WSOP Event #4 was a surreal event that gave us an indication of the complexity of the explosion of poker. Day two saw Phil Ivey start fast, building his stack in the first hour. He, Joe Cassidy, and Phil Gordon were the players to watch. Michele Lewis knocked out two players with kings, building her chip stack into a force at her table. Two hours in - the field had been cut from 69 to 27 players, and the swings would come fast and furious.
Lars Hansen crippled Ivey on back to back hands. Hansen had pocket aces twice in a row, once when Ivey had queens and a second time we won’t know his cards as he mucked. Ivey’s stack had plummeted to $35k and Hansen sat at $175k. Ivey was soon all-in against Hansen but doubled through to stay alive as Ivey now held the aces Hansen had lived on. Ivey and Cassidy exited back to back in 21st and 20th place respectively, and with them a change occurred in the remaining two tables: every person sitting there now realized that they could win the bracelet. Cassidy is a proven young pro, but Ivey is someone feared at any table.
When the Friday night’s play was completed, the remaining nine players had a mixed bag of previous results. Michele Lewis, Matthew Elsby, Hank Sparks, and Vipul Kothavi cashed in their first live tournament, so each of them was in new territory. Kianoush Abolfathi, Patrick Maloney, and Lars Hansen had small cashes previously, but this would be their biggest payout to date. Eric Buchman had a title under his belt, 1st place in the 2004 New England Classic ($275k). Josh Schlein finished 2nd in the 2005 WPT Ultimate Poker Classic ($440k).
Saturday’s start of the final table showed a very strange scene, with significantly less fans ready to cheer their favorite players on. These were a few friends and family in a somewhat intimate setting, watching people they knew well play a game they loved. Limit poker has drama, but much of it happens inside the heads and hearts of the players. Decisions are important but rarely catastrophic. You’ve been sucked out on? Fine, deal the next hand. The only players with less than $100k in chips to start the day were Abolfathi and Elsby, and only one would escape their situation. On a brutal hand of injustice, Elsby got all-in pre-flop, holding two red aces to Abolfathi’s . Dealing the board takes forever at the final table, and this one may have been better for Elsby to see quickly, like yanking a bandage off of your knee. A board of left Elsby stunned and out in 9th place ($32,801).
As Hansen, Maloney, and Sparks, made their exit, the remaining five players traded the chip lead. Buchman took a big stack from Lewis by flopping a set of fours. Abolfathi caught a full house on the river with pocket kings, dragging a pot from Schlein. Kothavi and Lewis went out in quick succession as they were short stacked, and we were down to two players who had big cashes and one who was in virgin territory. The new guy on the block, Abolfathi, gradually hacked away at the other two in the end and ultimately knocked out Schlein in 3rd ($101,318) and Buchman in 2nd ($174,938).
In Card Player’s Daily report, they write, “And don’t try to pronounce the unpronounceable. So when you talk about Kianoush Abolfathi, just call him winner.” Well, we’ve learned how to pronounce Negreanu, Hachem, Giang, and Cloutier, so with his first bracelet, we better learn how to say Abolfathi’s name. We may be hearing more from him.