Between Phil Ivey, Frank Kassela, Men Nguyen, and Jeffrey Papola, it's been a week of return appearances by the 2010 World Series of Poker's biggest stars. Here are the storylines from their memorable callback episodes:
All About Ivey: All eyes have been on Phil Ivey this week. He dashed around the Rio, bouncing from the $10k Heads Up to the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em/Omaha, to the $3k H.O.R.S.E. Ivey picked up his second cash of the series in the $1,500 Stud-8 event. Three days later he finished 12th in the Pot-Limit mixed while beginning the H.O.R.S.E. He made it to the final table of that event and then to heads up with Bill Chen. Ivey was at a big chip deficit, but that's not enough to stop the game's greatest player. The rail stuck around late into the night to watch Ivey earn his eighth bracelet. It was odd feeling in the audience, where most spectators were far more excited than the always emotionless Ivey. Everyone knew they were watching history, while at the same time, Ivey heads up for a bracelet is a sight certain to be repeated many times in the future. Watching him earn his eighth bracelet, it was impossible not to feel that the legend of Ivey is just beginning.
Lights Out Kassela: Frank Kassela had a chance to become the first double-bracelet winner of the series at the $2,500 Seven Card Razz final table, but he was short-stacked with three players left and on the brink of elimination. Then the lights went out in Vegas. The tournament room went dark for a few seconds, and then the lights gradually returned section by section. The final table was relocated from a dark corner to the main final table stage, the scene of Kassela's first victory. Suddenly things changed for Kassela. He tripled up and kept building all the way to first place. Every part of Kassela's run this year has been a Cinderella story. He was eliminated in tenth place on the final table bubble of one event just in time to register for the $10k Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Championship, where he earned his first bracelet. And in the Razz event, he was 105th in chips out of 105 players who returned for Day 2. But from there, he made the final table, and with a little luck and a little power-company intervention, Kassela turned into the story of the series.
Men the Master of Mixed Feelings: Men Nguyen was heads up in the $5k six-max event with a shot at his eighth career bracelet and second one of the year. But the buzz felt at his final table was nothing like the excitement over Ivey's attempt at number eight. Nguyen's first victory was met with slight frowns by many poker fans, but for some, the thought of Nguyen locking up player of the year was just too much. Of course, Nguyen had plenty of fans pulling for the Master, but he also had a sizable group of detractors who followed the action online, waiting for his elimination before they could sleep. The floor staff had to step in to keep some of the audience from heckling Nguyen and calling him a cheater. It remains to be seen whether Nguyen's achievements this summer can improve his reputation in the poker community. It may have been easier had he won another bracelet. Instead, after more than four hours of heads-up battle, Nguyen was finally defeated. His first instinct was to blame the dealer. Bracelet or no, some things never change.
Second Time's the Six-Max Charm: Jeffrey Papola was the man tasked with taking out Nguyen heads-up, and the law student-turned-poker pro was prepared for the task. Papola outlasted 1,243 people to finish second in the $2,500 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em event. The next day, Papola started all over again in the $5,000 Six-Handed tournament. His second six-max go round, Papola bested 566 of the game's toughest opponents to find himself heads up with Men the Master. It took him more than four hours, but the at his second final table in four days, Papola was able to seal the deal and win his first bracelet. Oh, and he also took home a sweet $667,443 to go with the $391,068 he won earlier in the week.
Ah, the Romance of Poker: Bill Chen played the whole final table day of the $3k H.O.R.S.E. looking more dapper than we've ever seen him. Chen battled Ivey heads up into the wee hours in a spiffy suit, complete with boutonniere and PokerStars patch. It turns out that Chen was in the wedding party for two of his friends who had the audacity to schedule their nuptials on Chen's final table day. He ducked out of the Rio for a few minutes to attend the ceremony and was back before he'd missed more than an orbit. The bride and groom returned the favor and kicked off their honeymoon as part of Chen's cheering section. The bride even stuck a PokerStars patch on her wedding dress and settled for Poker Kitchen Chinese food for her first dinner as a married woman. Now that's friendship.
Not In South America Anymore: The Rio may be a Brazilian-themed casino, but the convention center climate clearly isn't part of the ambiance. Forget Ed Hardy t-shirts. The latest in poker attire is winter coats. Some players in the arctic Pavilion room where the noon-start Day 1s are held have even been seen wrapped up in blankets at the table.
The November Nine Take Over June: When Eric Buchman won his first bracelet last week, he became the first member of either set of November Niners to win WSOP hardware since their Main Event final table. Two other members of the elite club decided to continue the trend this week. Phil Ivey may have won his eighth bracelet, but it was his first since last November. And Scott Montgomery's $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em win was the 2008 fifth-place finisher's first. Between Buchman, Ivey, and Montgomery, one-sixth of the November Nine have won a bracelet this year. Maybe there's something to this World Championship thing after all.
Multi-Tabling for Mega Bucks: If we ever found ourselves at a WSOP final table, it'd probably be all we could think about. Not so, apparently, for the pros who are used to these things. The $2,500 Seven Card Razz final table was seven-handed when the late registration deadline rolled around for the $10k H.O.R.S.E. tournament. They paused the final table so six of the seven players could run to the cage and register for the $10k before it was too late. The group discussed postponing the final table or even chopping it seven ways so they could tend to their stacks in the H.O.R.S.E. event, but several of the players wanted to make sure they had a shot at an untainted bracelet. Jennifer Harman said, "I don't buy bracelets. I win them." Instead, she ended up out in sixth place and able to move on to the next event. They were still three-handed when the H.O.R.S.E. bagged and tagged for the night. All of them had been blinded down to under a third of starting stack. Frank Kassela has proven he loves a good comeback story. Can he make it three this summer? Stay tuned for all of next week's drama.