LAS VEGAS -- Englishman John Hesp has driven the narrative for the past several days in the 2017 World Series of Poker main event, as he accumulated both a massive chip stack and an enthusiastic following as one of the final nine players fighting for $8.15 million and poker's world championship.
It was only appropriate, then, that Hesp would be the driving force behind one of the most stunning hands of poker in recent memory on the first day of the final table -- a 156 million chip pot against Scott Blumstein that took the popular Hesp from first place to the brink of elimination.
Blumstein took such a commanding lead with that pot -- he ended the night with 178.3 million, more than half the chips in play -- that the original plan to play down to six players was scrapped out of fear that the gap between Blumstein and the rest of the field could lead to too quick an ending over the next two days.
"It's just overwhelming what's happening," said Blumstein of the hand. "I didn't expect tonight to go exactly like this, but I'm thrilled. That hand versus John is pretty brutal for him, he had two-pair on the driest board ever, and I'm just lucky enough to have top set."
Hesp's gregarious nature had the effect of making the normally tense atmosphere of the WSOP main event final table, with millions of dollars and poker's world championship on the line, a far lighter affair. He did ultimately make it through the day with 22.475 million, as did Benjamin Pollak (77.525 million), Bryan Piccioli (35.75 million), Dan Ott (16.35 million) and Antoine Saout (14.55 million), but the air was largely sucked out of the room after that clash.
"I was really looking forward to tonight, because John made it pretty clear that he was here to have a good time," said Blumstein. "Then that hand, that clash happened, and he lost a big chunk of his stack after that. I can obviously understand if it's not going to be fun and game afterwards. I hope he gets some sleep, comes back tomorrow -- he's still in -- and hopefully we'll have some more fun tomorrow."
From the very first hand of the night, when Hesp pulled off a big bluff on Saout and then showed the table, drawing a thunderous reaction from the other players and the crowd alike, Hesp had most of the table in the palm of his hand for the first two hours of play.
The moment the players came back from break, however, everything began spiraling down for the far-and-away chip leader. Ott took a small chunk by flopping three-of-a-kind and letting Hesp bluff a couple times, and then Pollak picked off a 28 million pot of his own by making a straight with pocket eights.
But it was a clash between the two chip leaders -- the kind of hand that has been theorized about endlessly but never before happened -- saw Hesp tumble from the top to a terribly precarious position among the short stacks. With blinds at 500,000/1 million, Blumstein was first to act and raised to 2.2 million, and Hesp called in the big blind. Both checked an Ac-7d-5h flop, but then, in the blink of an eye, a pot worth over 156 million -- over 43 percent of the total chips in play -- develop out of thin air.
Hesp checked, Blumstein bet 3 million, Hesp raised to 7 million and Blumstein reraised to 17 million. Hesp jumped out of his seat, shoved all in for about 75 million effectively and, with Ad-As, Blumstein called all-in with the absolute worst nightmare for Hesp and his Ah-Th. Blumstein had it locked up without a sweat, shooting up to 156 million, while Hesp was left with just over 24 million.
The chaos of one of the biggest pots in WSOP main event history was the peak of a lengthy stretch between seven-handed and eight-handed play. Ben Lamb, who was at his second career WSOP main event final table, went out on just the fourth hand of the final table at the hands of Jack Sinclair.
It took another 60 hands, but Sinclair would be the only player to be eliminated on the day. After Blumstein took a big pot off of Ott, leaving four players with less than 20 big blinds, play wrapped up at approximately 11 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).
Play will resume at 5:30 p.m. PT Friday on ESPN and WatchESPN, with a plan of going from seven players down to three. Blinds will be 600,000/1.2 million with a 200,000 ante.
2017 WSOP main event final table -- End of Day 1 chip counts:
Scott Blumstein -- 178.3 million
Benjamin Pollak -- 77.525 million
Bryan Piccioli -- 35.75 million
John Hesp -- 22.475 million
Dan Ott -- 16.35 million
Damian Slas -- 15.625 million
Antoine Saout -- 14.55 million
Jack Sinclair -- $1.2 million (Out in eighth place)
Ben Lamb -- $1 million (Out in ninth place)