Italy's Federico Butteroni is one of three non-Americans at this year's World Series of Poker Main Event final table. Not only is he in the majority in that regard, but Butteroni is also one of two players with less than 20 big blinds. Although Butteroni is within half a big blind of Patrick Chan, he's ultimately the shortest stack returning at 6.2 million in chips, and that will certainly make his work cut out for him come Sunday.
"With my stack, I can't play my best game because I'm a cash game player," said Butteroni of his position heading into the final table. "I really like to play the board, post flop, and with 15 big blinds that's not really possible. I'll try to understand the ranges preflop for shoving, and I will do my best."
Butteroni represents the second time in the history of the November Nine that Italy has a representative at the table. The 25-year-old Butteroni is following in the footsteps of Filippo Candio, who finished fourth in 2010 for $3,092,545.
Butteroni currently ranks 454th on Italy's all-time money list with $104,917 in lifetime earnings, but thanks to his impending payday of at least $1 million, he is guaranteed to vault into the top 20. If Butteroni happens to finish first, he'll actually pass Mustapha Kanit ($4,887,514) to become Italy's all-time money leader.
"I was so excited," Butteroni said of reaching the final table. "It was like a dream. I couldn't believe I actually did it."
The main reason Butteroni is so short on chips heading into the final table has to do with play when 11 players remained. Butteroni was on the main feature table with five players, and the outer table had six players. Butteroni and his table mates were playing at a much, much faster pace. That's when Joe McKeehen padded his chip lead immensely by opening every single hand to keep the ultimate pressure on the shorter stacks around him.
"When we restarted after dinner break, I had less than 20 big blinds," Butteroni recalled. "I had a very good player, Daniel Negreanu, on my left. We were playing six-handed. I did double up with 78 when I flopped two pair. My image on the table was very loose. I doubled up again with aces, and after that it was a big problem. In that part of the tournament, you have to think of what you really want to do. When you have a couple of players with less than 10 big blinds and the chip leader is opening every hand, if you don't want to put all your stack at risk and the opponent is a good player like McKeehen, it doesn't make any sense [to play] so I just waited.
"The short stacks played very well. They found good spots, so we played five-handed for two hours. After Daniel busted, we played the final table. There was two players shorter than me, so of course I decided to wait because the November Nine was my first goal. I was so disappointed [when ace-king chopped with ace-jack] and I said, maybe I'm going to be the bubble. But, I tried to be positive, and then the bubble arrived."
For the Italian, his decision to stay patient has paid off with a visit to poker's biggest stage, and that's where Butteroni hopes to truly do his country proud. But once again, his performance will largely be decided upon his ability to acquire chips early, as he is so short to start.
"[Representing Italy] Is very important," he said. "When Filippo did it, I was in Italy and I said, 'Wow, I would like to be like him.' I would like to improve on his result. So, I need to double up in the start. If I do, I think I can have a good final table. With 15 big blinds, I can't use my skill to play the board. I think I'm in the top three [skill-wise]."
If Butteroni puts himself in the top three skillful players at the final table, who else is he worried about?
"Max Steinberg is the strongest one, that's my opinion," he said. "I played more hands with him than anyone else, and he gave me a very good impression. I played with McKeehen, but it was an easy game for him and he ran very good. Max really impressed me because he did insane moves sometimes. When we played the final table 10-handed, he opened the button and McKeehen three-bet and he moved all in. It's really insane, I had no idea what he had."
Coming into the final table, Butteroni said he's now had time to study the table and gives off a strong, confident vibe as he speaks. While we may not give him the credit he deserves from the start due to his short stack, it'd be a mistake to think he can't become a real force at the table if he can get things going early.
"I'm from Roma, I'm 25 years old," Butteroni said. "My dream was to play the WSOP. I arrived on June 11, and I played seven events. I had a budget of 15-20K to play eight events. I had a good result in the Monster Stack — I finished in 20th place. You start to get really confident about your skill, but sometimes that can be bad. After you arrive so close to the final table, it's difficult to remain focused on the other tournaments. I made some mistakes in my next event, but I played the Daily Deepstack at the Rio with 900 players and I got fourth for 25K. I made another deep run in Event 59, and I got 100th. After that, I said, 'OK, I want to play the Main Event. Now, I feel my mindset is ready.' To play seven days in a row, you need a good mindset. You can never tilt. If you make a mistake, you can put your tournament at risk and do stupid things. I just tried to remain focused. I really love the Main Event because the structure is awesome, you know."