With 17 players left in the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, Matt Guan raised to 400,000 and Joe McKeehen three-bet him to 1,125,000. Daniel Negreanu looked down at A K in the big blind and four-bet to 2.6 million, Guan folded and McKeehen considered his options. After a brief pause, he made a decision that could ultimately change the course of his life – he five-bet all in.
Negreanu, who isn’t one for theatrics and unnecessary tanking, thought over his decision for a long time. Calling the all in would take most of his stack, and any misstep would be devastating this deep in the Main Event, with no guarantee of ever getting back to this point again. He eventually picked his cards up and stared at them, to the point where the rail behind him could see his hand, and eventually decided to let it go.
“I was actually pretty surprised he folded – I wanted him to call,” said McKeehen. “I will tell him I didn’t see his hand, but if he had what he claimed, he made a very good fold.”
For McKeehen, who was nonplussed for much of the previous few days of play, this situation had his heart beating pretty quickly as one of poker’s biggest legends stared him down for several minutes. The scale of the situation certainly weighed on him.
“With 16 left, even if I’m all in with the stone nuts it’s going to be tough,” said McKeehen. “It’s a pretty large spot, I’d say.”
McKeehen wanted to treat this tournament like any other he’s played in his life, but a number of factors have made the circumstances pretty impossible to ignore. After more than six days spent on outer tables, even as one of the chip leaders for most of the tournament, McKeehen’s finally made his debut under the bright lights of the main TV stage.
“It’s definitely real,” said McKeehen. “This is the first time I’ve been in the Thunderdome in my life, I’ve never been here before. Took me down to the final two tables to get there.”
As if the stakes and the stage weren’t big enough, his position at the table consistently reminds him who he’s up against – as if he’d ever forget.
“I’m just looking Negreanu in the face, because he’s in the nine seat and I’m in the six,” said McKeehen. “When I stare ahead, he’s the face I see.”
Upon learning of Dave Stefanski’s exit in 16th place just before the break, McKeehen shook his head in approval of another pay jump.
“We might do this before dinner,” he joked. “I mean we won’t, but we might.”
McKeehen was set to spend most of his break with 2014 WSOP bracelet-winner Calvin Anderson, a well-respected mind in the game of poker who’s been on McKeehen’s rail over the last few days.
“It’s great, he’s a really smart kid,” said McKeehen. “It’s funny, because we’ve never really talked super-extensively [about hands], but every time I’ve talked with him he’s said ‘Good play, you’re playing great – keep it up’. That’s really helpful, and encouraging.”
Despite drawing Negreanu and a few of the big stacks, alongside longtime online grinder Justin Schwartz, McKeehen is distinctly focused upon the task at hand and is not even worrying himself with what’s going on currently on the other side of the room.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t even remember everybody who’s over at the other table,” said McKeehen. “I’m going to assume both tables are very tough at this point. All the tables at this point in the tournament are tough.”
McKeehen gives all 14 other players who are still in the running for the November Nine with him a world of credit, whether they’re bracelet winners like Max Steinberg or rank amateurs.
“There are no real fish left in the tournament, everybody got here for a reason,” said McKeehen. “Even if they might not be a very good player, they’re doing something right to make them go deep in tournaments. If other people can’t figure out what that is, they have real shots.”
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