Big One for One Drop: Esfandiari, Trickett, Hellmuth, and the Race to $18MM

Mike Sexton cashed in the biggest poker tournament in history, but ninth place did not get him to the final table. (Ryan Lucchesi photo)

$18,346,673. That amount represents more than any player has made in an entire career of playing poker tournaments, but by the end of the night on Tuesday at the World Series of Poker, that singular amount will belong to one fortunate individual.

There were 48 when the tournament began, 37 when Day 2 got underway, and 16 when they came back from dinner on Day 2, but just eight players can still say that they have a chance at that unbelievable sum. Antonio Esfandiari led when there were 16, and continued to find success in the later stages of the evening to keep his position, but Sam Trickett is right behind him and in great position at the table in relation to Esfandiari.

It was a magical day for Esfandiari throughout, and he had a hard time wrapping his head around it at the end of the night.

“It feels great,” said Esfandiari. “It’s the biggest tournament in the history of the world, and to be going into the final table as the chipleader, it hasn’t even really sunk in yet.”

The man who currently sits in third place is the creator of the Big One for One Drop, Guy Laliberté. The Cirque du Soleil founder has pledged all of his winnings in this event to his One Drop Foundation, in addition to the more than $5 million initially raised from the 48 tournament buy-ins. Brian Rast has dealt with pressure before, defeating Phil Hellmuth heads-up in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship in 2011, coming back from a significant chip disadvantage, and he’s currently in fourth.

And guess who’s right behind Rast in fifth? Hellmuth already has his record twelfth career bracelet in 2012, and winning his thirteenth in this event would be one of the greatest accomplishments of his storied career. Hedge fund manager David Einhorn made a deep run in the WSOP Main Event in 2006, and he’s also pledged to donate every dollar he makes to charity. He starts tomorrow’s final table in sixth.

Malaysian businessman Richard Yong is a high-stakes specialist, playing in High Roller events all over the world, but this is his first recorded tournament cash. It couldn’t have come on a bigger stage. Bobby Baldwin is no stranger to such stages, but it’s been quite some time since the Chief Design & Construction Officer of MGM Resorts made a WSOP final table. The 1978 WSOP Main Event champion is the shortest stack when play resumes Tuesday.

In order for these eight to be in the position, however, quite a few others had to experience the disappointment of falling short. The battle from sixteen players down to the final eight was a quick but bloody affair, as bad beats, good fortune, and skillful play all factored in as they competed for nine seven-figure prizes. While Mike Sexton was able to claim one of those nine prizes, he would ultimately fall short of the televised final table and a chance at the biggest prize in poker history.

(To check out what happened before the dinner break on Day 2 of the Big One for One Drop, click here.)

Level 16

The short stacks seemed to have done something right during the dinner break, as the first level back featured several key double-ups for short stacks. Mike Sexton started it off by winning a coinflip with 44 against Frederique Banjout’s K8 on the first hand back, kicking off the good run for the players who were light on chips. Roland De Wolfe seemed to be in a precarious position, getting it in behind with KK against Banjout’s 86, but running aces on the turn and river counterfeited Banjout as he once again failed to bust an opponent. Bobby Baldwin won a crucial coinflip, doubling through Philipp Gruissem with AJ against 77.

There was one unfortunate soul during this level, however, as the field was reduced to 15. Cary Katz went all-in from under the gun for about 1.8 million, and Gruissem called to his immediate left. Everyone else folded and Katz got the bad news, as his AJ was well behind Gruissem’s AK. The board ran out KQ994 and Katz couldn’t quite catch enough of the board and exited in 16th place.

Level 17

As much as the previous level was a victory for the little guy, this hour would be the polar opposite. On the first bustout, four players saw a TT5, bringing a bet of 800,000 from De Wolfe and a raise of 2.5 million from Sexton. Everyone else folded but De Wolfe moved all-in for 4.2 million and Sexton quickly called, as De Wolfe got some terrible news. He had flopped trip tens with JT but Sexton had him outkicked with AT. The 3 on the turn and 9 on the river did nothing to help De Wolfe and he would end up as the 15th place finisher.

Losing the two previous all-ins and several other pots put Banjout in a bad spot. He lost the last of his chips when he ran TT into Esfandiari’s JJ, and no help from the board would come, eliminating Banjout in 14th. Tom Marchese would not be far behind. Esfandiari opened and Marchese three-bet all-in for 2.5 million, which Esfandiari called. Esfandiari was ahead with A5 and Marchese was live with the KJ, but the AT8A4 runout left Marchese with nothing and sent him off in 13th.

