Editor's note: This column was posted at the start of Day 5. For current information, head to the poker blog
Welcome to the newer, faster World Series of Poker main event. As of Saturday morning, it's been seven days since this tournament started. A year ago that would have meant the end of Day 2, but this time around, with no Day 1D and no day off, Day 4 is already in the books. Gone too is the money bubble, which came and went in one hand (for the first time in who knows how long), which was followed by a remarkable cascade of eliminations that left us with just 282 players by day's end.
Nearly 300 is still a plethora, but at less than 5 percent of the field, we're starting to see vague images of what the final table might look like. Granted, no one is close to a shoe-in at this point, but we can at least isolate those names that might inspire some sort of focus in the wait between the end of this segment of the tournament and its conclusion in October.
Dissecting the field, we've extracted a few names that you'll want to keep an eye on for assorted reasons beyond their mere survival. Be it name recognition, past major victories or what have you, these folks have established themselves to the poker world long before making a money run in the 2012 WSOP main event. There are no assurances that one of them will emerge our champion, but if you can find a bet that says at least one of them will be a focal point heading to the final table, you'd do well to take it while the offer is on the table.
You may not know Paul Volpe's (2.75 million in chips) name, but you'll respect his résumé. To the live poker follower's eye, Volpe came out of nowhere last year with six cashes in the WSOP, also marking the first time he'd made so much as a five-figure score. Underneath that sheep's veneer, though, is one of the biggest, baddest wolves in the online tournament world. The New Jersey native has over $3.8 million in online tournament winnings. While there's no pressure like main event pressure, it's probably safe to say Volpe is feeling a little more comfortable than your average unknown live tournament player.
The stacks make the player, but if all chips were equal, amongst those who are at or above the 701,915 average stack heading into Day 5, these are the folks who would elicit the biggest groans if you discovered they were at your table:
Vanessa Selbst (1.67 million in chips): There are few more daunting images in the poker world than Selbst sitting behind a massive stack. She's both the last and second-to-last woman to win a WSOP bracelet, but that doesn't begin to encapsulate her wrecking-ball run over the last few years. Her career live tournament earnings exceed $5.3 million, with over $4 million since the start of 2010. For the opposition, it probably doesn't help that she's coming in on a heater, with her win in Event 52 this year giving her four cashes and two final tables for the series.
"The Original" David Baker (1.3 million in chips): Speaking of hot hands, no one is loving poker more right now than Baker. After a career of near-misses, his six 2012 WSOP cashes have been highlighted by his first WSOP bracelet (in Event 37) and four final tables. Baker had five cashes a year ago and seven the year before that, the biggest of which was a 17th-place finish in the main event, so he's got the skill and the experience to thrive in this environment.
Andrew "luckychewy" Lichtenberger (1.15 million in chips): Lichtenberger started out as a member of the online generation, grinding from home to the tune of $1.6 million in online tournament earnings, but he's more than earned his live stripes. He has $2.5 million in live earnings, including three final tables and seven cashes previous to the main event this year. He also has experience here in the main event, finishing 18th in 2008.
John Phan (1.08 million in chips): 2008 seems like a long time ago now, but that was the year of John Phan. The California live pro, who'd previously enjoyed success on the World Poker Tour, won his first and second bracelets that year, and followed those up with a $1,091,428 victory at the Legends of Poker later that year. Phan has slowed his torrid tournament play pace since then, preferring the luxury of cash games.
Isaac Baron (1.03 million in chips): Long considered one of the elite tournament players in the world, Baron is that rare breed of poker player who has found success both on the felt and in the online arena, earning over $2.4 million in each venue. For all of his accomplishments, he's never won a bracelet.
They've been here before
We may not be playing the final table in November, but the separation of the main event body from the final table head is a unique play environment, and these are the only guys left who have experience with those particular pressures:
Eric Buchman (2.07 million): With respect for Volpe, Selbst, etc., Buchman may be the No. 1 favorite to make this final table heading into Day 5. His fourth-place finish in 2009 makes this all status quo to him and he's proved beyond a shadow of doubt in the time since that he's legit. He won his first bracelet in 2010, scored second- and third-place finishes at the 2011 WSOP and is one of the top five stacks heading into Day 5. He won't be phased by any of this, and that's as valuable an asset as you'll find in this kind of war of attrition (OK, other than chips, but he's got those too).
Joe Cheong (1.44 million): Another scary, scary name. Cheong is best-remembered for the six-bet he made against Jonathan Duhamel to land himself in third place in the 2010 main event, but he dominated that table leading up to that point. Despite winning over $4 million in that tournament, Cheong is still going strong, with multiple quarter-million-dollar scores since, including a second-place finish in Event 6 this year. This is the third year in a row Cheong has finished in the top 300 in the main event. Both Cheong and Buchman could easily be listed in "The Monsters" as well.
Sam Holden (358,000): The affable Brit is getting low on chips but warrants mention here as the lone surviving member of last year's November Nine. His chip count fluctuated dramatically on Day 4, but he knows about survival and that will get him far in the main event.
A few guys who will probably get a little TV time for their antics as much as their play
Gavin Smith (831,000): Smith has won over $5.8 million in a live tournament career that includes a bracelet win in 2010.
Marcel Luske (603,000): The Dutchman became poker-famous with his deep run in the 2004 WSOP main event.
Kevin Pollak (530,000): A co-star of "A Few Good Men," "Casino," "The Usual Suspects" and a host of other films. The only player on this list for whom I used IMDB.com as a reference. Definitely does a better Christopher Walken impression than you do.
You may not know them, but
Kyle Bowker (2.08 million in chips): Made his mark with a $469,469 score for third place at the 2010 EPT London main event. This is Bowker's sixth cash at this WSOP and he has over $1.7 million in online tournament winnings.
Leo Wolpert (1.83 million in chips): Won the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship at the 2009 WSOP.
Erik Cajelais (1.60 million in chips): The massive Canadian doesn't play in smaller-stakes tournaments but has managed over $2.7 million in career live tournament earnings. This is his fourth cash this year, including a second-place finish in Event 35. He's looking to become the fourth player to win a bracelet at the WSOP and WSOP Europe.
Timothy Adams (1.47 million in chips): His confidence is running on high, with a bracelet in Event 28, another final table and four cashes already at this WSOP. The Canadian has $1.12 mil in online earnings.
Francois Saffieddine (1,268,000): The Frenchman won a hold 'em bracelet in 2007.
Dung Nguyen (1,100,000): He won $607,200 and the bracelet in Event 38 this year.
Jason Somerville (640,000): The young pro won his first bracelet in no-limit hold 'em a year ago and finished third in the $25,000 entry mega-satellite to The Big One for One Drop earlier this Series.
Matt Marafioti (623,000): Still looking for his one massive breakthrough score, Marafioti has seven six-figure cashes and six other $50,000-plus cashes in the last five years.
Down, but not out
Dan Shak (419,000): He may have been listed as a businessman in The Big One For One Drop, but he's a full-time tournament player these days.
Sorel Mizzi (398,000): The controversial young pro could become a real factor in this tournament with an early Day 5 double up.
Daniel Negreanu (302,000): Nothing could be better for final table promotion purposes than a rebound from a tough Day 4 for Kid Poker.
John Juanda (194,000): A consistent presence in ESPN's the Nuts, with eight figures in career tournament earnings.
Freddy Deeb (117,000): Over $7 million in career earnings, with two bracelets.