Second in a series of articles focused on one player for two-three hours during an event.
Michael Binger sat in the 6s of Table 78 with eighty-three yellow chips in front of him in the $5k PLH event. 36 players made the money, and with 29 players left, each was focused not on squeaking up a level but on reaching a final table.
The $5k buy-in brought a quality field to the event, and only quality players sat at the table. To Michael's left sat Farzad Bonyadi, players to his right included one-time chip leader Dan Alspach and Alan Jaffrey on a big stack.
Michael started Saturday 35th out of 51 remaining players at 40.5k. With blinds at 3k/6k and Michael's stack up to 83k, he limped in the small blind and Bonyadi checked the big blind. "Pot limit holdem is not about stealing blinds," Michael told me at a break. "You have to always be wary of players playing back at you, and without the antes, it doesn't pay as well."
The flop came 5-8-10, and Michael bet 8k into the 12k pot. Bonyadi called, then the two checked down the 6-7 turn and river. Binger showed 4-5o for the dumb end of the straight, which was enough to take the small pot.
Michael played a very tight game, only raising with strength. He mucked the button and cutoff then raised to 17k in the CO+1 to take the blinds. Dan Alspach doubled up the 5s with 8's vs the 5s's pocket jacks as Michael watched. He mucked UTG then folded his big blind to Bonyadi's pot-sized raise. Alan Jaffrey raised to 18k with another 300k behind, and Michael folded his small blind.
On the button, he raised to take the blinds then busted a short stack. Michael raised with pocket 4's and the sb called with his last chips with . He had chipped up to his high of the tournament, 135k.
Play stopped as they redrew for the three remaining tables. Michael drew Table 77 8s, and the other players at his table included Chris Sandeck (1s), Max Greenwood , Mike Hauptman , Keith Lear , Jeffrey Lisandro , Alan Jaffrey , and Eric "Rizen" Lynch. Table 71 included Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Scott Fischman, Gavin Griffin, and Humberto Brenes. Table 65 held Allen Cunningham, Joe Sebok, and Jason Lester.
Michael was slightly below average in chips, and when play started he was in the cutoff with the button on the 9s. He folded all the hands around to his blinds and wandered twice to the other tables to gauge chip stacks and once to see an all-in at Cunningham's table. Chips were flying in these hands he was out of, once with Mike Hauptman pushing Alan Jaffrey out of a pot then Keith Lear taking a pot from Chris Sandeck.
On a break, Michael talked about his play for the day. "Well, I started at 40k and am up to 122k, so I've had a good day," he said. "I won two races and really only misplayed one hand. I've played enough pot limit hold-em before. It's not too different to be honest."
Back from the break with the blinds at 4k/8k, Chris Sandeck went on a major tear at the table. First, Michael raised to 12k in the small blind, and Sandeck repotted to 40k, taking the pot. Then on the button Binger folded and Sandeck limped with Max Greenwood checking his option in the big blind. The flop came , and Sandeck checked. Greenwood bet and Sandeck check-raised with Greenwood moving all-in for a total of 90k. Greenwood didn't have enough chips to push Sandeck off the hand, and he called with to Greenwood's . Greenwood never improved and was out.
The chips were heavily weighted down in the 1s-4s corner (Sandeck-260k, Hauptman-362k, Lear-350k), and Michael stayed tight. As he folded to Eric Lynch's raise, chaos was brewing on the table behind them. Humberto Brenes doubled through Chris Ferguson then went into the tired routine which goes as follows: "Huuuuummmmmbbbberrrrrtttttoooooo!!" followed by the shark attack, this one with a red strobe light. Ferguson smiled, Michael laughed, and others rolled their eyes at the sight.
With 22 players left, Michael sat on 102k in chips. He folded UTG then got tangled with Eric Lynch. Lynch limped from the small blind, and Michael checked. The flop came , and Lynch checked. Michael bet 12k, and Lynch minraised to 24k. Binger moved all-in for another 63k instantly, and after a minute Lynch folded. That brought him back up to 132k, and he folded his small blind to Jaffrey's UTG raise. He folded his button as well as the cut-off then got caught in a squeeze play.
Alan Jaffrey made it 22k to go, and Michael called. Chris Sandeck raised another 60k, and Jaffrey moved all-in for another 105k. Michael folded, then Sandeck eventually folded. Michael next raised UTG +1, taking down the blinds. Boring maybe, but these are the hands that bracelets are won and lost in.
Two tables away, Joe Sebok occasionally caucused with his father, Barry Greenstein. Greenstein was playing a few tables over in the $1.5k Seven Card Stud event. "I know it sounds like an old record," Joe told me at the break, "but I've had some tough beats lately. Two-outers, runner-runners. It's been tough. I cashed in this event two years ago, and I'm playing well. We'll see, though."
Michael folded UTG, then Lynch mucked his small blind the next hand giving him a walk. He limped from the small blind with Sandeck and they checked down a board of , Sandeck's taking the blinds.
Folded around to Michael on the button, he raised to 21k and Mike Hauptman called from the big blind. "You have to be careful in pot-limit," Michael had said at the break. "Players will play back at you."
The flop came , and Hauptman checked. Michael bet 30k, then Hauptman put him all-in for his last 35k in chips. He thought for a bit, but by then most of his chips were in the pot. He called with Q-9, but Hauptman flipped over K-Q. Michael caught a straight draw with , but shipped the pot to Hauptman.
He stood up and walked away from the table. All of his poker belongings were attached to him in bags strapped around his waist and shoulder, so there was no reason for him to return to Table 77. He stood a few feet from Table 71, speaking to himself, looking back at the table, turning around. He was a man torn, a poker player who had played a game of utter patience for two days. He'd moved from below average in chips into the money, and he was gutted to walk away from the Amazon Room to the cashier across the hall.
Michael won $4,123,310 at last year's WSOP Main Event, and it wasn't money he was after today. He wanted his third WSOP final table and a first bracelet. It may still come later in the World Series. He showed how to play a tight, patient game and get deep, and Michael Binger definitely has the game to take that final step.