The unthinkable is quickly becoming a little more realistic. Mark Newhouse, the ninth-place finisher in 2013, leads the final 79 players after Day 5 of the World Series of Poker main event and looks to become the first November Niner to make it back to the final table. Players have come close before, including Steve Gee and his 24th-place finish a year ago, but Gee never had the chips. Newhouse, who demonstrated incredible patience on the final day last year, has a huge stack and is looking to continue to build it on Day 6.
"I'm trying not to think about it," said Newhouse of his chance to go back-to-back. "Last year I was very excited. This year I feel super relaxed and I'm just playing poker and having fun. I'm trying not to think about anything that will make me feel pressured or anything. Just doing the best I can."
His play was relatively straightforward on the day: find the right spots and get enough chips to punish everyone else.
"I was lucky enough to win some big pots early on and I just got a monster chip lead to the point where I could just raise every hand and nobody could do anything about it," said Newhouse.
The day began with Matthew Hauten in the lead, but the Chicago native couldn't hold the top spot through the first level, and needed a double-up on the last hand of the day to make it through. Bruno Positano then emerged after a shocking pair of hands that eliminated one-time big stack Zach Jiganti, but couldn't keep the chips, either. Griffin Benger led too, but he struggled at the feature table and busted with jacks versus queens early in Level 25. Kyle Keranen also had a shot of becoming the chip leader after Day 5 for the second time in three years, but he fell just short and finished second. Keranen received some redemption when he eliminated Curtis Rystadt, a player who had badgered him all day. The two shared verbal blows and it should make for some interesting television this fall.
Scott "urnotindanger2" Palmer finished the day third in chips and was a big beneficiary of a few ill-timed bluffs by Mikiyo Aoki. The start of the day looked promising for Aoki, the runner-up in the 2014 WSOP Ladies Championship, but a 3 million chip stack dwindled after a few called or raised river bluffs, and she ultimately busted out in 83rd place. Shortly before her elimination, Marcia Kunitz was knocked out in 91st and that left Maria Ho to become the last woman standing for the second time in her career. Ho finished 38th in 2008 and will began Day 6 as the short stack.
"It's pretty cool," Ho said about being the final woman in the field. "I think that anything to help bring women into the game is awesome, so having that distinction gives women something to strive for, so that can watch and relate to the fact that women can really do well in the main event, but I've always said I have my eyes on a much, much bigger prize and that's not last woman standing."
A number of players remaining in the field have been past Day 5 before. Two players from the 2013 WSOP main event, Vitaly Lunkin and Newhouse, made it to Day 6 for the second consecutive year. Bryan Devonshire reached this point in 2011 and entered the day with a prime seat at the feature table. With a smile on his face, Devonshire played a relaxed game that made a few people smile along the way. It's his incredible attitude that makes him a player to watch every time he's at the felt, and the poker world is a place where he's spent much less time over the past few years. These days he's typically found guiding whitewater boats, living an outdoor life he really enjoys.
"I'm just very relaxed," Devonshire said about this experience. "[In 2011] it was my first time. Money meant a lot more and it was all new and fun and exciting with lights and cameras and all of that sort of stuff. Now, it's like, 'Eh, I've been here.' [Now] I'm having a great time, That's part of why it's extra fun. I get to focus on having fun and loosening the table up and creating smiles instead of creating spots."
Still, Devonshire understands that the game itself has changed.
"The game isn't what it used to be," said Devonshire. "It's not as profitable as it used to be, so my incentive to spend all seven weeks out here is greatly diminished."
Devonshire finished the night 16th with 3.83 million in chips.
Some late-night eliminations took away from the star power of this field. Mukul Pahuja was on the wrong end of a cooler and put his final chips in with A-6 on an A-Q-6 flop. Up against A-Q, the reigning World Poker Tour Player of the Year couldn't hit a miracle and was eliminated in 101st. Bracelet winners Simon Charette, Jon Aguiar and Vladimir Shchemelev also barely missed advancing.
Busto 105th, I left my heart in Vegas. Back to Boston and real life again.
— Jonathan Aguiar (@JonAguiar) July 13, 2014
During the Day 4 recap, I offered some names of those who have run this deep before. Many of those players survived the day and that success is becoming a theme of this tournament. Those who have been there before understand what it takes to go through this grind. Just ask Newhouse, Lunkin Devonshire, Ho, Leif Force, Keranen, Ryan Fair and Anh Van Nguyen.
When play resumes Sunday at noon PT, the blinds will be 20,000/40,000 with a 5,000 ante. Here are the Day 5 chip leaders:
1. Mark Newhouse (7.40 million)
2. Kyle Keranen (6.67 million)
3. Scott Palmer (6.59 million)
4. Bruno Politano (5.47 million)
5. Andoni Larrabe (5.47 million)
6. Dan Smith (5.3 million)
7. Dan Sindelar (5.24 million)
8. Tony Ruberto (5.23 million)
9. Iaron Lightbourne (4.97 million)
10. Leif Force (4.75 million)
Small blinds: David Tuthill had one incredible day, filled with six successful all-ins. He's still short, but at this point, must feel like he's freerolling. Force lives in the mountains of North Carolina during the rest of the year. He doesn't like Vegas and can't wait to get home. Obviously he wants to best his 11th-place finish first. The minimum payout for all remaining players is $85,812. The final few hands of the night featured a frenzy of all-ins. Eddy Sabat doubled up and eliminated Aoki during a three-way all-in. Play is expected to continue until 27 remain on Sunday, but to get further within the tournament structure, it wouldn't be that surprising if they played past that point. Friends and family have started to arrive in town, and at this point, big hands are worth celebrating. Expect lots of excitement on the rail from here on out.