One of the most exciting events of the WSOP so far, the $3,000 no-limit hold'em six handed tournament is far from over. When Phil Hellmuth busted in eighth to Gordon Vayo and left the Amazon Room with the immortal words “I lost eight flips in a row.. eight f--ing flips” the tournament also lost 80 percent of its rail. But for aficionados of live tournament poker at its purest, the action had just begun. Leading up to the final table Belgian triple crown winner Davidi Kitai dominated the pack, getting a boost up to nearly 3 million chips by eliminating German Heinz Kamutzki in 7th place, AA vs. KQ.
With the final table set, Kitai held a commanding lead over his nearest competitors Gordon Vayo and Tony Ruberto, both of whom hovered around 1.5 million in chips. ICM considerations dominated in the early goings, with short stacks John Andress, Zachary Korik, and Mark Darner trying to ladder up through substantial pay jumps toward a first prize of more than half a million.
Kitai moved from commanding to dominating chip position with a sick hand against longtime Florida grinder Tony Ruberto. Holding K-10 suited, Ruberto opened under the gun and was three-bet by Kitai, who held pocket fours. Ruberto four-bet preflop to 282,000 and Kitai called. With the flop coming out 5-7-Q, Ruberto put in a nearly pot-sized bet and Kitai somehow found the hero instinct to call. Action was checked to the river, with Kitai’s fours holding. This was a case where Ruberto failed to empty the clip on Kitai when he could have clearly got him off the pot with his weak pair. The reason? Simple––Ruberto would have had to risk his tournament to find out what kind of holding Kitai had. Logically, Kitai should have folded to Ruberto’s pressure on the flop, but––as Olivier Busquet pointed out later––Kitai was operating on an elevated level in this tournament, going by live reads, not theory or math. This is an interesting take coming from Busquet, who famously tweeted in 2013 that “online poker is chess, live poker is checkers.”
Left to right: Kitai, Ruberto, Vayo, Darner.
This early domination of Ruberto was just a taste of what was to come. Ruberto did get a break a few hands later when, with 490,000 behind, he raised with pocket nines and was called by Vayo with A-8. When the flop came 8-6-5, Ruberto shoved and Vayo called with his 8 ace kicker. Ruberto’s nines held up and he and Vayo moved to essentially even stacks of around 1 million. The oddly dressed and coiffed Zachary Korik went out in sixth with an open shove from the small blind with 10-7 that ran into Vayo’s KJ. After dinner, Vayo’s KJ once again held up to an all in, this time against fifth-place finisher John Andress’ A2.
During the dinner break, a WSOP reporter had an interesting conversation with Davidi Kitai. Conversation centered around the fact that Kitai had got into a lot of action with Phil Helmuth leading up to the final table, three-betting him off of numerous hands. Helmuth had thrown a mini-tantrum when Kitai pushed him off a flop with well-timed aggression, saying "crazy Frenchman is going to cost me my 14th bracelet." When asked by another player at the table, Helmuth seemed oblivious to the fact that Kitai is a major tournament winner. The WSOP reporter asked Kitai if it bothered him as a Belgian to be labeled as French. Rather diplomatically, Kitai noted that his sponsorship affiliation with a French brand creates confusion among a lot of players. The bottom line is that Hellmuth didn’t know who Kitai was. I am going to go out on a limb and say that, despite his commendable finish, Hellmuth could have studied up a little more on his competition going into the final stages of a major event.
Three handed play was where things really got interesting, but first there was the last short stack Mark Darner to be eliminated. I was impressed by Darner, who cut his teeth on PokerStars as RenRad 01 and has won a Sunday Warm-Up and a WCOOP bracelet. Like Vayo, Darner final tabled last year’s six-max WSOP event, finishing sixth. In this year’s final stages he did the best he could with a limited stack, picking just the right spots to go all-in and laddering up to a healthy $132,000 payday. His college-age friends were sitting above me in the stands and they were getting quite drunk on cheap beer. When he busted, the first thing Darner did was go past the rail and into the stands, to receive a proffered Bud Lite from a friend, who apologized that it was a little warm––their friend with the ice cooler had not arrived yet. The tournament official had to go into the stands finally and escort Danner to the cage, as our fourth-place finisher was quite content to stand around drinking beer and chatting.
Next up: Three handed to two handed, and brewing Kitai-Ruberto controversy. Tournament is still not finished, heads up starts at 1pm.