The tournament was officially in its final days. It would only be a few days before the final table of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event would be set, and Day 5 was one of the few where the field was manageable enough for some players to rise to the top and begin to shine. The excitement in the Amazon Room at the Rio in Las Vegas was becoming very real.
There were 407 players who returned for Day 5 action, all secure in the knowledge that they would be receiving a minimum payout of $27,469 for their efforts thus far. But it was very much understood that such a money guarantee was not what any of the players sought, as the ultimate poker final table was in sight, and a spot there guaranteed them life-changing money and a spot in a poker spotlight unlike any other. The ESPN television show? A bonus. The most coveted bracelet and award in all of poker? The real goal.
It was determined at the beginning of the day’s action that the field would play five levels or to 175 players, whichever came first. If the 175-player goal was achieved more quickly than anticipated, play would be cut short as the field would be thinning at a comfortable pace for the tournament staff. Play began with Level 18, which required blinds of 4,000/8,000 along with a 1,000-chip ante.
It took only one hand of play to see the first player take leave of the tournament. Leo Labbe looked down at 113K and pushed it all-in with but ran into the pocket aces of Steve Sanders. The board brought hope for Labbe but only help for Sanders when it came , which pushed Labbe out quickly on Day 5.
One of the few women left standing took an early exit as well. Emma Grace put her pocket sevens on the line but found they were up against the pocket kings of Viet Nguyen. No help came on the board, and Grace was ousted early.
Former WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem got off to a positive start when he found himself in somewhat of a race with against the pocket kings of Ross Mallor. The board kept it tense through the flop and turn, but the on the river gave Hachem the best hand and eliminated Mallor.
At the same time, Matt Affleck capitalized on his beginning-of-the-day chip lead, and by eliminating David Blatte early in the afternoon, he pushed himself up to and over the two-million chip mark. But someone was chasing him, and Ben Lamb was able to soar through the first half hour of play and climb over two million chips as well. It was gearing up to be a sincere fight for the chips on Day 5.
Not faring so well during the first level were players like Thor Hansen and CK Hua, both of whom were eliminated early. Jon Eaton left the field as well, followed by David Levi, Marla Schwartz, Sorel Mizzi, Thomas Koral, and Burt Boutin.
Phil Ivey had a rough start to the day, losing several key pots, the last of which involved his opponent coming in with pocket aces and rivering another ace for the set. With that, Ivey was down to 220K and seemed to be losing momentum, despite having a crowd of railbirds on his side.
It was near the first break that the fight for the chip lead ramped up. Tom Schneider, 2007 WSOP Player of the Year, opened the pot but found Kevin Saul wanting to raise it. When Schneider pushed it up to 130K, Saul shipped the rest of his one million-chip stack into the pot. Schneider called all-in with pocket aces and was happy to see that Saul had A-K. The board blanked, and Saul was left crippled with only 50K behind. Schneider claimed the pot worth 2.1 million and soared into the chip lead. Despite finding himself in the chip lead by the end of the first break, Schneider was trumped by Matt Affleck, who eliminated a player just after the break to jump to 2.6 million. The battle for the chips was on.
Peter Eastgate was struggling at the beginning of the day but doubled up to stay alive. On a flop, Eastgate moved with pocket kings against the of his opponent. The kings held up when the turn came and river , and Eastgate doubled to 770K.
A few more eliminations occurred in the second level of the day, as Nick Binger, Jimmy Tran, and Dan Shak took their places in the payout line. Also in that group was Kara Scott, one of the last women left in the Main Event and the only woman to cash in the 2008 and 2009 Main Events. After winding up with a short stack in the second level, she moved all-in for her last 70K with against the of her opponent. The board brought a 5 on the flop and another on the turn to eliminate Scott.
Another bustout took out one of the former Main Event champions in the field. Dan Harrington was all-in preflop for 345K, and Eric Cloutier called on the flop of with . Harrington showed , and the last two cards came and to eliminate the renowned author.
Meanwhile, it was James Akenhead who hit the next tournament milestone when he doubled up in a monstrous hand against Eracles Panayiotou. Akenhead’s pocket kings overtook the bluff of his opponent holding 6-4, and Akenhead soared above the three-million mark.
It wasn’t long before someone flirted with the notion of surpassing the four-million point, and it happened when Warren Zackey eliminated Tom Lutz with tens over the of Lutz, who missed his flush. Zackey climbed to 3.95 million at that point, and with the subsequent elimination of Kyle Wilson, he jumped to more than 4.7 million.
It was near the end of the day that Estelle Denis was ousted from the tournament to leave only two women standing. Nichoel Peppe of the U.S. and Leo Margets of Spain remained in the field out of the seven who started the day.
And the last celebrity standing was eliminated on the very last hand of the night, after Lou Diamond Phillips made a valiant run deep into the Main Event. He finally put the last of his chips at risk with pocket kings, but two players called with pocket aces. Those aces split the pot and eliminated Phillips in 186th place with $36,626 for his impressive finish.
Ultimately, the day came to an earlier close than predicted when the field diminished to 185 in only three levels. The tournament staff decided to end action for the day before the dinner break. Warren Zackey held on to the chip lead and ended the day with 4,872,000, and Kasper Cordes snuck up behind to finish with 4,352,000 chips. Darvin Moon brought up third place with 3,218,000, and 2007 WSOP Player of the Year Tom Schneider sat in fourth with 3,168,000.
Play would restart for Day 6 on Monday, July 13, to play down ever closer to the coveted final table.