Elky, Hellmuth chip up as WSOP Main Event bubble nears

11 July 2009

LAS VEGAS -- For the first time in this year's World Series of Poker Main Event, there were no split fields. There was no dodging Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth because they were on the "other side" of the draw. Everyone was playing together now, as the 2,044 survivors from Days 2A and 2B merged to form one field Friday at the Main Event. And everyone was in danger.

Play began at noon. And by the dinner break, Cliff Josephy, Marco Traniello, Pam Brunson, Carlos Mortensen, Greg Raymer, Jean-Robert Bellande, Bill Edler, Shane Warne, Humberto Brenes, Sam Farha, Ville Wahlbeck, Eric Lynch, Erik Seidel and Roland de Wolfe had all busted out of the tournament. Nearly 790 players remained when play ended Friday night. And players won't win any money unless they finish in 648th place or better.

Bertrand Elky Grospellier

Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier was one of the first players to crack the million-chip mark at the WSOP Main Event. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

As the numbers of players remaining in the tournament dwindled, each hand became a one-act play, complete with favorites and underdogs and heroes and villains. As I wandered around the Amazon Room Friday, I saw a number of those plays and plenty of fireworks. Here's a sampling of what I witnessed:

Alexander maintains decorum
A bearded Jason Alexander continued his remarkable Main Event run in what can be best described as the "Costanza corner" of the Amazon Room. Tucked away in the far end of the Amazon Room and away from the fans on the rail, Alexander patiently waited to make his move up the leaderboard. And at an adjacent table, a player wearing a jersey with "Costanza" on the back of it was also looking for an opening to double up.

Television's Costanza found his opportunity against Marc Karam. After the flop, Karam pushed all in with pocket queens and Alexander called with pocket aces. The aces held up, and Alexander doubled up. After the hand, thanked the dealer in his unique way.

Jason Alexander

Jason Alexander was one bad beat and an hour away from reaching Day 4 at the WSOP Main Event. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

"If it weren't for propriety, I'd reach across the table and kiss you," Alexander told the dealer.

For those of you at home wondering what Alexander drinks at the poker table, I spotted him sipping herbal tea early in the day. And when he was moved out of "Costanza corner" and into a different section of the Amazon Room, he was drinking SoBe Lifewater.

Alexander was eliminated from the tournament with about an hour left to play in the day. His pocket jacks were cracked when Christian Heich rivered his third six to win the hand.

Giang deals a lesson
With the field shrinking rapidly, ESPN camera crews were in better position to capture dramatic all-in hands. But the process of dealing out a hand on TV is different than the normal procedure in poker rooms. Some dealers in the room knew this, while others needed some coaching. That's where Chau Giang stepped in.

Chau Giang

Chau Giang interrupted his massage Friday to deliver a kind lesson to his dealer how a TV table works. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Vitaly Lunkin, who won the $40,000 No Limit Hold'em event earlier in the Series, was all in at a table in the Blue section of the Amazon Room, near the ESPN featured tables. "All in and call" shouted the dealer and an ESPN producer and camera crew raced over to film the action. An antsy dealer burned a card like she normally would and began to deal the flop before Giang intervened. "Wait," Giang told the dealer. When the ESPN producer gave the go ahead, Giang continued to talk the dealer through the process.

"Now deal the flop and wait," Giang said. After getting the OK, from the ESPN producer, Giang instructed the dealer again. "Now burn and deal the turn." After dealing the turn, the nervous dealer tried to move straight on to the river. "Wait," Giang said. "You have to wait for them (ESPN)." When ESPN was ready, Giang allowed the dealer to proceed. Lunkin's kings held up to win the pot. And ESPN had video it could use thanks to Giang.

Hellmuth visits Black's neighborhood
Irish pro Andrew Black was sitting at table Blue 44 when a chipped-up Phil Hellmuth deposited himself five feet from Black at table Blue 43. The players at Black's table noted Hellmuth's arrival, and started talking about him instantly. Within minutes, the conversation had turned to Hellmuth's confrontation with Cristian Dragomir last year, where Hellmuth called Dragomir an idiot several times after Dragomir had bluffed Hellmuth out of a pot. "Even Matusow thought (Hellmuth) was out of line," one player said. That prompted Black to share a story about the one time he had come close to getting a penalty.

"I once told a player he was an idiot. Then he said "What did you say?" and I told him he was a stupid idiot. Then he said "what did you say?" and I told him he was a stupid fucking idiot."

That drew a chuckle from the table and players settled back into playing their game.

Andy Black

Andy Black knows how to make a table laugh -- even when he's taking their chips. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Black visits Hellmuth's neighborhood
About five minutes after Hellmuth sat down, Black got up from his table and paid Hellmuth a visit. "That's quite the table," Black noted after eyeing the monster stacks held by Hellmuth and Alexander Kostritsyn the fairly sizable chip stack held by Josh Arieh.

"Andy, Andy, I just showed four bluffs in a row," Hellmuth told the Irishman. Black simply nodded and returned to the table.

After Black sat back down, Hellmuth continued to engage with his table, including an interesting clash with Josh Arieh. When Hellmuth, who in his own words had already "donked off" 100,000 chips to Arieh, lost a pot to Arieh's two pair, he couldn't help himself. "Nice dealing," Hellmuth complained.

"Nice call," responded Arieh.

"We're going to play a big pot and I'm going to show you the nuts," Hellmuth added. "You deal him king-jack and he gets there. Unreal."

In the end, Hellmuth had the last laugh. Arieh busted out of the tournament with less than hour left in Day 3 play, while Hellmuth had 485,000 in chips heading into Day 4.

Andrew Black ended the day with 277,500 in chips. Chau Giang was eliminated from the tournament late in the night. Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier was the chip leader at the end of the night. He had 1,380,500 in chips was the only player holding more than a million chips when play ended.

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