At 5:29 on Friday, August 4th, the World Series of Poker reached the final 873 players who will end up getting paid to play in the Main Event this year. That's right, after a full week of action, the multiple First and Second Days and the departure of 7,500 other people who thought that this year was their year, the bubble has burst and the prize pool of $82 million (plus) will be divided over the next six days. It was a very trying hour for some as we worked to get to the final 873, though.
At 4:23 PM, play was stopped as the field held at 889 and the procedures were explained to everyone in the Amazon Room. The World Series of Poker has always handled their bubble play in this manner and, since it's worked for this long, why mess with it? What would happen is that each table would play one round and then play would be stopped again. Any players who busted at that point would be held in a holding zone; if enough people busted out in the round, then that number of players would divide up however many positions they reached into the money. For example, if twenty people were to go broke, they would get four places into the money and the four places (worth about $14,000 each) would be divided among the twenty players.
Imagine the agony of playing through this round with your entire tournament life on the line. I was near enough to a table to see a gentleman (who saw me as well) who showed to me pocket Queens and then pulled his hands back and showed his 15K in chips. Rather than take the risk of breaking out short of making the money, he tossed the ladies away (can you imagine doing that?).
It proved to be a wise move. As table after table finished their round and the dealer stood up to indicate this (here's an idea for 2007: have a light over the table that indicates the table is done with their particular action), the players became impatient. Some stood and walked around, adding to the confusion of the tournament staff as to whether all the remaining tables were finished with their round. After much persuasion, the assessment was able to be made and, at 5:05, we were THREE players short of bursting the bubble.
Thus, we began the same procedure all over again. During this time, I was able to find out it was Ryan Kallberg, who won the first preliminary event at the 2006 L. A. Poker Classic, who finished off Chris "Jesus" Ferguson from a couple of hours back. The tension was palpable throughout the room as what these players had been striving for was so close (and, to be technical, whoever the three players were that busted out were going to get a little something back from the division of the funds). Finally, at 5:29, the momentous announcement came to raucous applause, cheers and hugs from the players.
Even after this moment of elation, it was quickly back to the business at hand. Those short stacks that had clung to life to be able to say "I made the money at the World Series of Poker" began to loosen up and fire those last few chips into pots and take their leave. Even with the bubble burst, there's still a long way to go to reach the $12 million at the end of the rainbow.