Negreanu falls short of WSOP Main Event final table

15 July 2015

LAS VEGAS -- The World Series of Poker Main Event final table is set, and Joe McKeehen is your chip leader with 63.1 million in chips. Joining the McKeehen at the final table is Zvi Stern (29.8 million), Neil Blumenfield (22 million), Pierre Neuville (21.075 million), Max Steinberg (20.2 million), Thomas Cannuli (12.25 million), Joshua Beckley (11.8 million), Patrick Chan (6.225 million) and Frederico Butteroni (6.2 million).

The Main Event champion will win $7.68 million. The tournament's ninth place finisher will win $1.001 million. The November Nine, as the Main Event final table is now known, will be on hiatus for more than three months to allow ESPN's televised coverage to catch up with play. Final table play begins on Nov. 8.

McKeehen knocked out Alex Turyansky to end more than 12 grueling hours of play Monday to set the final table. Turyansky won $756,897 for finishing 10th.

Daniel Negreanu finished 11th and won $526,778. Negreanu also finished 11th in the 2001 Main Event. He won $63,940 for that 11th-place finish.

Daniel Negreanu talks to ESPN after finishing 11th in the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event.

Daniel Negreanu talks to ESPN after finishing 11th in the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

In many ways, the Main Event -- which saw 6,420 people this year -- was a tale of two tournaments. There was Negreanu's tournament. And there was everyone else's tournament.

The Negreanu tournament began Saturday, when Negreanu joined Phil Hellmuth at the featured ESPN TV table partway through the day. Negreanu eliminated Hellmuth later that day and remained at the ESPN table for the rest of the tournament.

Negreanu's play in this year's Main Event had been remarkably consistent. He ended Day 4 with 1.335 million in chips. He ended Day 5 with 3.62 million. And he finished Day 6 with 8.495 million.

During the first 30 minutes of play Monday, Negreanu cracked the 11-million chip mark when he won four of the first five hands of the day. But he dipped back down to about 7.5 million when he pushed all in pre-flop with pocket eights. Steinberg called Negreanu with pocket aces. The aces held up on a board reading 6h-5s-5d-Ks-Kh.

And after 2.5 hours of play, Negreanu was hovering around the 5 million mark. He recovered and ran it up to around 9 million again. Then he slipped back down into the 4-6 million range and spent the bulk of the night fighting and grinding for his tournament life. It didn't help matters that runaway chip leader McKeehen was sitting across the table from him.

Even though he was one of the short stacks at the table -- and in the tournament -- for last few hours of play, Negreanu saw several flops and fought valiantly. But his luck ran out against McKeehen. On a board reading Ad-Kc-10d, Negreanu check-raised all in for his remaining 5.825 million. McKeehen called with Jd-3d. Negreanu showed his As-4d and hoped the two aces would hold up. And for a while, it looked like it would. A three of hearts on the turn gave McKeehen more outs. But nobody in the boisterous pro-Negreanu crowd actually believed McKeehen would hit one of them. Their hero would finally have the chips he needed to fight the big stack. Then came the queen of hearts on the river, flooring Negreanu and the crowd.

Negreanu, who had done some crowd-pleasing pushups earlier in the night, collapsed to the ground and laid there for a few moments with his hands over his eyes. Then he got up with a smile on his face, shook the hand of his vanquisher and the other players at the table, and exited the tournament area.

"I legitimately hit my head on the ground, so I'm a little dizzy," Negreanu said with a grin as he addressed the press. "But (it's) nothing a good old vodka-something can't heal."

The final table for the WSOP Main Event is set.

The final table for the WSOP Main Event is set. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Despite the loss, Negreanu appreciated the atmosphere.

"It was electric. The Thunderdome was rocking," said Negreanu, referring to the nickname of the main ESPN TV table. "There were a lot of people in there really excited for me. I felt the energy. I felt like it was bigger than me. There were a lot of people identifying with me and wanting me to win for them. It felt like I was playing for them as well."

Negreanu also said changes he's made in his mental approach to life made him feel better prepared to win the Main Event this year than he was in 2001.

"A couple of years ago I did a course called ChoiceCenter," Negreanu said. "It was about emotional intelligence and it really opened my eyes up (in terms of) how to tap into my confidence and be the best version of myself on a consistent basis and really believe that I could accomplish great things. Ever since I did ... I approach each tournament with a mental advantage that few of my opponents have. They might know the math better. They might know how to play 10 big blinds better. But how to approach the tournament and really believe you're going to win -- I think that's really valuable."

Negreanu also said he was too worried about navigating his table to actually think about making the November Nine.

"The (November) Nine never crossed my mind," Negreanu said. "I was focused on an interesting dynamic -- (we had) a bunch of short stacks and one guy with all the chips that could dominate and just run over us. So I'm thinking 'How am I going to fight back?' I (decided) to fight back my style by seeing some flops if I could and pushing back when I could."

"The last hand was a good opportunity," Negreanu added as he explained his thought process on his final hand. "I'm not folding and if I flop good, I'll try to get in and if I win that pot, all of sudden 'Hello, guess who has 15 million in chips -- I'll see you in November.'"

McKeehen maintained a good sense of humor about knocking out the crowd favorite.

"Someone joked that I already murdered poker," McKeehen said. "Hopefully I can bring it back," he added with a smile.

