When Mark Newhouse made back-to-back World Series of Poker Main Event final tables in 2013 and 2014, it was lauded as one of the most improbable accomplishments in poker history. It was a first in the era of 6,000-plus player fields, and many figured it wouldn't happen again for years if it ever did.
However, Kenny Hallaert is threatening to pull the double just three years after Newhouse logged his last November Nine appearance. He finished Day 4 of the 2017 Main Event with 4,145,000, the third biggest stack left in the 297-player field.
The 35-year-old Belgian veteran grinder and part-time tournament director finished sixth last year for just under $1.5 million, and he called it "an indescribable feeling" to make that final table. There's still a long way to go, but with less than five percent of the field remaining, it's conceivable to start dreaming on a repeat.
Hallaert's pacing well ahead of this point last year, when he said he bagged 1.6 million. However, he knows better than perhaps anyone left how much of the grind still remains.
"I don't want to focus too much on going back to back final tables," he said. "The way to the final table is still so long. We need to play three full days. I can just finish 250th tomorrow, it can happen. I don't have high hopes just yet."
"I can just finish 250th tomorrow, it can happen. I don't have high hopes just yet."
Hallaert put together his crushing day despite being seated at one of the toughest tables in the tournament. Few would voluntarily choose to sit with the likes of Charlie Carrel and Max Silver, but Hallaert had to deal with the former for much of his Day 4 and the latter for the later stages of the night.
Carrel tried getting the better of Hallaert just before bagging time, but all he did was contribute to the Belgian's monstrous stack. Hallaert flopped top pair with queen-jack and bet the flop, only to have Carrel raise him in position. Hallaert called and then called a sizable turn bet, and Carrel gave up when an ace of hearts hit that completed a three-flush. The Brit lost almost 1 million to Hallaert by the time the hand finished.
Hallaert also dragged a major pot with a set of eights when he faded an opponent's ace-high flush draw.
"Luckily my hand held up, the story of my WSOP really," he said. "In all the big pots, my hand held up. An important part of being successful is your big hands holding up."
The only players finishing ahead of Hallaert were Damian Salas (4,678,000) and Sebastien Comel (4,198,000). JP Kelly (3,923,000), Richard Gryko (3,559,000), Jonas Mackoff (3,076,000) and Ben Lamb (2,746,000) also tote sizable stacks into Day 5.
Another player to bag chips was 888poker Ambassador Dominik Nitsche. The three-time bracelet winner has 1,404,000. Not one of the biggest counts left by any means, but still plenty with the big blind sitting at 20,000.
"I'll take it!" he said. "It's OK. There were never any big pots, just lots of small ones."
Not only does Nitsche find himself still in contention for a top prize in excess of $8 million, along with over $35,000 locked up at the current payout level, he won a little prize from 888poker for being the last Ambassador standing. He outlasted fellow Ambassador Sofia Lovgren, who made a deep run but busted late in Day 4. Nitsche will receive a package to WSOP Europe in Rozvadov.
"So much fun," he said. "And even if I lost, even if somehow I lost, I could still just say that I've still won more bracelets. That's a joke by the way, make sure people know that it's a joke!"
Everyone who busted during Day 4 did so in the money, as the bubble burst to end Day 3. Former Main Event champs Carlos Mortensen, Joe Cada and Scotty Nguyen were all among those falling during the course of play. The latter went out 549th when he jammed the last of his chips in with ace-seven and ran into ace-king, thus ensuring there will be a new winner crowned this year as he was the last former winner remaining.
The remaining players return Saturday at 11 a.m. for Day 5, where they will play up to six levels. Coverage can be found here on PokerNews, with delayed streaming on ESPN2 up until 1 p.m.
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