The Rio is Ready to Rumble
Phil Hellmuth Jr., not one to share the spotlight, almost made good on his quest to win his 11th bracelet Wednesday by finishing third in $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Event # 45. Earlier in the tournament, Hellmuth informed Doyle Brunson that he'd do just about anything to get number 11, including find one. With just three tables left in the WSOP's final event, it appeared as though Hellmuth must just accomplish the one feat that would be able to upstage today's Main Event final table, but Anders Henriksson spoiled the "Poker Brats" dreams. An accomplished European player, Henriksson had a good run in this year's Main Event (601) and also had a WSOP cash in 2005. This is his first career gold bracelet and one of several strong finishes in 2006 by the Swedish Invasion. For Hellmuth, Wednesday's third place finish marked his eight cash in the 2006 WSOP and more remarkably, his fourth final table. With one bracelet and three finishes of sixth place or better, Hellmuth has vaulted above multiple bracelet winners Jeff Madsen and William Chen for Card Player Magazine Player of the Year honors.
With the Main Event being played out today, only Allen Cunningham has a shot to pass Hellmuth for that honor, and in my opinion, even a first place finish might not be enough to do it.
Main Event Countdown
The line to get into the Main Event Final Table spectator area is huge, stretching nearly all the way down the corridor leading to the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.
Today's nine players, all of which are millionaires, are finishing up their ESPN interviews and will make their way to the ESPN stage to battle it out for a first place prize totaling $12 million.
Chip Leader Jamie Gold has $25,650,000 chips, more than enough to challenge the early favorite Allen Cunningham who has $17,770,000. Richard Lee, the San Antonio, Texas native who said he's winning this one for his hometown, sits in third position with $11,820,000.
For the first time, ESPN will provide live coverage of the Main Event Final Table available on Pay-Per-View. Professional player and former Celebrity Poker Showdown co-host Phil Gordon will host the event along with a slew of guest hosts that are rumored to include Greg "Fossilman" Raymer and Phil Hellmuth.
In the media room, there are two obscure singers preparing for their appearance as the guest national anthem singer. Warming up their "world famous voices," while writers are frantically blogging is causing more than one media member to stare the duo down.
Picking a Favorite
Two separate taxi drivers of mine picked two separates winners for today's event. Earlier this morning, my driver said there's no way to defeat experience, meaning he believed Allen Cunningham would win the big one.
This afternoon, a different cabbie said Gold would take home the bracelet, using his big stack to dominate the final table. Both were 100 percent sure they were correct, meaning I no longer know who's going to win this thing. Cabbies are never wrong.
The divided opinion of my chauffeurs pretty much represents the pulse of the Rio. Of the 10 people in line for the final table that I polled, six of them picked Cunningham and four of them selected Gold.
Although no one has been officially eliminated, spectators and cab drivers alike don't seem to be giving the other seven players much of a chance. If history has anything to say about it, the big stack usually takes the final table (Chris Moneymaker in 2003 and Raymer in 2004), but as Joseph Hachem proved in 2005, all you need is timing.
Two-time WSOP Main Event Champion Johnny Chan is also in the media room and is prediciting that Gold will win the whole thing. He has a bit of bias however, considering he taught Gold how to play.
As for my pick, I'm going with Cunningham. With everyone predicting that professional had little chance in such a large field, it will be very interesting to see if arguably the best player in the world can take home the world's biggest poker title. Plus, the hoopla surrounding this event is something only Cunningham has experienced before.
Maybe he just wasn't available, but the August addition of Card Player Magazine, featuring the cast and characters of the Full Tilt Poker Team, does not include Allen Cunningham on the front fold. Considering his run at the Main Event, Cunningham may soon be Full Tilt's most famous player.
Although Cunningham does appear on the cover's inside fold, I'd be willing to bet that Full Tilt wishes they'd displayed their quiet star in a more prominent manner.