With less than one month to go until the final table of the 2009 Main Event, the tension was mounting and the number of players was dwindling, as ESPN began its coverage tonight. With 144 runners left and Day 6 still in progress, the focus remained on how many big poker names remained in the field. The featured table was loaded, with defending champion Peter Eastgate, former champion Joe Hachem, multiple bracelet winner JC Tran and last year’s third-place finisher Dennis Phillips. Norman Chad commented “I haven’t seen this much muscle at one table since The Godfather!” Phil Ivey was the big attraction at table two.
Whereas last week’s telecast featured a large number of very questionable plays, this week started with a top-notch play by a top player. With the blinds at 10,000-20,000, Hachem raised to 55,000 with A-K offsuit, only to have Ty Tran pop it to 305,000 with pocket kings. Hachem, realizing that he would have been pot committed if he played the hand, correctly decided he was beaten, and folded.
Next, we were treated to a battle between Phil Ivey and Steven Begleiter. Ivey raised to 54,000 with K-J offsuit, which Begleiter called in the small blind with . The flop brought 9-A-6, with no diamonds. Begleiter checked, and Ivey made the continuation bet of 80,000. A 3 fell on the turn, and after Begleiter checked, Ivey surprisingly checked behind. When a queen came on the river, Begleiter saw the opportunity, and bet 170,000 with absolutely nothing! Ivey folded the winning hand.
The next two hands at the featured table went into the “What if” file. First, Billy Kopp raised to 52,000 with pocket aces, which Dennis Phillips called with a pair of fours. Nasr el Nasr re-raised to 225,000 with queens, and Kopp raised once again to 558,000. Phillips got out of the way and el Nasr went all-in, which Kopp naturally called, creating a 3.2 million chip pot. The board did not help el Nasr, but the flop contained a 4, which would have given Phillips a set. Kopp moved into second place overall with 4.6 million chips.
Next, Eddie Teems went all-in for his last 277,000 with pocket jacks. Hachem, who had been playing a solid, tight game, folded a pair of eights in the small blind, but Eastgate called in the big blind with A-Q. The defending champion hit his ace on the flop to win the hand, and this time Hachem would have hit a set when an 8 fell on the turn. After knocking out Teems, Eastgate commented, “I always win these.”
A 2008 November Nine rematch took place when Phillips and Eastgate went up against each other in a hand. Phillips raised to 65,000 with pocket aces. Eastgate called with as did Frank Rusnak with . Both Rusnak and Phillips checked the 4-3-K flop, and Eastgate took a stab with a bet of 105,000. Rusnak folded and Phillips smooth called. The 9c on the turn put three clubs on the board, and gave Phillips the nut flush draw. He checked, and Eastgate took another shot with 175,000. Phillips then lowered the boom by pushing all-in, and Eastgate folded.
The second hour of the telecast began with just 100 players left, with the pre-show teaser focusing on Phillips and Eastgate and their attempts to make a second consecutive final table. However, they faced the challenge of having the current chip leader, Billy Kopp, at the featured table with them, along with Joe Sebok, who, unfortunately, was to be completely card dead for the entire telecast.
Phillips and Ty Tran tangled a few times during the hour. Phillips called a Tran raise to 77,000 with (Tran had ). The flop of A-2-3 brought a check from Tran and a 150,000 bet from Phillips, which Tran called. When another ace fell on the turn, both players surprisingly checked. A king came on the river, and Tran checked once again. Phillips made a small value bet of 200,000 into the 535,000 chip pot and Tran called, as Phillips’ five kicker played and won him the pot.
The two went at it again on the wild card hand, where Phillips raised to 70,000 with pocket kings from early position and Tran called with the mystery hand in the big blind. 10-A-3 rainbow came on the flop and Tran checked. Phillips bet 150,000, and Tran check-raised to 440,000. Phillips called. The two then checked the hand down on a turn 6 and river 8, and Tran showed A-2 for the win.
The final hand between them started with Tran raising to 77,000 with pocket sevens and Phillips re-raising to 180,000 with aces. Steve Sanders called with pocket queens on the button, whereupon Tran tried to steal the pot with a four bet to 605,000. Phillips wasted no time in pushing all-in, and the other two, realizing what they were up against, both wisely folded.
Meanwhile, the ups and downs of tournament poker were highlighted in two hands shown back-to-back. In the first, Darvin Moon won a 3.862 million chip pot when his pocket aces held up against kings. That hand elevated Moon to 7.572 million and the chip lead. Meanwhile, Ludovic Lacay was all-in for his tournament life with kings against aces, but hit the miracle king on the river to get up to close to 6 million chips.
Antonio Esfandiari had a remarkable run during the latter stages of Day 6. First, he called an all-in with K-Q, only to find out he was dominated by A-K. Esfandiari prophetically stated, “Now it’s time to do what I do best!” and promptly was greeted by a 9-10-J flop, and his straight held up. Later on, he played A-K against an opponent with Q-8 who subsequently bluffed off all his chips on a 5-5-7-K board to the turn, lifting the Magician into a stack of 5 million chips and a place in the top 10.
We saw the exit of a number of top players tonight, including Joe Hachem, Kenny and JC Tran, the penultimate woman Nichoel Peppe, and the defending champion, Peter Eastgate, who was eliminated when Billy Kopp caught a four-flush on the river to take out Eastgate’s top two pair. This left Dennis Phillips as the only remaining player from last year’s final table.
Phillips ran into the steamroller that was Darvin Moon right after he sat down at Moon’s table, which also had Tom Schneider (and his extremely loud railbird wife, Julie, who had Schneider apologizing to his table more than once). After Phillips was warned about going up against Moon because he was catching every card in the deck, he found himself with pocket queens after a raise to 110,000 by Schneider with A-J. Phillips re-raised to 310,000, only to have Moon four bet to 675,000 with A-K. Schneider folded, but Phillips called. The flop had an ace, and after Phillips checked, Moon bet out 750,000 (half the pot). Phillips asked him if he would show if he folded, and Moon said yes, but he would rather be called. Phillips mucked, and both showed their hands, as if it were just a friendly nickel-dime game in someone’s living room.
One final thing that must be noted is that we saw Phil Ivey put into a number of different situations tonight after being bluffed off the early hand by Begleiter. We saw him win from in front, win from behind, win by betting the second-best hand and win when his opponent simply folded to Ivey’s reputation. Finally, we saw a hand in which he raised to 110,000 with J-10 offsuit. Ryan Fair called with , but James Akenhead re-raised to 390,000 with A-10 in the blinds. Ivey, with Norman Chad screaming at him to fold, instead raised once again to 990,000, and his opponents laid down their hands. And that’s why he’s Phil Ivey and the rest of us aren’t.
The telecast ended with just 64 players left, and the excitement building as the final table drew nearer. In my opinion, this was the most interesting show of the series thus far, featuring lots of interesting hands, the requisite number of suck-outs and miracles, and some more footage of a few of the players who will make up the November Nine. I can’t wait for next week. See you then!
*Read Clearspine’s Blog *