The 2017 World Series of Poker main event final table has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of its kind in quite some time. Two former November Niners in Ben Lamb and Antoine Saout are back for a second shot at poker's world title. The chip leaders are an East Coast-hardened WSOP main event first-timer in Scott Blumstein and a boisterous, loudly dressed amateur from the U.K., John Hesp, having the time of his life in a tournament with a buy-in 1,000 times his typical stakes.
There are two WSOP gold bracelet winners, more than $17.9 million in combined tournament earnings and a nice cross section of the poker world, with four Americans, two Brits, two Frenchmen and an Argentine in the mix. But the most interesting tale of all might be that of Bryan Piccioli.
After taking the chip lead into Day 5 of the 2016 WSOP main event only to slip up and finish in 84th, Piccioli was haunted by the way he went out for a year. Family tragedies pulled Piccioli away from poker, but given another chance, he fought his way through to Day 7 this time around. He appeared set to hit the rail in 11th place on Monday when his pocket eights got outflopped by ace-four, but a miracle river eight saved his tournament and pushed him on to the final 10.
Finally, Piccioli played a coinflip against his good friend Michael Ruane for almost all of their combined chips. Ruane, who was looking to make back-to-back main event final tables, actually took Piccioli's shoes off his feet on Day 6 of the main event last year after Ruane left his in an Uber on his way home.
Piccioli won the hand, Ruane lost the last of his chips to Damian Salas, and the final table was set.
"I almost don't even want to talk about it," Piccioli said of the hand they played. "I hope he still loves me, let's just say that. I didn't want to be there in that spot against one of my good friends, but as Darryll Fish said after the hand when I came over ... [he] looked at me and just said, 'The game is the game.'"
That pot helped push Piccioli to fourth, but he and six others are looking way up at top stacks Blumstein and Hesp, who each have well over twice as much as anybody from third place down. Blumstein's a regular on the East Coast tournament circuit and New Jersey's online tables, and he credits the competition in the region for sharpening his skills ahead of this run.
"I don't do much traveling, but I don't really think it's a debate," Blumstein said. "I think the Northeast is by far the toughest place to play poker. There are just too many good players, and if you want to make it in poker, you have to work hard to compete with them."
Blumstein's previous largest cash came in the Borgata $550 Deepstack event in 2016 where he earned $199,854. This was his first career WSOP cash.
Hesp quickly became a favorite among many viewers for his unique style, both in clothing and how he plays. A smile rarely left his face as he fulfilled a longtime dream just by coming out to play this tournament, and with his friends and family at home in the U.K., his entire rail was an Uber driver he befriended who picked him up and took him to the tournament and a group of fans that instantly connected with Hesp as he did the seemingly impossible.
His charisma bleeds through in everything he does, and Hesp quickly became one of the most interviewed players in the field over the past few days of the tournament.
"I just never expected this sort of media interest in me," Hesp said. "I think it is me that they're interested in -- I mean, the jacket might be part of it. I might be beginning to understand a little bit of the things that international superstars have to deal with. The paparazzi chasing them down the street."
"It feels amazing -- it's been a little too long to be déjà vu," Lamb said. "I'm very excited and happy to be back."
French pro Benjamin Pollak, who has almost $3 million in career tournament earnings, has already made up for a 27th-place finish in the 2013 WSOP main event in locking up the biggest result of his career. Previously unknown Dan Ott, who has a twin brother who also played this year's main event, is a 25-year-old who predominantly plays online.
Damian Salas is the first Argentine to make the WSOP main event final table, while Jack Sinclair, who spent much of the day battling Hesp for the chip lead, rounds out the U.K. contingent.
The Day 7 casualties included Marcel Luske, who added a 23rd-place finish to his previous 14th- and 10th-place results in this tournament, Jake Bazeley (25th) and WSOP gold bracelet winners Richard Gryko (18th) and Christian Pham (19th). For Pham, who entered Day 7 with the chip lead, Monday's action went sideways in a hurry, as he fell out of the tournament before the first redraw of the day.
Players will have two days off to rest and recover, and the action resumes Thursday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. PT. The ESPN2 broadcast will begin at 6 p.m. and continue until six players remain. The final table will play from six players down to three on Friday, with coverage beginning on ESPN at 6 p.m. PT, and the final three will play down to a winner on Saturday at the same time.
Here's what they're playing for:
A view from Sunday
Alexandre Reard, in the moments after he was eliminated from the WSOP main event in 16th place. Reard ran Ac-Qs into Ben Lamb's Ad-Kd and couldn't catch up, and collected $340,000 for his efforts.
2017 WSOP main event -- final table chip counts
1. Scott Blumstein (Morristown, N.J.): 97.25 million
2. John Hesp (Bridlington, England): 85.7 million
3. Benjamin Pollak (Paris): 35.175 million
4. Bryan Piccioli (Allegany, N.Y.): 33.8 million
5. Dan Ott (Altoona, Pa.): 26.475 million
6. Damian Salas (Buenos Aires, Argentina): 22.175 million
7. Antoine Saout (Paris): 21.75 million
8. Jack Sinclair (London): 20.2 million
9. Ben Lamb (Las Vegas): 18.05 million