LAS VEGAS – High-spirited, not entirely sober fans cheered on a weary group of card sharks early Tuesday as the gamblers entered the final stretch of the contest for a place at the World Series of Poker’s final table.
Just three eliminations stood between the remaining players in the world’s biggest no-limit Texas Hold 'em competition and a ticket to a November finale worth $8.4 million for the winner.
Men in hoodies and sunglasses played amid the blue and red lights of an ESPN set crafted within the Rio hotel-casino off the Las Vegas Strip.
The day started with 27 players in the hunt. The field had been winnowed to 12 as midnight neared. Play was expected to last into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, as the gamblers became more cautious, wary of losing their shot at poker stardom come fall.
Those remaining are already guaranteed a half-million dollar payout, but each is hoping for a chance to make the final nine.
The “November nine” will take a four-month break before returning to the casino to settle the title in front of ESPN cameras.
The bleary-eyed gamblers, who have logged more than 70 hours of play over the past week, beat out more than 6,000 hopefuls from 83 nations.
The bad beats and roller-coaster chip swings had weeded out the one-in-a-million dreamers, leaving skilled, mostly professional players on the final day of the summer competition.
Among them was Brazil native Bruno Kawauti. Wearing tinted sunglasses and a Brazilian soccer jacket, he was surrounded by dozens of fans who wore Brazilian soccer jerseys and draped the country’s flag over their shoulders.
They sang Portuguese fight songs as Kawauti went all in. He bowed at 15th place thanks to Rep Porter, who flopped a set of sevens against pocket tens.
His fan base hoisted him in the air after his elimination.
“So many people playing different tournaments at the same time, it’s incredible,” said Romu Marujo, who traveled from South America to cheer on his friend. “To us in Brazil, it’s something we can’t imagine.”
A single Las Vegas local, Jay Farber, remained in play. Other contenders hail from Spain, the Netherlands and France.
No women remain in the field, which started out 95 percent male.
Last year’s winner, Greg Merson, was knocked out of the tournament Saturday, in 167th place, leaving 2001 champ Carlos Mortensen as the only former main event winner remaining in the field as of Monday afternoon.
Poker legend Doyle Brunson, who played the whole tournament in his trademark cowboy hat, bowed out Friday in 409th place.
Popular pros Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey tried their luck and went home having lost the $10,000 entrance fee with nothing to show for it.