The 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event returned to Day 3 action on Thursday with 2,186 players remaining in the field from the 6,737 that began. With $8 million up top for the winner and the top 1,011 places set to be paid, the excitement could be felt in the air with less than a third of the field remaining.
At the dinner break, the field was very close to the money with under 1,400 remaining, and eight-time WSOP Circuit gold ring winner Valentin Vornicu led the way with 1.2 million in chips.
Coming into Day 3, Vornicu was in front by more than 200,000 in chips, and he only saw his stack increase in play before the dinner break. Vornicu started the day with 838,600 and became the first player to eclipse 1 million in chips, although at points he exchanged the lead with Brit Tom Middleton.
"It feels good, I'm just playing poker," said Vornicu. "I love meeting new people, and every table I go to everyone has their own background story. I enjoy this event a lot. It's my first time playing it, and I'm just taking it in, all the fun, as much as I can get. I'm enjoying it."
Indeed, this is the first time Vornicu has played the WSOP Main Event, although he has plenty of tournament success, including the aforementioned eight WSOP Circuit gold rings and more than $530,000 in live tournament earnings.
"In the past, I really didn't have the bankroll to play it," Vornicu said. "I tried to sell, but people wouldn't buy. I was also busy at the time."
Vornicu won a satellite to get into the $10,000 buy-in tournament this year. In fact, it was the $200 25-Seat Scramble on WSOP.com where Vornicu won his seat, so there is a bit of a Chris Moneymaker-type story forming here.
In the last hour before the dinner break, Vornicu picked up a nice pot against 2008 WSOP gold bracelet winner Michael Banducci in the following hand.
With the blinds at 1,500/3,000/500, Banducci raised from the hijack seat, and Vornicu called from the big blind to see the flop come down . Vornicu check-called a bet of 8,500 from Banducci, and then the dealer placed the out on the turn. Vornicu checked again, and this time Banducci bet 13,000. Vornicu check-raised to 41,000, and Banducci called. After the hit on the river to complete the board, Vornicu bet 105,000, and Banducci made the call. Vornicu turned over the for the nut flush, and Banducci mucked.
Other notable big stacks at the dinner break of Day 3 included Ramin Hajiyev, Marc-Andre Ladouceur, Cord Garcia, John Dibella, and Griffin Benger.
As with any big poker tournament, players were eliminated left and right. David Williams was one of those, and he fell rather early on after coming into the day extremely short on chips. In fact, the 2004 WSOP Main Event runner-up was the last player on the leaderboard with just 4,400 in chips. But the comeback story was not in the cards for Williams in this one, as he lost out with to .
Others hitting the rail before the Day 3 dinner break included Stephen Chidwick, Jake Cody, Ray Romano, and John Arne Riise.
Romano began Day 3 with 72,600, but had a rough start that knocked him to down under 30,000 in chips. According to event reports, Romano then proceeded to get his last 28,100 in with the against an opponent's . No help came for the Everybody Loves Raymond star, and he was out short of the money.
For Riise, a former star Norwegian soccer player who was a standout for Liverpool, his day also ended before the dinner break. Riise began with 40,200 in chips and, unlike Romano, had a positive start, working back up to 70,000 or so. But on a final board of , Riise check-called all in with the for a flush only to lose out the that his opponent had for a full house.
Another player to bust was 14-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, but not without giving everyone a glimpse of peak "Poker Brat" cinema.
Hellmuth lost a pot to Martin Staszko in what he claimed was in "unbelievable" fashion before he tossed his phone 15 feet into the air in disgust. After walking over to pick up his phone, Hellmuth came back to his seat and slammed his headphones down on his chair. He then sat down and went on a verbal rant to the table. Shortly after that, Hellmuth doubled up by snap-calling all in with two pair and dodging a flush draw. This turned him from being bratty to a little more cheerful.
"I'm sorry, my actions are embarrassing," Hellmuth said to his table. "But I play with passion. I do what everyone else wants to do."
After two table breaks, Hellmuth was then seated with Sara Hall, a poker player from Ohio. He three-bet all in after an opening raise, and Hall four-bet to isolate behind him with pocket jacks. Everyone folded, and it was Hellmuth's dominated ace-jack in trouble. No help came for Hellmuth and Hall collected the bounty.
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