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ESPN WSOP Main Event Recap: Episodes III and IV

24 September 2015

With Phil Hellmuth now gone from the tournament, the focus of the third and fourth episodes of ESPN's World Series of Poker Main Event coverage turns to Daniel Negreanu and Antonio Esfandiari. While several other players are featured, either Negreanu or Esfandiari is involved in the majority of the hands shown this week. Many of the hands that don't involve the two affable pros take place at their tables, and they are engaged with the table and talking about the action.

As always, this column contains some spoilers on what happens in the tournament beyond Day 4, so if you want to watch the shows without any knowledge of who makes the final table, you probably want to stop reading now.

SETTING THE SCENE: The first hour of programming begins with 416 players remaining and action already underway on Day 4. The open gives viewers a sense of just how electric the atmosphere is, and how much is on the line for the players who have made it this far in the tournament.

NOTABLE BUSTOUTS: Phil Laak, wearing what appears to be a helmet worn by the Peacekeepers from The Hunger Games, is bounced in 412th, when his A-K can't catch up to pocket aces; Tim Reilly is 360th and is outlasted by his wife, Ness, who is 244th when she also loses holding A-K vs. pocket aces; 2005 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem finishes 298th, also losing to pocket aces holding pocket jacks. The lesson here? Don't get it all in against an opponent who's holding aces.

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Now that we're getting deep in the tournament (only 237 players survived Day 4), the celebrity sightings are going to decrease a bit. That said, Fatima Moreira de Melo, a three-time Olympian with gold, silver and bronze medals for the Dutch field hockey national team, receives a lot of coverage before busting out in 284th.

NOVEMBER NINE APPEARANCES: Once again, we don't see many hands involving November Niners. Josh Beckley makes one appearance, bluffing Justin "stealthmunk" Schwartz out of a pot with a busted flush draw on a scary-looking board. Joseph McKeehen is shown several times, as they mention that he's the overall chip leader, but the other seven players don't receive any screen time.

PRO ANALYSIS: A recurring feature on ESPN's broadcasts, Laak and Esfandiari typically break down one hand per episode, providing some great insights into how they would have played a tricky hand. With Laak's elimination early in episode III, he's able to break down a hand that Jae Kim plays against Lance Harris. Holding 9-8, which misses a double-belly-buster-straight draw on the river, Kim makes an ill-advised river bluff to try to pick up the pot, but Harris, who has A-K and has flopped top pair, picks off the bluff.


Antonio Esfandiari had a strong presence in this week's ESPN coverage of the WSOP Main Event, calling himself a "D- celebrity." (photo by Gary Trask)

"Does Kim's bet with 8-9 make sense?" Laak asks. "It makes sense in that it's the only way to win the pot. In the long-range analysis, I actually don't like the play. He's getting called . . . it's clear that his opponent has something."

This segment is often one of the more entertaining segments of the show, so it's good to see it make a return. I'd anticipate that when Esfandiari is eliminated, he will join Laak again for more "Pro Analysis."

MOST ENTERTAINING HAND: We don't get to see anything but the final action on the river, but Heinz Kamutski is considering what to do with a set of fives after Jesse Howells bet enough to put Kamutski all-in with the board reading 5-8-K-7-A.

Kamutski finally decides to fold, and Esfandiari immediately jumps in to ask Kamutski to show his hand, and he has a big side bet with Vivek Rajkumar on what Kamutski holds. Kamutski had already thrown his hand in the muck, but Howells flashes A-K, which makes Kamutski slam the table in disgust and walk away cursing, as he realizes he just mucked the best hand.

"I picked off Vivek for five dimes!" Esfandiari yells in celebration when Kamutski reveals that he had a set of fives.

"It's either kings or ace-king, nothing else," says Kamutski.

"He looked so comfortable, I would have probably laid it down," says Esfandiari, who smartly pulls back on the celebration a bit, as he could very easily be seen as being out of line for celebrating that another player made the wrong move. "I don't know what I would have done, but he looked very comfortable, for sure. Probably because he thought he had the best hand."

