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Curtain falls (for now) on World Series

Jul 15, 2008 7:02 PM

By David Stratton | The 2008 World Series of Poker came to a conclusion – at least until it resumes in November – as the final 27 players battled for a seat at the final table late Monday night.

Play didn’t conclude until after GamingToday went to press, but the chip leaders near the end included Dennis Phillips and Craig Marquis, both of whom started the day with more than 10 million chips.

Also in contention were Phi Nguyen and Brandon Cantu, the only former WSOP gold bracelet winners still in the mix.

There was one female still playing, Tiffany Michelle, who started the day with the third highest chip stack. Michelle – an actress, model and former on-camera hostess for pokernews.com – was poised to become the highest female finisher in the main event since Annie Duke’s tenth place showing in 2000.

No woman has ever won the main event; the highest finisher was Barbara Enright, who took fifth place in 1995.

Get the complete final table lineup, including player bios and chip counts for all nine finalists at GT’s website, www.gamingtoday.com, beginning Tuesday.

For the 27 contenders, Monday marked the end of a grueling 10 days of high-octane poker. But the pot at the end of the WSOP rainbow is a worthy one – the nine finalists will battle for a $9 million first place prize when they return to the Rio on Nov. 9.

For now, each will take home about $900,000 – the ninth place award – to tide them over until they return in four months to determine a champion.

And, if the WSOP organizers’ hopes are realized, they will pick up additional millions in promotional fees and sponsorships in the interim.

WSOP executives also hope that the fears expressed by detractors of the unprecedented layoff are unfounded. Those include the threat of player collusion and worse.

"If I were one of the finalists, I’d hire a full-time security force to guard my family," former WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker told GamingToday in an exclusive interview. "With several million dollars at stake, the threat of ransom or extortion is a real one."

Indeed, the possibility of foul play when such sums are on the line, no matter how remote, is a consideration. But whether the finalists need a food taster or someone to start their car in the morning may be excessive.

For now, the finalists will probably use the time to recuperate, fine-tune their game, plan strategy, solicit tips from other players and study videos of their opponent, if available.

The main event kicked off July 3 with 6,844 players, who each bought-in for $10,000. The number of entries was second only to the 8,773 who participated in the 2006 main event.

Of the total entered, 209 were women; there were also 118 different countries represented.

With such a diverse group, there are countless personal interest stories percolating behind those stacks of chips.

One of the better rags to riches stories is that of Alfredo Fernandez of Miami. He qualified to play via a free online, mega-satellite tournament hosted by games.com, which is owned by America Online.

Incredibly, over the course of several weeks, Fernandez beat out 2,396 other players and won his $10,000 entry into the main event. Going into Sunday’s round, he was tenth in chips, but his bubble burst late Sunday night. Nonetheless, he finished in 51st place, which was worth a cool $135,000 in prize money.

Another player, Tim Loecke of Highland Park, Illinois, could be this year’s Chris Moneymaker. Loecke qualified for the main event through a $63 online satellite (Chris got in through a $39 satellite in 2003 … inflation), and started action on Monday in 23rd place.

Loecke, like all of the 27 contenders, was guaranteed at least $257,334 for their play on Monday.

While it’s easy to root for such players, it’s just as easy to admonish others, notably Phil Hellmuth, the self-proclaimed "Poker Brat" and former main event champion.

Hellmuth set the tone of his play by pulling up to the Rio in a large army truck, then marched into the tournament ballroom flanked by 11 female models, all dressed in military fatigues (okay so far, right?)

For his part, Hellmuth was decked out as General George S. Patton – draped in tan pants, a green army coat and a tank commander’s helmet emblazoned with 11 gold stars – presumably one for each of his 11 WSOP gold bracelets.

Keep in mind that General Patton had only four stars on his helmet at the conclusion of World War II, but nobody ever accused Hellmuth of having a diminished ego.

Without the helmet, Hellmuth’s head seemed to grow exponentially as play progressed. At one point, he stood up and shouted – presumably to the poker gods up above – "Can I have some cards, now?"

Later, he whined to Gus Hansen that if the same cards were dealt to Gus, he would have been "long gone."

"The only reason I’m still here is because I’m Phil," Hellmuth said.

A couple of hands later, an exasperated Hellmuth stood up and hurled his sunglasses across the room, a la Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open. Hellmuth even had the audacity to complain to the tournament director that the table’s dealer was at fault, and demanded a new dealer.

The tirades reached a peak on Saturday night, when on the final hand, Hellmuth vehemently criticized an opponent following a big confrontation.

The tournament judges had had enough and imposed a penalty on Hellmuth for berating another player. His punishment was to sit out the first nine hands of play on Sunday.

However, the judges later reconsidered their action and reduced the penalty to a warning.

Nonetheless, the scales of justice once again balanced themselves as Hellmuth was knocked out of the tournament on Sunday night, finishing in 45th place.

It’s probably just as well. General Patton would have stood him in front of a firing squad.