Money bubble gets a Hollywood ending at the WSOP Main Event

11 July 2015

LAS VEGAS -- The money bubble arrived a day early at the World Series of Poker Main Event. Normally a Day 4 staple, the bubble burst just after the dinner break on Day 3 because of change in the Main Event payout structure. Traditionally, the Main Event paid prize to money to 10 percent of the field. This year, the Main Event is awarding prize money to the top 1,000 players -- about 15.6 percent of the 6,420 player field. The WSOP changed its payout structure in an effort to attract and reward more players.

Players finishing in the top 1,000 of the $10,000 buy-in Main Event will receive at least $15,000 in prize money. The Main Event champion wins $7.68 million.

The size of the field combined with reduced capacity in the Amazon Room -- where TV production needs have dramatically limited the number of tables that can fit in the room -- forced WSOP officials to conduct hand-for-hand play across two rooms as the money bubble waited to burst.

Brian Hastings was the first player in the 2015 WSOP Main Event to get more than 1 million in chips.

Brian Hastings was the first player in the 2015 WSOP Main Event to get more than 1 million in chips. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

The two-room bubble reduced some of the drama associated with the moment. Players -- and spectators -- weren't sure how many players were all in and in which rooms until tournament officials announced it. But the two-room setup didn't lessen the tension for the players sitting on short stacks. And it introduced a some humor to the situation as well.

In the middle of the Amazon Room, an older player sitting at around 25,000 in chips reached for his asthma inhaler as the monitor to his left showed the field had moved from 1,009 players remaining to 1,006 players remaining.

One table to his left sat Philip Stark. With blinds at 1,500-3,000 and the antes at 500, Stark was running out of time. He had one 5,000 chip left and he was in the small blind. Stark used his lone chip to post his small blind and TV cameras raced over.

"That's just the small blind," Stark protested. "I have 3,500 left."

When the action came around to Stark, he squeezed his cards, and then stalled for as long as he could. As he stalled, he glanced up and to the left at the monitor displaying the number of remaining players in the field. As he looked up, two more eliminations were reported and the number dropped to 1,004. Then tournament officials put Stark on the clock for the second-straight hand.

Stark looked back at his seven-handed table and folded, hoping he could hold on.

"What's the opposite of being the chip leader?" Stark asked Casino City. "It sucks," he added.

Stark stopped looking at his hands after he folded from the small blind. He didn't want to know. He was just folding.

When hand-for-hand play began with 1,002 players remaining, Stark was staring into the abyss. He needed the money bubble to burst in two hands. Any longer and he could bust from the tournament.

The first hand was uneventful. Nobody busted from the tournament. The second hand featured two potential eliminations.

With WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel providing the play by play for both hands, Stark awaited his fate.

First came the elimination hand in the Amazon Room -- Roy Daoud was all in with pocket fives against Josh Ladines' 7h-5d. A board of Kc-9s-4c-Ks-9c sent Daoud packing and earned Stark a pat on the back from one of the players at his table.

Then Effel ran from the Amazon Room to the Brasilia Room and attempted to catch his breath and call the action at the same time. Fortunately for Effel, there was no drama in this hand.

Samuel Gagnon pushed all in on the river with the board reading Ks-5h-4c-10s-As. He was called by Jonas Lauck, who called with Ah-Qs. Unfortunately for Lauck, Gagnon hit the straight with Qc-Js to send him packing.

Daoud and Lauck then joined Effel on stage to see which player would get a free buy-in to next year's Main Event -- the "bubble boy" prize that has become a tradition at the Main Event. Daoud went first in the game of high card and drew a jack. Lauck drew a seven, giving Daoud the prize.

While Daoud and Lauck were on stage, Stark breathed a sigh of relief. The man who writes TV and movie scripts for a living (and sometimes produces) -- That '70s Show, South Park and Dude, Where's My Car? are among his credits -- had just written his own dramatic ending at the WSOP Main Event. He beat the odds and cashed.

Stark ended up finishing 957th in the Main Event. He won $15,000 for his efforts.

Several notable players fell short of the money on Friday, including comedian Brad Garrett, Scotty Nguyen, Allen Cunningham, Mike Matusow, Dennis Phillips, Billy Pappas, Jennifer Shahade, Vinny Pahuja, Brandon Shack-Harris, William Kakon and Daniel Colman.

Brian Hastings, who won two WSOP tournaments earlier this summer, became the first player in this year's Main Event to crack the 1-million chip mark. He finished the day third in chips with 1.034 million. Amar Anand finished Day 3 as the chip leader with 1.139 million in chips. Joseph McKeehen finished with 1.052 million.

Notable players still in the tournament include: Matt Glantz (581,000), Jim Bechtel (565,000), Scott Montgomery (564,000), Matt Jarvis (545,000), Antonio Esfandiari (392,000) and Phil Hellmuth (270,500).

There are 661 players remaining in the tournament. Day 3 play began with 1,796 players still in the field.

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