LAS VEGAS -- The World Series of Poker main event is a grind.
Seven days of grueling competition can be a tough mental challenge of endurance and focus even for the most skilled players. The nine players who manage to keep their minds sharp and make the right moves at the right times, all while avoiding bad luck, will be on the way to October's final table. For 6,501 players, the dreams of making that coveted final table have vanished. Only 97 players remain in the biggest event in the world, and on one of the most important days of the tournament, American Kyle Keranen was dominant.
Keranen started Day 5 with 1.1 million in chips and used a steady dose of aggression to build his stack to an end-of-day count of 6.9 million. His turning point came during the third level of play on Saturday, when his pressure resulted in a massive pot. Keranen held Q-9 and was against Luke Brereton's J-J. It was not what he wanted to see, but Keranen said the risk was acceptable given that it was only for a smaller portion of his stack.
"I wanted to put pressure on him and make him make a decision for all the marbles," said Keranen. "I just wanted to hit a queen."
The queen flopped and the chips were sent his way. Moments later, his loose image earned him another pot as Nicholas Abourisk committed his stack with 9-9 after a 10-8-2 flop, right into Keranen and his top two pair. Keranen was one of the first players over 5 million in chips and again at 6 million in chips. He owned "moving day" and is excited about what lies ahead.
"It feels really good. Honestly, when I first started playing poker, this is the dream situation," he said. "It's surreal almost, talking about being the chip leader going into Day 6. "
Behind Keranen is Robert Salaburu, another player who put on a show on Day 5. Salaburu entered the day in 19th place and during the first level of play on Saturday, found himself involved in a three-way all-in for 1.2 million in chips. Holding Ac-10c, Salaburu was against the K-K of Tom Tran and the 9-9 of Gjorgji Chuchuk. Salaburu flopped a flush draw and completed it on the river. He and Keranen shared the lead, and a table, for most of the day.
Day 4 chip leader Paul Volpe finished the day in the top half of the field, as did WSOP Circuit champion A.J. Jejelowo, Amnon Filippi and two of the five remaining women in the field, Norway's Elisabeth Hille and France's Gaelle Baumann. Baumann was involved in the most-discussed hand of the day, which occurred during the last level of play.
Baumann opened the action from under the gun. The hand folded around to WPT champion Andras Koroknai, who moved all-in. As soon as Gavin Smith folded in the big blind, Koroknai mucked, not aware of Baumann's action and believing the hand had been completed. Of course, as his cards were in the muck, Baumann still had her cards. The floorman was called over and ruled (after a discussion over the phone with tournament director Jack Effel) that he would be forced to pay the bet Baumann had made, but would not lose the remainder of his chips. The ruling was consistent with an incident seen in the 2009 main event, and a dealer who was not involved in the hand commented after the end of play that it was absolutely the right decision. As Koroknai's tournament was saved, Baumann had reason to be upset as she revealed pocket kings afterward and perhaps could have missed out on some significant chips. Baumann still ended the day eighth overall.
Former November Niners Eric Buchman and Sam Holden survived the day, as well as bracelet winners David Baker, Erik Cajelais, Dung Nguyen, Gavin Smith, Jason Somerville and Vanessa Selbst. Day 3 chip leader Dave D'Alesandro is among the short stacks.
Over the past few days, the eliminations have been just as significant as who survives, and on Day 5, two eliminations truly turned the room upside down. Daniel Negreanu never really had chips over the past few days, but he continued to grind, trying to pick the best spots possible to double up and finally be able to make some moves. Negreanu did double up early in front of a massive crowd at the feature table, but before dinner he lost a key pot and moved all-in from middle position. Actor Kevin Pollak called with A-Q and was ahead of Negreanu's K-Q. The board ran clean and Kid Poker was out of the main event in 160th place. Pollak said Negreanu was his poker idol, and while it was a legendary moment for him, it was also bittersweet. After the dinner break, Pollak also found his way to the exit on a brutal beat in which his Q-Q lost to Kirill Rabtsov's Q-Q (flush). Pollak said he thoroughly enjoyed his main event experience and he earned $52,718 for his 134th-place finish. Rabtsov didn't make it through the day, either, finishing in 98th place.
Shortly after Pollak's exit, Joseph Cheong's appearance at the payout table surprised the majority of the room. Cheong held a dominating stack for most of the past three days, but suffered some tough beats after dinner. Down to his last million and change, Cheong ended up facing Volpe in a race with 10-10 against Volpe's A-K. The king hit the flop and Cheong was out in 116th, which was, incredibly, his worst main event performance over the past three years (he also finished 114th and third).
Other notable Day 5 eliminations included Sorel Mizzi, Alessio Isaia, Brent Hanks, Andrew Lichtenberger, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, Marcel Luske, Dan Shak, John Phan and Frank Calo. Perry Green, the runner-up in the 1981 WSOP main event, finished in 152nd place.
Action resumes Sunday with the blinds at 20,000/40,000 with a 5,000 ante. All remaining players have earned at least $62,021 for their efforts.
Here's a look at the unofficial chip leaders:
1. Kyle Keranen (6.93 million in chips)
2. Robert Salaburu (6.19 million)
3. Taylor Paur (5.82 million)
4. Erik Hellman (4.71 million)
5. Wilfried Haerig (4.50 million)
6. Shahriar Assareh (4.39 million)
7. Charles Coultas (4.01 million)
8. Gaelle Baumann (3.98 million)
9. Fabrizio Gonzalez (3.93 million)
10. Nicco Maag (3.89 million)
Small blinds: Poker Edge guests include Keranen, Smith, Jejelowo, Somerville and Filippi. … The family and friends are definitely in town. Best sign in the room was owned by Ben Yu that said "Scotty Doesn't Know," which aimed to support Scott Abrams. The slogan referenced the movie "Eurotrip." … Richard Pyne advanced to Day 6 with 1.4 million in chips. Pyne satellited into the event for only $550 and wears a shirt with pictures of his kids on it each day. … There are two players remaining who finished in the top 50 in 2011: Sam Holden and Fabio Sousa. … Jarrett Nash's elimination was also highly discussed as he failed to show up and play his stack on Day 5. Nash told CardPlayer that his religious beliefs precluded him from playing Saturday. Nash was eliminated in 171st.