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Top 10 news items and nuggets from the World Series of Poker Main Event final table

15 July 2019

LAS VEGAS -- A World Series of Poker Main Event that started with 8,569 players – the second-most in its 50-year history – has dwindled down to just five.

When play resumes tonight at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Hossein Ensan (173 big blinds) and Garry Gates (143) will be the clear chip holders, with Kevin Maahs (55), Alex Livingston (38) and Dario Sammartino (19) in hot pursuit.

Here, we break down some picked-up pieces from being front and center at the ESPN featured table last night and take a look ahead at how things may play out over the next two nights, when a new champion will be crowned and take home a nifty $10 million.

10. Tanking from Maahs draws ire
Every Main Event final table needs a villain or a "bad guy" to root against. This year it’s clear who that player is.

From the very start of the action on Sunday night, Kevin Maahs' play was slow, deliberate and difficult to watch. He was continuously asking the dealer for a chip count and tanking before folding rags.

Now, don't get us wrong. The 27-year-old graduated from Loyola University with a finance degree and is obviously a smart guy. He knew what he was doing. He has the right to play that way if it's going to help him ladder up and get closer to that $10 million first-place prize. More power to him.

But he also had to be aware that there would be a backlash for making that kind of strategic decision, and sure enough, there was backlash. Plenty of it:

"I did not see exactly what he was folding, but I did hear that he was tanking with some bad hands for no reason," said sixth-place finisher Zhen Cai after being eliminated. "If I were to guess why, it's because he wasn’t one of the shortest stacks, so he wanted less hands played so the short stacks don’t get enough hands in. I’m assuming that’s what he was doing. But it didn't really bother me."

9. Abandoned chips at WSOP Deepstack
Speaking of Maahs, his cheering section was one of the biggest, most boisterous and most lubed up at the final table on Sunday night, with more than 20 of his closest friends from back home in Chicago making the trek to Las Vegas, wearing “Ring-a-Ling” t-shirts (here’s the explanation). The self-proclaimed loudest of the bunch was Maahs’ 64-year-old father, Jim Maahs, who flew into Las Vegas last Saturday to watch his son.

“This is a dream, it’s surreal,” he told Casino City while wearing a Chicago Bears hat before the start of Sunday’s play. “I’m the biggest mouth here. I was the loudest in the stands when he played high school basketball. That’s probably not going to change tonight.”

The elder Maahs is also a decent player himself. According to the Hendon Mob database, he’s earned over $37,000 in events, mostly in the Chicago area, over the last four years and has a WSOP cash to his name, having placed 273rd in the Seniors Event in 2016. While in Vegas, he jumped into a few events, making Day 2 of the Little Drop Event. He was also playing in one of the Daily Deepstacks, but abandoned his chips once he got a text from Kevin saying he was making a run in the Main Event.

“I had my stack up to 60k, but he texted me so I got up and left and never went back,” he said. “People were like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘My kid is tearing it up in the Main. I gotta be there.’”

8. Another “dream come true” for Tony Miles
Tony Miles, who lost the longest heads-up duel in WSOP Main Event history last year to eventual champ John Cynn, was back in the building for this year’s final table, but this time he was rooting for Cai, his good friend.
Miles said that Cai was his first mentor in poker, and they’ve been buddies for the last nine years. In fact, Miles served as Cai’s best man in his wedding and is godfather to his son.

“It’s a dream come true, I’m really proud of him,” said Miles, who had five WSOP cashes this summer after winning $5 million for his runner-up finish last year. “I’m happy that he is getting to experience the magic that I did last year.

“I’ve been able to share of all my experience from last year and I’ve been able to give him some really good advice, but honestly, he doesn’t need much. He’s got a really sound theoretical foundation and he’s just a strong player.”

“It’s definitely amazing for us to go back-to-back at the Main Event final table,” Cai said. “Having him there tonight was a blessing. When you have so many people telling you what they think you should do, you can’t listen to everyone because they haven’t been there before. So having him there was reassuring for me and really helped.”

