The day was unlike others of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. It began with 789 players still holding on to a dream, one that would end in heartbreak for 141 of them who would leave the tournament less $10,000. The last 648 players remaining would at least guarantee themselves a payout of $21,365, and those that continued on still had a shot at the money and fame at the end of the Main Event.
For many in poker, especially in the media, it is the most exciting time of the Main Event. Though getting through hand-for-hand action can be an arduous and somewhat boring task, the eruption of applause when the bubble bursts and the last of the field is in the money is rewarding. It shows how much work goes into making it through several days of the biggest tournament in the world and what it looks like to come out of it with a positive experience and twice as much money as they came in with. In addition, the flurry of bustouts just after the payouts begin provides for a much-needed narrowing of the field and the emergence of the true leaders of the field.
It was determined at the beginning of the day that the action would proceed for four levels or to the point that 400 players remained. That meant for a rather short day considering what may lie ahead in the last days.
Play began with Phil Ivey at the main feature table set up for ESPN, and Peter Eastgate and Joe Hachem would take seats with Surindar Sunar, Burt Boutin, and Bob Feduniak at the secondary table for the same purpose. And with the “shuffle up and deal” command, the eliminations began from the moment it started.
The very first hand of the day saw two bustouts at one table when Dean Schultz pushed all-in with and Billy Adams did the same with . Matthew Lubawski called and had them both covered with , and his hand held up through a board of to eliminate two players within minutes of the start of Day 4.
Others to find their tournament lives ending early in the day included Maria Mayrinck, John Racener, Greg Mueller, J.C. Alvarado, Brian Lemke, and Hevad Khan.
All eyes were on previous Main Event champions, some of whom got off to a roaring start like Hachem, Chris Ferguson, and Dan Harrington. Eastgate also maintained as the tension of the money bubble neared. Cameras were also focused on Day 3 chipleader Bertrand Grospellier, who found himself losing momentum but staying well over a million chips. And last-standing actor Lou Diamond Philips had a rough start when J.C. Tran doubled through him, though he chipped up through Tran during bubble play.
Speaking of the field dwindling, there were only 659 players left at the first break, which came at the end of the first two-hour level of play. And within 15 minutes or so of returning from break, that number was 653 and hand-for-hand play ensued. It lasted for an excitement-filled 1.5 hours, as each all-in required the ESPN crews to rush to the table(s) with all-in players in an attempt to capture the thrill of making the money and the crush of being eliminated just short of it.
Finally, the bubble burst. Kia Hamadani had one 500 chip left in his stack, and it went in for the ante. Reed Hensel found two callers for the flop, but when Hensel bet out after, the other two players folded. Hensel showed only , but Hamadani showed for the worse hand. A came on the turn and a on the river to give him trips, and Hamadani grabbed the distinction of being the 2009 WSOP Main Event bubble player. For it, Hamadani received no money for his 649th place finish in the tournament, but the WSOP and Jack Link’s awarded him a buy-in to the $10K Main Event in 2010.
After the room of players settled down from the massive applause and reconciled the happy fact that they were all guaranteed a payout of double their buy-ins, play resumed. An extra 39 minutes were added to the previously-stopped clock, calculated by giving three minutes for every one of the 13 hands that were played during hand-for-hand.
In the massive number of eliminations that ensued, Jay Chase was the first, accepting a payout of $21,365 for his 648th place finish. Kristy Gazes was also ousted, along with Jesper Hougaard, Paul Wasicka, and Justin Bonomo.
One of the former Main Event champions, Chris Ferguson, was crippled during post-bubble play, and his stack of 4K was quickly reduced to 1K, which went all-in on the ante of a subsequent hand. Sander Lylloff raised to isolate with , and Ferguson could only show . The board brought a flop and turn, and the set of Lylloff could not be beat, eliminating Ferguson from the with a $23,196 payday.
Another Main Event champion and big personality, Phil Hellmuth, was crippled late in the day as well, when he came face to face with Abraham Mourshaki on a flop. Betting led to the on the turn, at which point both players checked. After the came on the river, Mourshaki bet out with , and when Hellmuth called, he saw his unreported hand was beat. Reduced to only 100K, Hellmuth was fuming. He got involved in another hand not long after with pocket aces against the of Kevin Jenkins and of Kenny Hsiung on a flop of . The aces were no good, especially when the turn brought a and the river a . Hellmuth was eliminated from the Main Event.
Thomas West became the last elimination of the day when he exited in 408th place for a $27,469 payday. The last 407 players bagged their chips and discovered that Matt Affleck was in the chip lead with a 1,819,000 stack. Ludovic Lacay was in second with 1,608,000, and not far behind was Tom Lutz with 1,600,000. Rounding out the top five were James Akenhead and Charlie Elias.
Play was set to resume at noon on Sunday, July 12, with those 407 players set to play down further into the money and ever closer to the final table.