Day 3 Recap: Steinberg leads final 666

If you're a short stack right now in the 2013 World Series of Poker main event, getting to sleep after Day 3 isn't going to be very easy. Another five levels of play concluded early Friday morning with 666 players remaining in the biggest tournament of the world. The field sits just 18 spots from the money, and when players return at noon PT on Friday, one of the biggest moments of the year will arrive with a significant amount of excitement and anxiety for all who sit at the WSOP's felt.

The bubble dynamic is always fantastic. The short stacks do anything to try to hold on for as long as they can, and the big stacks love it as they try to punish the scared money. The opportunity to build a stack presents itself only at a few key junctures of the event, with the bubble being the first. The pros also will be active as the $19,106 (the minimum cash) isn't what they're searching for. As professional rounders, the goal is always the final table, and that approach is only magnified in the main event.

Max Steinberg won't be worried at all on the bubble. Neither will chips leader Maxx Coleman, legend Doyle Brunson, defending champion Greg Merson or Michael Mizrachi.

Steinberg ended Day 3 third in chips and with a smile on his face.

"I started out with 39,000 and now I have 987,000," he said. "I would say this day went much better than expected. ... I'm just happy that I had a day that players dream of, from going from such a short stack to such a big stack."

Steinberg's status in the main event changed when he eliminated Phil Ivey in a set-over-set situation. Armed with 1 million in chips at that point, he coasted for the rest of the day and finished with 987,500 in chips. Some in the Amazon Room, stunned by the result, debated whether Ivey could've saved his stack so early in the tournament.

"I don't think he can really get away from the hand," Steinberg said of Ivey's elimination. "When I called I thought he could've had a combo draw ... I don't think there's anything wrong with the way he played it."

Steinberg, a bracelet winner in 2012, had two runner-up finishes in bracelet events this year. He has $1.8 million in career tournament earnings.

After Steinberg's table was moved off feature, he sat next to the player who attracted a strong rail pretty much the entire day: Brunson.

Earlier this week, Ty Stewart unveiled a bronze bust of Brunson as a way to honor his illustrious career. What he didn't realize was that Brunson had no intentions for his career to end anytime soon. For the third day in a row, Brunson put on a clinic. The 79-year-old looked tired during the fourth level of play, but when he returned for the final session, he looked like a young kid with a big grin as he knocked out two players in the first half hour to increase his stack and ultimately end the night with 626,000 in chips. Attempting to get a little bit of extra rest, Brunson did leave with 18 minutes left in the level.

"I have so much respect for Doyle," Steinberg said. "He was the poker player who before there were coaching sites, he figured out how to play poker well, by himself. He created ideas that lasted years and years. He didn't have computer programs to tell him anything, like hard math. I have all the respect in the world for him. He has a lot of chips. If I get out, I'm cheering for Doyle."

Brunson is one of three main event champions remaining after Day 3, and while it's nice that Carlos Mortensen is still in contention, Merson, deservingly, is getting the most attention. Merson sat in front of the cameras all day, and his stack fluctuated greatly until the final level of the night when he settled down as the action around him escalated. He finished with 390,500, and if he's able to last through the bubble, he'd be the first main event champion to cash in the year after winning since Peter Eastgate in 2009.

Merson is one of four members of last year's final table to make Day 4 (Russell Thomas, Steven Gee and Rob Salaburu are the others), and the trend of former November Niners making deep runs once again is something to watch. In addition to the four from 2012, Ivan Demidov and Michael Mizrachi are representing their final tables. Before the November Nine format, Day 3 survivors Paul Wasicka, Russell Rosenbloom and Allen Cunningham made the final table of the big one.

Among the 1,087 eliminations on Day 3 were many of the game's stars. Phil Hellmuth exited quietly before dinner, as did Johnny Chan, Ivey, Daniel Cates and Liv Boeree. Jean-Robert Bellande's elimination just 40 minutes into the day was the most surprising one of all given his 21st-place chip count at the end of Day 2, and his result simply displayed the unpredictability of the game. Actor Kevin Pollak, Elisabeth Hille, Kenny Tran, Andy Frankenberger, Scott Seiver, Phil Collins, Jason Senti, Sam Holden, Jeremy Ausmus and Eoghan O'Dea also fell short of a main event cash.

Day 4 will begin with the blinds at 2,500/5,000 with a 500 ante.

Here are the unofficial chip leaders after Day 3:

1. Maxx Coleman (1.0 million)

2. Joshua Prager (993,000)

3. Max Steinberg (987,500)

4. Dick van Luijk (940,000)

5. Vladimir Geshkenbein (900,000)

6. Nick Schwarmann (893,000)

7. Matthew Huey (885,500)

8. Chris Johnson (862,000)

9. Umang Dattani (848,000)

10. Kevin Williams (808,500)

Small blinds: Tournament director Jack Effel announced to the field late on Day 3 that the champion was in the Amazon Room since all the players were finally in one place. There was a lack of an ovation, but the players did take to Twitter to share the news. ... Eliminations came at a rate of 1.81 players per minute. ... Greg Merson finished Day 3 in 2013 with 24,500 more than what he had at the end of Day 3 last year. ... Both Brandon Steven and Greg Mueller got massages the entire day. Steven joked he needed to make the final day to break even on the cost. ... Mark Kroon entered the day with 507,000 and finished with 343,000. ... Mike McClain spent time with Doyle Brunson and Humberto Brenes during the last level. If that name sounds familiar, he was "agony of defeat" guy in our WSOP broadcasts in 2004 or 2005. Oh, and he also has $1.1 million in tournament earnings. ... Third-place Max Steinberg and fourth-place Dirk von Luijk are seated together to start Day 4. ... There was no way the players were going to make the money Thursday night. Even if the number got closer, the WSOP staff would've stopped the action. ... The Day 3 Poker Edge podcast features Steinberg, Amit Makhija, Yevgeniy Timoshenko and Melanie Weisner. ... Bubble day is probably my favorite day of the main event. If you're in Vegas, come by around noon for one of the most fun/intense moments of the entire WSOP.