Brandon Steven is no stranger to high-stakes bubbles, having finished 10th in the 2010 WSOP Main Event, and he managed to find his way to playing on one of the only bigger bubbles that will ever exist. On his most fateful hand Monday night, Steven open-shipped from the button for 1.57 million with A9 and Sam Trickett called from the big blind with KJ to put Steven at risk. He looked good to double up on the 422 flop and 9 turn, but the river was a heartbreaking J. After outlasting 3/4ths of the field, Steven once again felt the sting of a brutal close call, falling three spots shy of the money in the biggest poker tournament in history.

Level 18

With 11 players left as the level began, three different bubbles of increasing importance loomed. First it was getting from two tables down to one table of ten. Gruissem was one of the lesser-known pros in this field, but
it’s not for a lack of skill or accomplishment. He held his own among the top names in the game and rich businessmen for whom the money meant less, but in the end he ran into the buzzsaw that is Sam Trickett. Trickett raised to 600,000 from late position, Philipp Gruissem three-bet to 1,350,000 from the button, Trickett moved all in, and Gruissem called off the rest of his stack, which was just over 7 million total. It was a big coinflip between Trickett’s JJ and Gruissem’s AQ, but the board was on Trickett’s side in this one as it ran out K5279 to keep Trickett ahead and eliminate Gruissem in 11th place.

This stopped the clock as players redrew to one table of ten. The biggest bubble in the history of tournament poker loomed, as tenth place would get $0 and ninth would receive $1,109,333. Despite the fact that each player put up $1 million just to get in, the thought of finishing one spot off of getting it all back with a little extra was not a favorable one by any stretch, even for the rich guys, so the logic dictated that it would likely be a lengthy process.

It didn’t take very long at all, however. Action folded around to Bulychev in the small blind and he went all-in for 2.5 million. Sam Trickett looked down at K7 and elected to call, and was ahead of Bulychev’s Q6. The flop brought a little for each player, coming out 742 to give Trickett top pair and Bulychev a flush draw and an over. The 3 on the turn gave Bulychev three additional outs to the straight, but the 2 missed all of his draws, sending him out in one of the most brutal spots you could possibly find in tournament poker.

Everyone was now in the money, but now it was a matter of getting down to the final eight and the official televised final table. Once again, despite the chance for national exposure and the opportunity at $18.3 million, the play down to eight went surprisingly quickly. On the final hand of the evening, Esfandiari raised to 900,000 from the small blind and Sexton called from the big blind. Both players checked the AJ3 flop, but the 6 on the turn brought fireworks. Esfandiari led out for 1.15 million, Sexton moved all-in for about 5 million, and Esfandiari called, though a moment of confusion almost caused some serious controversy as the dealer flipped Esfandiari’s hand face down. His hand was clearly retrievable, however, and the call stood as Esfandiari showed 36 for two-pair while Sexton had JT for a pair and a flush draw, as well as counterfeit outs and a live overcard. The 8 on the river would be the final card of the night, and the final eight bagged up their chips for the night as Sexton went home as the first player in the money in ninth place.

Play at the final table will begin at 12 pm PT and will be broadcast on a slight delay with hole cards on ESPN2 and ESPN3 (online) starting at 1 pm PT. Beginning at 5 pm PT, the broadcast will switch over to ESPN and will remain there for the duration.

Here’s how the chip counts stand with eight players left in the Big One for One Drop:

  1. Antonio Esfandiari – 39,925,000
  2. Sam Trickett – 37,000,000
  3. Guy Laliberté – 21,700,000
  4. Brian Rast – 11,350,000
  5. Phil Hellmuth – 10,925,000
  6. David Einhorn – 8,375,000
  7. Richard Yong – 7,475,000
  8. Bobby Baldwin – 7,150,000

And here’s what they’re playing for:

1st – $18,346,673
2nd – $10,112,001
3rd – $4,352,000
4th – $2,645,333
5th – $1,834,666
6th – $1,621,333
7th – $1,408,000
8th – $1,237,333

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Tim Fiorvanti

Tim Fiorvanti graduated from St. John's University with a B.S. in Journalism in 2008. After several years in the industry, he started working for BLUFF in the summer of 2010. He worked his way up at BLUFF and joined full time as a Senior Writer in April of 2012. Fiorvanti now serves as the Managing Editor of BLUFF. He's a tortured Mets and Jets fan, along with several other frustrating allegiances, but he's also a two-time defending BLUFF Fantasy Football Champion.
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