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ESPN WSOP Main Event Recap: Episodes V and VI

2 October 2015

Let's be honest, the only time I've watched poker "live" (aka, when it was broadcast) since I became a father eight years ago has been during the November Nine. Thanks to the wonders of the DVR, I'm able to tape the shows I'm interested in and watch them at my leisure.

Now, with three kids aged 8 and under in the house, an unhealthy addiction to prime-time soap operas and my wife's obsession with reality television, our DVR is cluttered with episodes of Curious George, Sophia the First, Nashville and Project Runway, leaving little to no room for ESPN's World Series of Poker broadcasts.

However, thanks to poker superfans, new episodes are available online almost immediately, so I've been relying on YouTube to stay abreast of the latest ESPN coverage.

Unfortunately, instead of airing episode 5 on ESPN2 as promised, the first hour of the show got moved to ESPNEWS on Wednesday night, and the only broadcast I've been able to find on YouTube misses the first 10 minutes of coverage.

Even without the start, it's another entertaining night of Main Event coverage, as the tournament plays down from 237 players to approximately 120 (no official player count is given at the end of the show).

As always, if you don't want to know what happens later in the tournament, don't read this column. There are lots of references to who makes the November Nine, so consider yourself alerted to potential spoilers.

SETTING THE SCENE: Despite missing the first 10 minutes of the show, I was able to catch the opening montage, which includes interviews with Justin Bonomo, Fedor Holz, Max Steinberg, Joseph McKeehen and Daniel Negreanu, thanks to the World Series of Poker YouTube channel.

Honestly, how can you watch that and not 1) be excited about watching the rest of the show, and 2) imagine yourself in these players' shoes, competing for the WSOP title and $7.7 million at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino?

NOTABLE BUSTOUTS: It's amazing just how many recognizable names make it this deep in the Main Event every year. While most people who are eliminated at this point in the tournament are relatively unknown, there are still some giants in the poker world who make it deep into Day 5.

Big names to bust out of the tournament during episodes 5 and 6 include: Men Nguyen (211th), Christian Harder (196th), Dan O'Brien (186th), Antonio Esfandiari (168th), John Racener (162nd) and Jim Bechtel, the last remaining Main Event champion in the field (121st).

NOVEMBER NINE APPEARANCES: Now that the tournament is down to about a dozen tables, we're starting to see some of the November Nine players a little more often.

We see Joseph McKeehen eliminate Racener and push Ofer Zvi Stern off a bluff with a full house. Neil Blumenfield eliminates Esfandiari and, later in the night, shows up at the feature table with Daniel Negreanu. Max Steinberg makes a great overcall with K-10 on a K-4-J-4-6 board against Bonomo and Joe Fox (Bonomo calls Fox's river bet) to win a 1 million chip pot. Finally, Federico Butteroni eliminates Lily Newhouse holding pocket aces vs. pocket eights and has an awkward exchange with Bonomo, who tells the Italian pro "I paid $10,000; I can play my cards however I want."

We also see Josh Beckley and Butteroni in the "First Timers" segment, with Beckley discussing his thought process behind dropping out of engineering school to focus on poker and Butteroni talking a bit about how his time in Australia helped him prepare for a career as a professional poker player. (For more, read Gary Trask's November Nine Profile of Butteroni.)

JACKS, JACKS, JACKS: Known by regular ESPN viewers as the "Lon McEachern memorial hand," pocket jacks have never seen so much air time. Damien Lhommeau, holding A-K, is eliminated by Salvatore DiCarlo's pocket jacks, which is followed by a montage of players trying to decide what to do with pocket jacks. The correct answer (according to McEachern and Chad)? Fold preflop.

PRO ANALYSIS: This segment once again airs while Esfandiari is still in the tournament, so Phil Laak is flying solo for the second week in a row. This week, Laak analyzes a hand where Negreanu bluffs Omri Moga out of a pot by check-raising the flop, checking the turn and betting on the river.

This is a great segment generally, but Laak, who seems to have too many ideas bouncing around in his head to organize his thoughts, is a bit scattered in his analysis. Hopefully now that Esfandiari has been eliminated, he'll rejoin his friend and provide a stabilizing influence for this segment.

RISE OF JUSTIN BONOMO: Bonomo, a 29-year-old professional poker player, gets quite a bit of attention in this week's coverage. He starts the day's coverage with a near double-up holding A-K vs. A-9, and his chip stack just keeps growing. He eliminates Harder in a small pot holding A-Q, then eliminates O'Brien with pocket aces, with O'Brien holding pocket queens. He also wins a big pot off Matt Waxman, hitting a set of fives and beating Waxman's top pair, top kicker.

MARYLAND POKER HOUSE: I learned quite a bit in this feature, which details the house that Chad Power and several other professional poker players live in. The players discuss hands and strategy with each other, building a collaborative environment to learn from each other. The most interesting thing, to me, is that when there's an opening in the house, Power wades through several hundred applications to find the right person to join the house.

That said, I don't think they know how to play volleyball. They keep catching the ball and throwing it over the net. Sadly, this may be the most athletic thing this group has ever done.

HOW DID MARK KROON GET HERE? Last week the only coverage we saw of Mark Kroon, famous for being friends with Phil Hellmuth, was a bluff gone bad. This week, we once again see a terrible play, with a three-bet bluff holding king-high against a full house.

We finally see Kroon get his money in ahead when he busts Pavlin Karakikov holding pocket aces vs. pocket eights, leading to the …

NORMAN CHAD LINE OF THE NIGHT: After the chips go in the middle preflop, Kroon waits to see if his aces will hold up with Hellmuth, who is coaching him during his deep run.

Chad weighs in with this gem: "Kroon trying to overcome the coaching of Phil Hellmuth, Karakikov trying to overcome this hand."

SIDE ACTION CHAMPIONSHIP: Four poker players riffle chip stacks to see who can riffle the most. Maria Ho wins. This would have been much more interesting if Gus Hansen, an epic chip shuffler, had been invited.

PLAYER EXCHANGE OF THE NIGHT: The best part of watching Daniel Negreanu play on TV is that you never know what he's going to talk about.

"You guys believe in aliens?" he asks. "What are the chances that we're the only ones? How arrogant do we have to be to think we're the only planet in the universe with life on it?"

"Do you think you'll ever meet one or we'll discover one in your lifetime?" another player asks.

"Have you played with Phil Hellmuth before? What planet do you think he's from?"

MOST ENTERTAINING HAND: DiCarlo, holding pocket aces, ends up in a confrontation with Negreanu, holding pocket queens. Moga is also involved, calling from the big blind. After a flop of 9-7-6, Moga bets, DiCarlo raises and Negreanu three-bets. DiCarlo, however, puts in a four-bet.

"What did he say? Three nines? Did you say three nines?" Negreanu asks. Even with his face hidden behind his sweatshirt, DiCarlo can't hide his wide grin as he knows he's going to win the hand.

"In my head I heard three nines. I thought I heard his brain say it," Negreanu says before folding.

"Wanna see it?" DiCarlo asks in a deep bass voice.

"Sure," Negreanu replies.

"No," DiCarlo says, then throws his cards in the mucks, getting a laugh from the table.

At the end the show, Negreanu doubles up through DiCarlo holding pocket kings vs. DiCarlo's A-K.

EPISODES 5 & 6 MVP: A bit of an upset here, but the MVP of this week's coverage, in my mind, is Salvatore DiCarlo. Even though he's very stoic and doesn't talk a whole lot, his back-and-forth with Negreanu was great, and he was involved in a lot of key hands throughout the night. I'm looking forward to seeing him again in next week's coverage.
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.