Being eliminated on the bubble is the ultimate heartbreaker in most tournaments, as the unfortunate player walks away with naught but a sick feeling and maybe a story of bad luck. The brass at the World Series of Poker have seen fit to award a juicy consolation prize to the bubble boy or girl the last few years though — a $10,000 seat into the following year's Main Event.
In 2014, three players went bust simultaneously and split the bubble payout, earning $6,135.33 apiece.
John Dwyer tank-called off his stack on the river with on a board of , only to be shown the by eventual repeat November Niner Mark Newhouse. Zhen Cai jammed his last few big blinds in from under the gun with the and ran into the of Darren Keyes, failing to improve. At a third table, Kori Hunter shoved his last nine big blinds in over an open with the . The opener called with the and hit two pair on the river.
With three players sharing the bubble spot, the three high-carded from a freshly-washed deck for the 2015 Main Event seat. Cai drew the , easily besting a couple of sixes picked by his unlucky bubble compatriots.
Given a second chance, he made it count, grinding his way to Day 4 once again, but this time getting through the money bubble and booking his first Main Event cash in 366th for $24,622. Cai is a cash-game professional from Florida who makes his living primarily playing $5/$5 or higher pot-limit Omaha games. He's been playing since the Chris Moneymaker boom and turned pro in 2010, when Florida passed legislation allowing uncapped buy-in games.
Tournaments aren't his forte, but Cai said he learned from his experience in 2014.
"I had a good stack going into Day 3 and ended up with a short stack," Cai said of how he ended up bubbling. "I learned to be more patient, play more pots in position, and use more pot control."
This year, he steadily increased his stack for the most part, ending Day 1 with about 75,000, Day 2 with 130,000, and Day 3 with about 500,000. He said he did need a stroke of great fortune when he hit a rut on Day 3, raking in a three-way all-in pot when he spiked a one-outer with against players holding and . He had about 360,000 on the second break of Day 4, when PokerNews caught up with him before he busted during Level 18 (4,000/8,000/1,000).
Winning the high-card drawing in 2014 was a relief for Cai, who bought himself into the Main Event, as he said he doesn't usually sell pieces. Entering Day 4 with a short stack, his goal was just to "sneak into the money," but the fateful queens ended those hopes. Luckily, his high-card skills came through, saving the day.
"It felt really good," Cai said of pulling the king out of the spread deck. "I felt like I sucked out. [Hunter and Dywer] took way worse beats than me, too. The Main Event is the best tournament of the year. Having this opportunity to give it another shot this year is great."
Nearly $25,000 added to the bankroll and another year of Main Event experience makes for a solid consolation prize.