Immediately following Cai’s bustout, Miles took exception on Twitter to the way Maahs’ rail reacted:

7. Dealer-mistake controversy still a hot topic
Nearly 48 hours after an incident involving Dario Sammartino, Nick Marchington, WSOP VP Jack Effel and a veteran dealer, the poker world was still reacting.

The controversy started at a secondary featured table on Friday night with 11 players remaining, when Sammartino was second to act and raised to 1.7 million with pocket 10s. Marchington re-raised all-in from the small blind, and Sammartino asked for a count on the raise.

“17.2,” the dealer said incorrectly.

“17.2?” Sammartino asked

“17.2,” the dealer responded with a nod.

Within seconds, Sammartino called, but as he was doing so a few other players at the table realized the dealer’s mistake and it was confirmed Marchington’s raise was actually 22.2 million. Sammartino was clearly agitated when the floor person told him the action would stand and he would have to put in another five million. The Italian got even hotter when Marchington flipped over queens, making him a huge underdog in the hand.

After another supervisor came over to confirm that the action would indeed stand, saying it’s a “game of observation,” Effel was brought into the mix and reiterated the bad news to Sammartino.

“It doesn’t matter, it’s accepted action with the chips, regardless of what the dealer said,” Effel explained without a hint of hesitation. “The action is going to stand and you’re going to have to call the bet . . . It’s accepted action. It’s very clear in the rules. I’m not changing this decision. This is a very simple decision.”

Sammartino continued to plead his case saying over and over, “It’s not fair,” and saying that if he knew it was 22.2 million he may not have called.

“Even though she miscounted, what you see, it’s still your responsibility to understand,” Effel said sternly. “You can’t talk your way out of it. The action is going to stand.”

“If you’re calling 17 you’re calling 22,” Effel added.

The last comment did not sit well with Sammartino, who put his hands up in the air and darted an incredulous look back at Effel. And he didn’t exactly calm down when he got no help from the turn and river and Marchington won the pot and doubled up.

As expected, the poker community was boisterous with its opinions on Twitter. The general consensus? It seems nearly everyone that chimed in agreed the right decision was made, but that Effel and his staff could have been more empathetic to Sammartino. Also, my guess is that if Effel didn’t make the “If you’re calling 17 you’re calling 22” comment the backlash for the entire episode would have been much less fiery.

Alex Livingston, who also made the final table, also chimed in:

According to a Twitter post by Livingston, Effel did indeed apologize to Sammartino before the cards went in the air on Sunday night.

6. One-day break the perfect solution?
It’s been three years since the WSOP decided to can the controversial November Nine concept, used from 2008 until 2016, which included a more than three-month break between the Main Event final table participants were decided and when the cards actually went in the air.

In 2017, the WSOP installed a two-day break, and then last year, because of the way the schedule unfolded for ESPN, there was no break, meaning the final nine players were decided at around 11:30 p.m. and play started the very next day at 5:30 p.m.

Most of the players we spoke to last year mentioned that it would have been a huge benefit to have at least a one-day window. Not only would it have provided some much-needed rest after playing 12-hour sessions for five straight days, but it also would have enabled the players’ families and friends not already in Las Vegas to make travel arrangements and arrive in time for the final table.

Apparently, the WSOP was listening, and it seems like the one-day break may be the ideal solution.

“I think so, I really think this is going to work well this year,” said Effel when we spoke on Friday afternoon. “I never want to say something is perfect because the WSOP is such a dynamic event and the players’ needs are always changing. But we really think having that one day of rest is going to benefit everyone, most notably the players, and that’s what this is all about.”

5. Effel passes on being floor announcer
Another change to this year’s final table? For the first time since 2005, Effel was not walking the set with the microphone calling the action. After conducting the introductions of players and bringing in last year’s Main Event champ, Cynn, for the ESPN cameras, Effel stepped aside and passed off his duties as floor announcer.

