table was decided. "So, I want that thing. I want it bad."

But Lamb isn't the only one making a return trip to the Main Event final table, is he?

Nope. Saout was here in 2008 when he finished third. And this year's 10th-place finisher, Michael Ruane, was trying to make back-to-back final tables, which means we had three players in the final 10 this year looking to get into the final nine again. In the 48-year history of the WSOP, Lamb and Saout became just the 39th and 40th players to record more than one appearance.

"That's crazy, right?" Blumstein said. "It's so mathematically improbable. But it's no coincidence. They're great players. And since they have been here before, they definitely have an edge."

Saout agreed that his past experience helped him reach the final table and will also benefit him when the cards go in the air.

Read predictions for the WSOP Main Event final table here.

"Yes, it most definitely was a factor," said the 33-year-old Frenchman, who has 11 previous WSOP cashes to his name. "And I think I played great the last time I was at the final table. I was the chip leader for a while, but took third. I think I will play well again. I think I will be more prepared this time."

Speaking of experience, what is the deal with John Hesp and his floral suit jacket? Seems like everyone is rooting for him.
Most definitely. The 64-year-old Englishman will be the star of the show for however long he lasts. Both casual fans and big-name pros have hitched their wagon to him, and while I'm not sure he'll still be the betting favorite come Thursday night, there is no doubt he will be the fan favorite.

If you haven't seen him play, be sure to tune in and you'll immediately see why "Gentleman John" is so likable and easy to root for. He's a semi-retired owner of a caravan vacation rental company. He's married and has four kids and seven grandchildren. He has never played in the WSOP, and his experience is not unlike yours or mine. And he's as humble as they come.

"I'm just a simple guy from a small town who plays a little bit of recreational poker maybe once or twice a month. So, to me, this entire experience is just incredible," he told us late Monday night. "For the life of me, I can't figure out why everyone seems to have so much interest in me. I'm nothing special, really."

Oh, John. You have no idea just how "special" you will be if you continue to run hot and win the Main Event.

So, can he do it?

Regrettably, I don't think so. First off, I think at some point the magnitude of the moment has to get to him. It's one thing to make it this far. But it’s another to be the toast of Las Vegas for two days, go through hundreds of interviews, and all of a sudden become a celebrity and then have to jump back in and take on some savvy professionals who aren’t going to blink at being in the spotlight. Secondly, he didn't get a great seat draw with Blumstein's big stack directly to his left.

This situation kind of reminds me of Darvin Moon back in 2009. The self-employed logger and amateur player who wore the black New Orleans Saints baseball cap had a similar story and entered the final table with a chip lead of more than 24 million, but coughed it up and finished second.

Taking second place in the Main Event was still quite an accomplishment, but Moon definitely wasn't as comfortable sitting at that final table as he was leading up to it, and I'm guessing Hesp could be facing the same fate.

Alright then, who do you like to win?

I like the "other" Frenchman, Pollak. Why? Well, first off, I got to watch him quite a bit in the last week, and I love his demeanor and calm approach to the game. Secondly, he's got the chops. Even with Lamb and Saout at the table, Pollak has the best GPI of anyone else (154) and the second-most WSOP cashes with 16, behind only Piccioli, who has an impressive 30. Finally, his seat is optimal, sitting two spots directly to the left of Saout and two spots from to Blumstein.

While Pollak is the pick to win at that nice 11-to-2 price, I think the guy that he will have a hard time shaking is Blumstein. He was so impressive when we spoke to him after the final table was decided. Even though he had just come out of a massive field of 7,221 players as the chip leader in the biggest tournament in the world, he was cool, calm and collected as he stood around and spoke to the media.

"I'm not going to overthink it," he said when asked how he would prepare for the final table. "I 'm lucky enough to have a great supporting cast that are some of the best poker minds in the world, and I'm going to tap into them the next few days. I'd be crazy not to.

"But my attitude during the entire Main Event was that whatever happens happens, and I think that's why I'm here."

If you're looking for a dark horse, Piccioli is your man. At 8-to-1, he brings a ton of value. He's got that bracelet and those 30 WSOP cashes, and he's got the fourth-most chips while sitting three spots from his left to the chip leader, while the smallest stack (Lamb) is on his right.
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