Most weeks I pick a single category for the Five on Friday list. But this Friday happens to coincide with the fourth day of the gargantuan poker epic that is the WSOP Main Event. Right now, before the money bubble bursts, there are still lots of stories out there in the field. Only 719 players remain, 666 of whom will cash in the biggest tournament on earth sometime today. So rather than stick with one category, here’s a selection.
TOP FIVE GREAT STORIES STILL IN THE TOURNAMENT
1. AJ Jejelowo (928,500 chips) – Last year AJ Jejelowo, a medical researcher at Rice University and amateur poker player, got to play in Vegas during the WSOP after winning the WSOP Circuit Regional Championship in New Orleans – a $10,000 buy-in tournament that he won his way into through a satellite at the host casino. This year he’s back in Vegas and in the top 10 of the Main Event after three days of play.
2. Dave Tuchman (496,000 chips) – When he’s not covering NASCAR or the NFL for England’s Sky Sports, Dave Tuchman can be found calling WSOP final tables as a play-by-play man for live streams of bracelet events. Right now he’s keeping himself busy on the other side of the broadcast equation, piling up chips (and playing at ESPN’s feature table) in the Main Event.
3. Roberto Luongo (120,000 chips) – NHL goalie Roberto Luongo had his buy-in sponsored by the British Columbia Lottery Commission to advertise their online poker site, causing a minor uproar. But so far it looks like the people of BC have made a pretty good investment, as Bobby Lou is still going strong after Day 3. His brother Fabio came along for the fun and was doing a little better than Roberto before busting late on Day 3.
4. Kevin Pollak (233,000 chips) – The comedian, actor, and Christopher Walken impersonator has been a poker player for years. His acclaimed internet chat show began after he met internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis at an underground L.A. poker game, and he was the original host of Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown back in the day. Surprisingly, this year marks his first time playing the Main Event; not so surprisingly, he’s doing pretty well. He’s even had some time at the ESPN feature table.
5. Nghi Van Tran (648,000 chips) – Two key pots defined Day 3 for Tran, who hails from Ontario, Canada. In the first, he dodged a couple of big draws in an even bigger pot and eliminated 2008 Main Event champion Peter Eastgate. In the second, at the end of the night, he made a sick call for 165,000 chips on the river with 3-2 offsuit; the 9c-4d-7s-9s-2d board gave him just a pair of deuces, but it was enough to win.
TOP FIVE NOVEMBER NINERS STILL IN THE TOURNAMENT
1. Sam Holden (418,000 chips) – He waited for four months to return to Vegas with a short stack last year and was the first player to bust from the final table. He’s been out in front of the pack since the early going this year.
2. Joseph Cheong (287,000 chips) – Two years ago he ran over the final table early but finished 3rd after refusing to back down in an enormous pot against Jonathan Duhamel. He played that hand like a guy who thought he would have a lot more chances at the Main Event. Looks like this is going to be one.
3. Eric Buchman (280,000 chips) – The New York pro finished 4th in the 2009 Main Event, won a bracelet the following summer, and made two final tables in 2011. This year he collected just one cash – maybe he’s been saving up his energy for another Main Event run?
4. Phil Collins (252,500 chips) – If Collins makes a second straight Main Event final table, let’s hope his friends find another song to cheer over and over instead of last year’s “In The Air Tonight.” Maybe “Easy Lover,” or “Sussudio”?
5. Eoghan O’Dea (200,000 chips) – O’Dea, the son of the first player ever to make the WSOP Main Event final table, Donnacha O’Dea, came to last year’s final table 2nd in chips but finished a disappointing 6th.
TOP FIVE WOMEN STILL IN THE TOURNAMENT
1. Vanessa Selbst (814,000 chips) – I write about Vanessa Selbst a lot. I promise to stop as soon as she stops killing at the tables. She got very fortunate in one big pot on Day 3 and finished the day with a big stack strong to make the overnight top 10 chip counts.
2. Gaelle Baumann (599,000 chips) – Hailing from France, Baumann was the leader at the end of Day 2. Her stack was down for much of the day but she stayed patient and managed to chip up toward the end. She’s no longer the leader, but she has more than enough chips to make a deep run.
3. Liv Boeree (207,500 chips) – Metal chick, former astrophysics student, known to pose for a photoshoot on occasion – and a former winner of EPT San Remo – Boeree is still looking for her first Main Event cash.
4. Katie Dozier (175,000 chips) – The co-author of online-poker thriller novel “The Superuser” and a poker coach at DragTheBar.com, Dozier is also a member of the all-female poker collective, the Grindettes. She survived a tough day at the table and will return with a few more chips than her fellow Grindette, Jamie Kerstetter.
5. Claudia Crawford (106,000 chips) – This Mississippi belle made a run at last year’s Main Event, finishing 85th – in a low-cut top that inspired some creepy internet poker perving. She’s relatively low on chips but still alive.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS I’VE INTERVIEWED STILL IN THE TOURNAMENT
1. Shaun Deeb (598,000 chips) – He spent his spring in Mexico crushing the world in the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker. Now he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the biggest poker tournament on the planet. Don’t be surprised if he makes a deep run.
2. Freddy Deeb (145,000 chips) – Like son, like father. Twice Freddy has been within one table of a shot at the world championship, finishing 17th in 1995 and 13th in 2003. He’s below average to start Day 4, but that doesn’t mean anything to this man.
3. Jason Mercier (87,500 chips) – He see-sawed on Day 3 and ended up short-stacked, but if Mercier gets his hands on some chips, watch out. There’s hardly a more dangerous player in the game.
4. Gavin Smith (425,000 chips) – Former WSOP bracelet winner and WPT Player of the Year, the gregarious Smith has a lot of friends in the game and looks to be in solid form as the money bubble nears.
5. Maria Ho (382,000 chips) – She’s been the Last Woman Standing in the Main Event before, finishing 38th in 2007. Can she do it again?
TOP FIVE BUSTED PLAYERS ESPN WISHES WERE STILL IN THE TOURNAMENT
1. Phil Ivey – Poker’s biggest superstar would have drawn lots of eyeballs. Besides, nobody has a better history in the Main Event over the last decade than Ivey, who with five final tables still leads this year’s WSOP Player of the Year race despite not earning a bracelet.
2. Viktor Blom – Few players in the world are as entertaining to watch as this Swede whose stack see-saws all day, every day.
3. Phil Hellmuth – Now with 12 bracelets to his name, the former champ still puts on a show – both with his poker skills and with his ego. If ESPN thought for a second that it could have a rule implemented that Hellmuth got a free seat at every final table, it would jump at the chance.
4. Doyle Brunson – To see the aging two-time world champion make one more run at the title, especially during this era, would be a blast for the millions of poker fans who revere the man they call the “Godfather of Poker.”
5. Ben Lamb – Last year’s WSOP Player of the Year was moving right along for quite a bit of Day 3 before running jacks into queens and busting shortly thereafter. That easy storyline – plus Lamb’s appeal to one of the core WSOP demographic of young males – means his loss is the producers’, too.