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Jason Senti earns spot at the final table

10/26/2010

You look at a guy like Jason Senti and think about how lucky he is. He's a successful poker pro, supported in that endeavor by Phil Galfond and a powerful circle of friends, supportive parents and a wife, Jessica, who objectively says his November Nine main event final table score couldn't happen to a better person. Look further and you come to understand we make our own luck.

"He's definitely blessed," said Jessica. "He's been lucky, but he works really hard for what he's gotten in life. Honestly, I know I'm his wife, but it couldn't happen to a better person. He's very loving to everyone he knows."

You don't always hear that kind of thing said about the denizens on this cold-blooded game. Of course, that's his wife. Let's try another source:

"He's extremely smart, a good thinker and a really cool guy," said Phil Galfond, who's mentored Senti then worked with him. "He's smart and interesting to talk to, but you can just tell he's generally a good guy … open … friendly… trustworthy. It's pretty obvious just talking to him a little. Even when he's in a bad mood, you can tell he's up front about things. I immediately trusted him."

Sounds like the kind of guy people should want to know. Now, thanks to his deep run in the 2010 World Series of Poker main event, they will.

Senti is the shortest of many short stacks heading into the November final table of the WSOP main event. "I wish I had a bigger stack, but I feel happy and fortunate to still be alive," said the Minneapolis native. "I don't have a ton of regrets. Fifteen big blinds isn't great, but it's not four big blinds. It just means I need luck on my side sooner than later. Whoever wins this tournament will need to get lucky. I don't have much time for that situation to come up. I'm going to get all-in, get called and have to win. I'm ok with that, but I'm not jumping up and down and saying 'This is my tournament!' I think I'll play the short stack as well as anyone I know though."

Senti, who's primarily been making his living playing hold 'em and pot-limit Omaha cash games over the last three years, has taken an up-and-down odyssey through this main event. "On Day 1, probably within the first level, I went down to 11,000. Luckily, the blinds were small enough that I was still relatively deep and I got back up to 33,000. Day 2, I was at a table with Jason Sommerville sitting to my left. He played really well, had a decent stack right away and I was sitting with 30 big blinds most of the day and unable to do much, so I took it easy. At the end of the day I managed to climb a little north of 100,000. Day 3, I got over 200,000 at one point but dropped back to where I was at the start of the day."

That's when Senti's momentum started to build.

"Day 4 I had a great day," he said. "I doubled up early and finished the day over half a million without having to getting it in. Everyone was rolling over for me."

After tough Days 5 and 6, Senti was 69th of 78 players heading into Day 7. Once there, he fought to stay alive until, down to some seven big blinds, he went on a life-altering run.

"I doubled up with A-5 versus 7-7, and then I picked up K-K two hands later and got it in versus J-J. Then I spiked a straight on the river the next hand. Then picked up A-J and flopped top two pair the hand after that. I worked [my stack] up to 13 million and ended the day fourth in chips."

On Day 8, Senti moved his stack up to 20 million before things started to fall apart. He doubled up two short stacks and got chipped away at until he was down to 10,000,000. He ended the lengthy final table bubble with 7.6 million in chips.

"I've always heard about this about the main event," Senti reflected. "This was my second main. I'd always heard it was a grind and about the endurance test, but I shook all that off. I was like, 'come on, this is live poker, it's 20 decisions an hour tops!' I was wrong. It was a pain. I'm not a good sleeper and didn't sleep very well in my cold hotel room, so when it got to Day 5-6, it would take a few hours to wind down and by the end I hadn't slept much for a week straight. By Day 8 I was destroyed. Happy, but destroyed. It made everything feel more surreal because I wasn't firing on all cylinders at the time."

There with Senti the whole way was his mentor Galfond, making his own deep run in the main event.

"I got to know Phil was through BlueFire Poker," Senti recalled. "He was starting a new training site and we were mutual acquaintances. I made my first video, playing and talking about it and I got a call a few days later and it was Phil asking me to come on. I was a bit of a fan boy at the time so I knew I couldn't pass on the opportunity, so I signed on. After the launch, we came to an agreement where he'd be my coach. I went out to visit him in New York and through that we've just become friends. Now I consider him more a friend than a coach. He asks me about hands too, which is nice, since it's Phil Galfond. When a player like that seeks out your advice, it bolsters your confidence."

"I started coaching Jason in a six-month arrangement where I took a small piece of his profits in exchange for a few hours a week," Galfond recalled. "Over that time, we stopped tracking time and it became more of a friendship as it progressed. Since those six months, it's just become a regular poker friendship. We talk tactics and hang out. He's become one of my better poker friends."

Galfond and Senti have discussed the final table, but both characterize Galfond's participation more as 'friendly advice' than 'coaching'. Asked to assess his friend's chances, Galfond is both complimentary and realistic.

"I mean, as much as I would bet he's the most talented player, his chances aren't that great," said Galfond. "He needs to chip up a few times and get lucky on some flips or suck out. As much as he can do everything he can to play well, he'll need to get lucky to be [among the] top three stacks and have a shot of winning it. His chances are better than most people's would be in that spot, but still not great."

Of course, Senti's made his own luck before, throughout the course of his life. Through hard work, through the respect he shows others, through dedication to his craft, he's continued to make his luck. Really, if he were to do that one more time come November, would it be that surprising?

Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @GaryWise1.