"I had a little trouble with (Negreanu)," McKeehen said. "I think I might have misplayed a couple of hand against him because of who he was -- it got in my head a little bit. As I settled down, I got a grasp of what was going on."

"I think (Negreanu) respected me as the big stack quite a bit," McKeehen added. "I think the final hand we both flopped a pretty good hand and he didn't have a lot of chips. The way it went in was pretty standard."

"Everything went so well for me (today)," McKeehen said. "At the final two tables, I just got dealt all the cards. I flopped three sets in a row ... I just won a ton of chips and before I knew it we were on this big bubble and I decided I was going to take advantage of it as much as I can."

While Negreanu was holding court at the main ESPN table, chips were flying around the rest of the tournament.

Anton Morgenstern, who finished 20th in the 2013 Main Event, finished 22nd this year to win $262,574. Morgenstern exited the tournament on a three-way all in. The action came pre-flop when Beckley pushed all in for 3.225 million with pocket kings. Morgenstern called with pocket 10s, putting his 3,215 million at risk. Mario Sequeira, who had both players covered, called as well with ace-jack. The kings held up, giving Morgenstern two deep Main Event runs with no final table appearance. Morgenstern won $262,574 for finishing 22nd.

The most improbable Main Event journey was authored by Neuville. In a tournament that is decidedly a young man's game -- the last seven Main Event champions have been 20-somethings -- the 72-year-old Neuville stood out. He finished Day 5 of the Main Event as the chip leader with 7.105 million. Neuville began play Monday with 6 million after a tough Day 6. But he vaulted (temporarily) into the chip lead when he busted Sequeira out of the tournament.

After a series of pre-flop raises, Neuville and Sequeira saw a flop of 7s-10d-Kd. Neuville bet 2.95 million, and Sequeira responded by going all in for 6.765 million. Neuville called the bet and showed Kc-6c. Sequeira showed Qh-Qd. Neuville was ahead with a pair of kings. A 10 on the turn and another 10 on the river sealed the deal for Neuville. Sequeira was out of the tournament in 21st. And Neuville was the new chip leader with 22.495 million.

Sequeira won $262,574 for finishing 21st.

David Peters then struck a blow for amateurs everywhere. The attorney from California finished 17th and won $325,034. And he enjoyed doing it.

"I had a ball," Peters told Casino City after his elimination. "This was fun. There were some high and some lows, but this isn't life. This, to me, is a break to enjoy myself. I got the opportunity, I took the opportunity, I seized the moment and I got beat by a better player."

Peters was eliminated by Negreanu on a tough beat. Peters pushed all in pre-flop for 2.295 million with pocket sevens. Negreanu called the bet with Ax-Jx and spiked a jack on the river to win the hand.

"These guys play at a different level," Peters said. "They live for this thing. They die for this thing. There are going to be a lot of guys disappointed they didn't make the November Nine. You know what's even worse? That's going to haunt them. Me? I'm grateful."

Even though he was playing against pros, Peters said he never felt overwhelmed or out of his element.

"Nothing was difficult," Peters explained. "And I know that sounds insane, but you've got a big stake in who you are and where you are. I'm here, I'm seizing the moment and enjoying myself. I did the very best I was capable of doing. I played mostly my A game ... I played probably as well as I'm capable of."

Peters also had great advice for other recreational players interested in playing in the Main Event. "First and foremost, it's $10,000 -- so if you don't have the money, don't do it. Don't put yourself under pressure," the 56-year-old Peters said.

"You have to live for today, not just tomorrow (if you play)," he added. "Don't go ahead with delusions of grandeur and what if, what if. I had to get some lucky breaks just to make it this far."

The award for Monday's most exasperated player went to Justin Schwartz. Schwartz was one one of the most distinctive players at the Main Event. Between his standard-issue poker hoodie and a bandanna that he used to cover the lower half of his face, he looked like a time traveler playing poker in Deadwood.

On a board reading 6h-3d-2d, Schwartz pushed the remainder of his approximately 11 million chips to the center of the table. Turyansky folded. But McKeehen called and turned over pocket sixes for three sixes. A thoroughly disgusted Schwartz ripped his bandanna off and tossed it towards the audience before turning over pocket threes for three threes. Schwartz packed up his belongings and walked off the stage at ESPN featured table as the dealer dealt a meaningless turn. Schwartz paused as everyone yelled for him not to leave. He turned around and called for a three. He didn't get one and trudged off into the night. Schwartz won $411,453 for finishing in 11th.

The lasting image from the night won't be Schwartz's disgust though. And it won't be Negreanu's overwhelming grace and dignity after his elimination. As powerful as those images were, they didn't come close to matching the joy seen on the faces of the November 9.

McKeehen couldn't stop smiling. The joy on Steinberg's face could have lit up the Strip. And Beckley just looked dazed. Those are the images that will last.

"I don't know, it doesn't seem real," Steinberg said moments after he reached the final table.

Beckley, who earned the nickname "McLovin" in some underground games in New Jersey, said he dared to dream about reaching the final table as the tournament progressed.

"I dreamt it the whole way," he said. "That was the plan when I bought in."

"It's overwhelming," he added. "I'm super happy that I was able to quit school and play poker. I made the right decision."

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