“With my new gig, there are just so many other things going on and so many moving parts to this whole process, standing there with the mic in my hands for three days probably isn’t the best use of my time,” said Effel, who started out as assistant tournament director in 2005 before being promoted to director in 2007. “At the end of the day, this is about the nine players, not me. Everybody is coming to see who is going to win the $10 million, not the guy with the microphone calling out the action.”

4. 50th WSOP celebration hits the mark
In addition to being the second-largest WSOP in history, drawing 8,569 players from 87 nations, this was also the 50th edition of the tournament. As part of the celebration, the WSOP added some different events and introduced a First Fifty Honors gala, open to all WSOP Gold Bracelet winners and VIPs, with an awards presentation, announcing the winners of the seven different categories voted on by the public.

Effel said that overall, the WSOP was pleased with how the celebration was received.

“I think our idea was executed pretty well,” he said. “We wanted a special look and feel and wanted people who came to the WSOP to feel something special. We wanted to have a great schedule, great events, special events, give out some awards and remember those that have been part of 50 years of history. We wanted to accomplish all of those things, and I think we hit those marks for sure.

“We have to remember that, first and foremost, without the players this doesn’t happen. Jack Binion and Doyle (Brunson) came out and celebrated with us. Berry Johnston was there. Tom McEvoy. T.J. Cloutier. These are the guys who have been around the WSOP for many, many years, so it was real special to have them there. We wouldn’t be who we are without guys like that.”

3. Gates remains the sentimental pick
If you can't already tell from watching on TV, we’re here to tell you that many inside the poker industry are truly pulling for Garry Gates to come out of the No. 2 chip position and win the Main Event. Gates got his start in poker working as a reporter for PokerNews and over a decade ago he joined PokerStars, where he is currently Senior Consultant of Player Affairs. Apparently, he’s made quite an impression on everyone he has worked with because they have come out in droves, both inside the Rio and on social media, to throw their support at him.

“I can’t believe this is happening, it’s a dream, an absolute dream,” Gates told ESPN last night when play ended with his rail standing behind him. “To me this is everything. I had friends fly in from Sweden, Charlotte, Pittsburgh. My family came in from Pennsylvania. It means everything. That’s my family over there. I’m the luckiest guy in the world right now.”

2. Busted players make their predictions

We spoke with three of the players who busted last night and asked them how they thought the rest of the final table would play out:

Nick Marchington, who finished in seventh place: “Anything could happen, but I like Garry Gates’ chances. He really gets in the mix. He isn’t afraid to go for it, as well.”

Timothy Su, who finished in sixth place: “I think it will be pretty unpredictable because there’s a lot of players still in it, who like myself, are now known for making some pretty crazy moves in certain spots. So, yes, anything can happen.

Cai: “The two big stacks have a lot of chips, I think one of them has to win. Dario is a great player and has the most experience, but he’s a little too short. Even if he doubles up he’s going to keep laddering. I think Hasan is going to win, if I were to bet.”

1. Who will win?
Before the start of play on Sunday night, we bumped into chip leader Hossein Ensan and asked him how he felt. Without hesitation, he put his arm on my shoulder, smiled, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m confident. Very confident.”

And that’s exactly how he played on Sunday night. Relaxed and confident.

As we pointed out yesterday, the big stack heading into the Main Event final table has only prevailed three times in the last 11 years. We’re also well aware that Ensan’s huge lead entering Sunday night shrunk, with Gates winning 11 of the 56 hands played, while increasing his stack 73%. But Ensan also won 11 hands on Sunday night. And even though he only added about 31,000,000 to his stack, we loved his demeanor and the way he is playing right now.

Cai is correct. Between Ensan and Gates, they hold about 75% of the chips in play. Bet365 Mobile Sportsbook has Ensan as the 11/8 favorite heading into tonight’s action, up from the 5/4 he was listed at Sunday morning, and we think the 55-year-old Iranian-German poker pro will prevail, becoming the third-oldest player to win the Main Event and the first non-U.S. player to win it in five years.
Top 10 news items and nuggets from the World Series of Poker Main Event final table is republished from
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT