Esfandiari leads One Drop final table
Four professionals and four businessmen remain in contention
Imagine for a moment you're playing in a poker tournament and you've outlasted a majority of the best players in the world. You're one of eight players remaining and you're ready to go to the final table. That's exciting in itself, right?
Now, put the final table live on ESPN.
Now, make the first prize $18.3 million.
At 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2/ESPN3 and then at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, the final table of The Big One For One Drop will play out. Four professionals and four amateurs have survived from a field of 48 who put up $1,000,000 apiece. Now, they will play for the money, a $350,000 platinum WSOP bracelet, pride and a charity in One Drop that aims to provide clean water to every child in the world. It's rare to find this combination of adrenaline and human endeavor.
Mike Sexton is a phenomenal ambassador for the game of poker, which is why his elimination on the final table bubble was a difficult one. As much as Mike is loved, though, something had to give, and even with his elimination, the first $1,000,000 final table in poker history is a phenomenal mix of power names and power players in both the poker and business worlds. Two world champions, four represented nations and one very special owner of Cirque du Soleil are the highlights, at least until the cards are dealt.
Here's your final eight:
Antonio Esfandiari (39.9 million in chips) -- One of poker's most recognizable stars, Esfandiari came to fame with World Poker Tour success that included run-ins with Phil Hellmuth. They're ready to share a final table again, but after all these years, Esfandiari is a different man. Now 33 years old, it's a more mature Esfandiari who has entered this final table as one of the favorites, and he brings with him the chip lead to go along with almost $5 million in tournament winnings and massive cash game experience that's prepared him for the stakes he's about to play for.
"What does this final table mean?" he asked ironically. "It means a higher net worth and poker happiness, all around. I mean, it's the biggest tournament of all time, so making the final table is huge!"Sam Trickett (37.0 million in chips) -- Poll the top players for names of the best young players in the game and Trickett's would have come up regardless of his performance here. That said, entering the final table as one of the chip leaders should serve to heighten the public's familiarity with the 25-year-old Englishman. Trickett's live tournament earnings exceed $6.3 million despite cash games being recognized as his bread and butter.
Given his age, his experience and the way he accumulated chips throughout Day 2, it isn't surprising that the final table was never the goal. "I'm just looking to keep doing what I'm doing, keep building my chips and running well," said the prohibitive final table favorite. "I don't think there's much prestige in making the final table. Winning the whole thing is a lot more prestigious, but I'm playing for the money."Guy Laliberte (21.7 million in chips) -- Could there be any more fitting member of this final table? One Drop is Laliberte's charity, The Big One his brainchild. He brought in the businessmen, he brought in the pros and while most of them have fallen, he has absolutely thrived.
Laliberte has already won this tournament. He's raised the awareness he'd hoped to for his charity and his event has been a phenomenal success. Making the final table is his cherry on top, but he's not content with having just made it this far.
"Listen, every day I set my goals," Laliberte said. "Today was to make the final table. I will see. There's a lot of competition around the table, so I'm just trying to keep my focus, play my game and feel good. We'll see what [Tuesday] brings."
There couldn't be a more suitable winner.Brian Rast (11.3 million in chips) -- The friendship between Rast and Esfandiari is no secret and is one of the more compelling storylines of this final table. When Brian first made his way to Vegas, Esfandiari acted as a mentor. Like Antonio, though, Rast has matured, and his game has done the same. The evidence can be found in his winning two WSOP bracelets a year ago, including one in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship.
Rast is ready for this final table, but its meaning hasn't escaped him. He knows you'll be watching on Tuesday. "This is the one tournament this summer I came in wanting to do well in," he said. "I feel like I've really played my A-game all tournament and luckily, I've run good. It means a lot. It's a million dollar tournament! It's going to be live on ESPN! The entire world who cares about poker is going to be watching! Where else would I rather be than playing on that green felt?"
Phil Hellmuth (10.9 million in chips) -- After capturing his 12th WSOP bracelet earlier this Series, Hellmuth's sights are now on No. 13.
"What's going through my mind? Listen, I fought hard today, first of all," said the WSOP's all-time bracelet leader. "It was hard. I was down to 2 million. I lost an incredible series of hands I'm just so proud of myself. It's a good thing the break came. I took an hour nap, I came back and I was dancing! Even though I only had 4 million! Somehow, I stuck in there.
"It's a huge stage tomorrow, live on ESPN. I'm just going to come in and I'm ready. I can handle it. I'm not afraid to win $18,500,000 and I'm not afraid to win this!"
Phil being Phil.
David Einhorn (8.3 million in chips) -- As a hedge fund manager by trade, Einhorn is accustomed to making instantaneous decisions for millions of dollars. He'll have a chance to do that Tuesday in an event that's already surpassed his 16th-place finish in the 2006 main event as the biggest cash of his career. That's only Einhorn's way of keeping score, though; the money matters, but not in the way you think.
Einhorn is the last player remaining who has committed all of his winnings to charity. As easy as Laliberte is to cheer for at this final table, an Einhorn win would be a tremendous story and a tremendous boon to both the poker world and the causes he's passionate about.
Richard Yong (7.4 million in chips) -- For the past two years, the poker world has wondered about the famous "Asian businessmen" around whom the massive cash games in Macau are built. Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, John Juanda, Johnny Chan the list of players who have flocked to those tables goes on, but it's becoming apparent here that Yong has learned his lessons.
Yong's final table appearance is made all the more impressive by the lack of experience he brought in to this tournament. "It is an amazing experience making the final table because I am a quite new player, only of three years," Yong said. "I've only played tournaments in Australia twice and once in Manila. I'm not an experienced player, so I hope the final table will give me more experience. It's for fun and for pride, too."
Bobby Baldwin (7.1 million in chips) -- If any player coming in best represented both the professional and businessman segments of this tournament, it was Baldwin. The 1978 WSOP main event champion moved on from professional poker when the highest positions in some of Vegas' biggest corporations were made available to him, but that hasn't stopped him from dipping a regular toe in the biggest cash games in the world.
It's been 26 years since Baldwin finished sixth in an A-5 draw with jokers event at the 1986 WSOP, a gap of 26 years between final tables. It's a gap that's left "The Owl" admitting that his heart is beating a little faster. "[The final table] is where the excitement is," he said. "Getting to the final table, that's what you want. I'm going to rest tonight and get ready to win tomorrow."
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