"I told him ace-king wasn't good," says Kamutski.

"Sometimes you have to go broke," says Esfandiari. "It's pretty friggin' hard to make a set."

"I'm steaming now," says Kamutski, who actually has a bit of a wry grin on his face and is handling the whole situation incredibly well.

"Of course you're steaming! You just laid down the best hand for a million-chip pot! I owe you dinner and a hand any time," says Esfandiari, offering to show Kamutski what he's holding the next time Kamutski wants to know.

Later in the show, Esfandiari does Kamutski the ultimate favor, doubling up the German pro.

THE NINE LIVES OF ANTONIO ESFANDIARI: Speaking of Esfandiari, it's hard to believe that there's anyone in the world who runs better. He wins a flip with 10-10 vs. A-K, then wins a short-stacked all-in with A-10 vs. A-J, and finally closes out the day by hitting a flush on the river after going all-in preflop with 10-6 suited and getting called by Rajkumar's K-J. As if losing the prop bet wasn't bad enough for Rajkumar.

Esfandiari's streak of luck doesn't go unnoticed by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad.

"When we do the November Nine telecast, Lon, I just think we should have a player in the booth who doesn't always get his chips in with the worst of it," said Chad.

Chad: "I think Ralph Nader had a double-belly-buster straight draw in the 2000 presidential election."
McEachern: "George W. Bush ended up winning that pot, even without the best hand!"

BEST PLAYER EXCHANGE OF THE NIGHT: Negreanu, a noted health nut, kicks things off by asking if anyone at the table does drugs, "like caffeine."

Kim responds that he had to go to the hospital earlier in the summer because he drank two Starbucks double shots on an empty stomach.

"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," says Kim.

"I wonder what will happen if I do this?" asks Negreanu. "What would happen if I put this fork in my eye?"

SIDE ACTION CHAMPIONSHIP, PART II: OK, it's time for this to die. The Prop Bets Championship from almost a decade ago was incredible.

Honestly, this is probably the fourth or fifth time I've referenced it and embedded it in a story. But the reason it worked is because it took poker players out of the poker room and had them doing crazy fun things, and who knew what was going to happen? Maybe, just maybe, Billy Gazes will get hit in the face with a football. But having four professional poker players deal cards to a spot at a poker table? That's just not going to be interesting, not matter how entertaining the players are.

GRACEFUL EXIT: Sam Bernstein is all-in and has 11 outs going to the river when Lily Newhouse offers the dealer 0.5% of her cash if he deals a small black card. Bernstein tries to negotiate that he'll give the dealer an ever bigger percentage, but ends up missing his outs.

Newhouse (no relation to two-time November Niner Mark Newhouse) has a bit of a celebration after winning the hand, but Bernstein doesn't let it bother him. He gets up with a smile on his face and shakes Newhouse's hand. "Nice job," he says. "Very nice playing with you."

Busting the Main Event has to be one of the most disappointing things to happen to a poker player, especially after making it so deep. Bernstein's graceful exit is a model of how players should behave after a tough loss.

KROON/HELLMUTH PARTNERSHIP: While Hellmuth may no longer be in the tournament, we're not done seeing coverage of Phil yet. His long-time friend Mark Kroon made a deep run this year, and Hellmuth was there to mug for the cameras and offer advice to his friend. I'm sure we can expect more of this in future episodes.

EPISODES 3 & 4 MVP: Without a doubt, this week's MVP is Esfandiari. Between his play at the tables, insightful features about his fame – he calls himself a D-minus celebrity – and his relationship with his father, you really feel like you get to know Esfandiari and develop a rooting interest. What I like about him is that he seems to be the same person I profiled in one of my first columns for Casino City nine years ago, though I suspect that with an infant son he now spends less time with his "Rocks and Rings" crowd and more time with his family.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.