Commentary

WSOPE approaches final table

Updated: February 12, 2010, 11:06 AM ET
By Dan Gati | Special to ESPN.com

When it comes to recent World Series of Poker main events, a few truths have been self-evident:

(1) You will know when Phil Hellmuth is entering, and you will know when he is leaving,
(2) Daniel Negreanu will treat viewers and tablemates to an inner monologue gone outer, and most of the time, he'll be correct and he'll entertain, and
(3) The World Series of Poker Europe main event will have some of the highest-level poker on the tour

Up until this point, it's been a main event to remember. Big names have busted out (Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein, Chris Ferguson), big names remain (Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, John Juanda), a big bluff went terribly wrong (see: Ian Munns and Viktor Blum) and a big entrance led to a big exit (Phil Hellmuth, courtesy of Antonio Esfandiari).

On Day 3, set to air on Sunday night at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2, the field plays down from 94 players to 36. Thirty-six is a key number in this year's event because at that point, all remaining players will be in the money. The player who finishes 37th is the proverbial "bubble boy". He'll be on the cusp of making the money, but he'll go home with absolutely nothing.

At this stage of the tournament, the chip leaders all come from Europe and there are some surprising names at the top. The top two on the leaderboard are amateur Ian Munns and local pro Praz Bansi. They'll start the day at the featured table, improbably, sitting side by side. David Docherty is also in the top five, riding a hot streak that could propel the 22-year old to the final table.

Bansi, a key figure in the local "Hit Squad," whose members include the talented James Akenhead, is poised to make a deep run in London, despite the impressive field.

"I think this is the toughest tournament in the world," Bansi said. "There are very few players that don't have a chance to win this tournament, which is a really rare thing to say about a poker tournament because generally there's always going to be some dead money."

Bansi is one of the few players to cash, and when he does he'll be joined by 35 other players who will leave with at least a small profit. With the bubble a thing of the past, the 36 remaining players turn their collective focus to making the final table. Only nine players will be able to do that, and with such a stacked field, it won't be easy.

[+] EnlargeJason Mercier
Courtesy of IMPDI 2009Jason Mercier shined during Day 4 of the WSOP Europe main event.

Among the emerging stories in this event are James Akenhead and Antoine Saout, two members of poker's prestigious "2009 November Nine," who are back in the hunt again. Both made it to the money in London and have their sights set on a repeat final table. Last year, Ivan Demidov made both final tables. This year, Akenhead and Saout threaten to do it again.

The third show of the weekend (Monday, 1 a.m. ET on ESPN2) will focus on Day 4 where 18 players have been eliminated already, and just nine more need to go before the elusive final table is set.

"Kid Poker", Daniel Negreanu, overcame a rough start to make Day 4, but will he continue his impressive comeback? After reaching the final table in 2008, does Negreanu have it in him to not only make the final table in 2009, but win his fifth bracelet as well?

Jason Mercier, who had a terrific Day 1, but an average Day 2 and 3, was up to his old tricks again on Day 4. Mercier shined in front of the camera and it seemed like every hand featured him making a move or sending someone to the rail. Mercier probably wished he was playing a bounty tournament on Day 4. It was his day and was truly fun to watch.

Of the remaining 18, there is one very notable amateur in the field -- Teddy Sheringham. The former Manchester United star and one of Britain's most famous soccer players is searching for poker glory, but will he make the final table? You'll have to watch to find out. And oh, by the way, the legend Doyle Brunson is still in the mix. It truly is a loaded field as this group of 18 fights for the final table and their chance at a main event title.

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