Things are getting good. There's just one night of poker left in the World Series of Poker Main Event, with last night's ESPN broadcast of Day 2 of the final table (with hole cards up) featuring lots of high-level thinking and opportunities for strategy study.
Five players returned last night — all that's left from the 6,737-player field — and after 69 hands (#98-#166 of the final table) just three remain. Qui Nguyen carries a big lead to tonight's finale with more than half the remaining chips in play, although both Gordon Vayo and Cliff Josephy (pictured above) have eminently playable stacks with which to mount a final challenge.
Last night an early double-up by short stack Michael Ruane through leader Nguyen made things interesting from the start. Soon after came a key hand that saw Vojtech Ruzicka triple-barrel bluff with ace-king versus Vayo while missing a queen-high board, with Vayo calling all the way with a flopped set of eights. Down to less than a big blind afterwards, Ruzicka went out in sixth shortly thereafter.
Some time later Ruane three-bet shoved a 13-big blind stack with over a Nguyen open, was called by the latter who held , and with no help from the board went out in fourth. Read a full recap of Day 2 of the final table here.
We'll once more play another round of "What Would You Do?" with some of the hands from last night, although let's add a disclaimer before we do.
Besides the tremendous, entirely unique pressure of playing the WSOP Main Event final table, the context of the payout schedule is worth noting when revisiting these hands from last night. The prizes are all huge, of course, although relatively speaking Sunday's pay jumps weren't as dramatic as last night's — and tonight's will be even more so.
Ninth-place finisher Fernando Pons earned a $1 million prize while Kenny Hallaert who took sixth ended up with $1,464,258. From there, though, the jump to fifth place was nearly half a million — more than the difference between ninth and sixth — and the differences only increase going forward.
Here's a reminder of what was still up for grabs when the final five returned last night:
Okay, let's go... how would you play these hands?
Hand #112: Josephy vs. Vayo
Players left: 4
Avg. stack: 84.2 million
This one began with Nguyen out front with just over 112 million, Vayo close behind with 109.7 million, Josephy in third with almost 72.5 million, and Michael Ruane the short stack with just over 42 million.
First to act from the cutoff/under the gun, Josephy looked down at and raised to 2.4 million. It folded to Vayo in the small blind who after pausing about a half-minute three-bet to 8.1 million. It folded back to Josephy who called, bringing the pot to 17.8 million.
The flop brought three big cards — — and Vayo continued for 4.7 million (just over one-fourth the pot). Josephy called with middle pair and his gutshot to Broadway. Pot 27.2 million.
The turn brought the , making two pair for Josephy. Acting with deliberation, Vayo bet 10.1 million this time (a little over a third of the pot). Josephy took about two minutes to act — a long time for him — before calling. The pot was up to 48.4 million, while Josephy now had just about that same amount behind.
The river was the , and Vayo fired again — 14.7 million this time (about 30% pot).
Josephy didn't act right away, but ultimately only took a little over a half-minute before letting his hand go in the face of a river bet that commentator Antonio Esfandiari described as "suspicious" from Josephy's point of view. Indeed, Josephy made a good decision, as Vayo had for the nuts.
Hand #125: Ruane vs. Josephy vs. Vayo
Players left: 4
Avg. stack: 84.2 million
About a half-hour later came a three-way hand involving Ruane (cutoff/UTG), Vayo (button), and Josephy (big blind). Ruane was still the short stack with about 42.5 million, Josephy was down to 52 million even, and Vayo was at about 115.5 million to start the hand (with Nguyen still leading with over 126 million).
We'll play along with Ruane this time, who after being dealt raised to 2.3 million with both Vayo and Josephy calling. The flop came , giving Ruane a flush draw, a gutshot straight draw, and bottom pair, and he watched Josephy quickly make a leading bet of 4 million into the 8 million pot.
Ruane thought a while before calling the bet, and Vayo called as well to bring the pot to 20 million even.
The turn then brought the to pair the board, and Josephy bet 8 million this time. The pot was 28 million and Ruane had 36 million behind, with Vayo still to act.
Ruane called Josephy's bet, and Vayo folded right away. The river didn't help Ruane, and after Josephy moved all in Ruane let his hand go. Josephy had in the hand, having turned trips, while Vayo had had .
Hand #166: Nguyen vs. Josephy vs. Vayo
Players left: 3
Avg. stack: 112.3 million
For a final hand, we'll skip ahead to the last one played on Day 2 of the final table and get leader Nguyen involved by playing along with him. Stacks to start: Nguyen 186.2 million, Vayo 94.7 million, and Josephy 55.7 million.
Vayo opened from the button for 2.7 million, and having been dealt in the small blind Nguyen opted to call. Josephy called as well from the big blind, making the pot 8.7 million as all three watched a flop come .
It checked around to Vayo who continued for 2.8 million. Nguyen chose to call despite missing the flop, and Josephy called as well. Pot 17.1 million.
The turn was the , pairing the board.
With his big stack and the turned flush draw, Nguyen fired a bet of 4.9 million, and both Josephy (with ) and Vayo (with ) quickly folded.