Editor's note: Both Jeff Madsen and Brandon Cantu joined Andrew Feldman on the Poker Edge podcast after Day 4.
Brandon Cantu leads a great life. The Vancouver, Wash., native now living in Las Vegas is young, successful and wealthy. He won his first WSOP bracelet in 2006, won the WPT's Bay 101 Shooting Star earlier this year and now he's among the chip leaders heading into Day 5 of the WSOP main event.
One would think all that would be enough to keep the 27-year-old Cantu satisfied, but life is not without its problems.
"I wish I could live anywhere else than where I do now," he lamented after a successful Day 4. "It's not good, because Jeff lives next door."
The "Jeff" in question, sitting right next to him as Cantu makes his remarks, is Jeff Madsen.
Madsen tasted his first poker success on a world stage at that same 2006 WSOP in which Cantu took his title. He did Cantu one better, with two bracelet victories and two other final tables contributing to his Player of the Year title. The two hit it off immediately and have been close ever since, even going so far as to purchase houses next to one another. Like Cantu, Madsen is one of the 189 players who survived the cut and are heading into Day 5 of the main event.
"Jeff's scum," said Cantu, with a not-so-subtle grin on his face. "I would rather be here without Jeff. I'd rather have more glory in this with him looking up to me. It actually upsets me that he's still in. It would actually be really embarrassing if Jeff made it further than I did. I'd like to save myself that embarrassment."
You could feel the sarcasm.
"We're having a lot of fun with life," Madsen said, only half-serious. "I mean, I could have a better next-door neighbor. They could be female and like skinny dipping, be rich and like throwing money out the window. Brandon's a good neighbor, though. He's not entirely annoying."
"He doesn't knock before he comes in, just barges into the house," Cantu fired back.
"That's true," Madsen countered. "I used to not knock, but now I don't come visit anymore. I think he misses me and he's lashing out, to be honest."
The rapport is funny and natural. You can see why these two get along so well, their mutual rides to success playing off of one another, their relationship and dialogue doing their part to keep egos in check. In this year's main event, their friendship is providing incentive. "It adds some meaning," said Madsen of their mutual survival.
"When your friends are doing well, it motivates you to make it to the end," noted close friend Tiffany Michelle, who also made it through to Day 5. "Of course, doing this with them adds to the experience.
"On the break, you have something to do, you run over to the table to see how people are doing. It just makes it that much more exciting to be able to talk to them. You're more invested than you would be in just your own tournament."
Michele led all women at the end of Day 4 with $909,000. Madsen is sitting at $690,300, while Cantu has $1,981,000, good for fourth place on the leaderboard. And Cantu says he's just getting started.
"I'm feeling really good," Cantu said. "I was just starting to get into a rhythm at the table I'd just been moved to and we broke early. It kind of sucks because I was starting to get hot. Winning Bay 101 made me a lot more confident. I just feel like I've been through the motions of winning a grind tournament. Bay 101 wasn't nearly as much of a grind as this one, but at least I feel prepared."
"He's a terrible donkey," Madsen said of Cantu. "He three-bets 3-7 preflop, then gets there and then gets on the leaderboard. He's definitely a luck sack. He combines his luck-sack capabilities with skill, I guess. He seems like a donk, but he knows what he's doing."
That last part is a hard admission, but both of these players have the talent to have made it to this point and both respect each other's ability.
"He's probably one of the craziest players left in the tournament," Madsen finally admitted, with some admiration. "I mean, he doesn't fold a hand. He reraises and puts people to the test a lot. It usually works out for him, but it's a very volatile style, so his stack will go up and down a lot. He's extremely dangerous as a big stack. If he has you outchipped at any point, he'll put you to the test for your tournament life."
Cantu will face a new challenge on Day 5 because his draw will put him at the same table as Phil Hellmuth.
"Obviously, Phil's a great player," Cantu said. "I'm just waiting for the rant of 'Oh, this inexperienced kid thinks because he won a tournament a few months ago that he knows what he's doing. He's so far out of his league. He's lucky to even be at the table!'"
It's a pretty good impersonation.
Even with what may be the biggest three days of their lives lying in front of them, Cantu and Madsen are doing what you're supposed to on the ride of your life: have as much fun as is humanly possible. Upon the suggestion that a last-longer bet might be in order despite the difference in their stack sizes, Madsen is eager.
"I would do a last-longer for houses because his house is a little nicer," he said. "He has a pool. It's an obvious bet for me, even though he has more chips. If one of us wins, we may upgrade houses, or maybe the winner will leave and the loser will keep the two houses and have a double guesthouse."
It's the kind of accommodation allowed by the sensation of having the whole world at your doorstep. The kind you can make when you have friends to back you up. Life is good at the top.
Gary Wise will cover the WSOP in its entirety for ESPN.com and in his blog at wisehandpoker.net.