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ESPN WSOP Main Event Recap: Episodes I and II16 September 2015
Nonetheless, the first two Main Event episodes were engaging and entertaining, thanks, in most part, to a heavy dose of Phil Hellmuth, who was at the featured table the entire evening.
Read on for a recap of the many highlights – and some lowlights – and for those who are holding out and watching the coverage without knowing the results, BEWARE of SPOILERS. There you go. Consider yourself warned.
SETTING THE SCENE: Episode 1 begins on Day 4 of the Main Event from the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino when, according to Daniel Negreanu, "everything changes." Fewer than 1,000 players are alive and 75 tables are in action. William Wachter, who at 94 years old became the oldest player to ever cash in the event, is announced by Tournament Director Jack Effel to a standing ovation and has the "shuffle up and deal" honors, but not before telling the crowd, "I didn't come here to lose."
The World War II veteran, who learned how to play poker as a merchant marine 74 years ago, receives more heavy applause when he busts out later in the show.
NOTABLE BUSTOUTS: JC Tran, former Main Event champs Jonathan Duhamel, Ryan Riess and Hellmuth, who gets sent to the rail in the final minutes of Episode 2 by Negreanu.
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: The typical crowd, including Brad Garrett, Ray Romano, James Wood, Jennifer Tilly and Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.
NOVEMBER NINE APPEARANCES: Very little to speak of, but we do see eventual chip leader Joe McKeehen and Josh Beckley briefly, and watch Federico Butteroni talk an opponent into folding, prompting Norman Chad to call him "an Italian Jamie Gold."
MOST ENTERTAINNG HAND: Love him or hate him, Hellmuth's brilliance is on full display when bluffs his way to a 254,000 pot against Jae Kim, who sits to The Brat's right all night. Hellmuth, holding 7-6 offsuit, tries to steal the pot pre-flop and buy it on the turn, but can't shake Kim, who has a pair of eights in the hole.
Drawing dead after the river, Hellmuth announces he thinks Kim "might have pocket eights or pocket tens here," and then bets 70,000. Stunned, Kim immediately goes into the tank while Hellmuth badgers him, saying, "I'll take this one, kid; you take the next one," "There's no shame in folding, sir" and "Let me have this one, jeesh."
Kim desperately tries to get a read on Hellmuth before finally announcing, "I should have watched more TV of you . . . I don't know what all of this means." He eventually folds before saying to Phil, "Yeah, you called my hand. I'm out."
NORMAN CHAD LINE OF THE NIGHT: ESPN provides a canned piece about a married couple that cashed in the Main Event. During the segment, the husband, Tim explains that it was great he and his wife could comfort each other as they switched roles of having the bigger stack throughout the tournament, and the multiple-times-divorced Chad pounces on it by saying, "Lon, from my personal experience, in the end the woman usually winds up with the bigger stack."
PASS THE REMOTE: The second annual "Side Action Championship" is a complete waste of time, and I suggest fast-forwarding through it if you have the option. Chad announces before the piece that, "Frankly, I didn't think it would be back and frankly, I don't think it should be back," and this time he's not kidding. The "competition" features Hellmuth, Maria Ho, Phil Laak (who for some reason is wearing ski googles) and Jean-Robert Bellande playing a game of "shuffle board" on a poker table, trying to slide cards onto the card box. To say the piece was awkward and unfunny is a vast understatement.
WHERE’S KARA?: While we're playing TV critic, the question must be asked: Why is Kara Scott being underutilized? Believe me, more often than not, a sideline reporter adds absolutely zilch to a telecast, and most are there simply to provide eye candy for a male-majority audience. But Scott is much more than a pretty face and is always on point, providing a nice change of pace to the rapid back-and-forth between Lon and Chad.
But for some reason she was nowhere to be found in the first hour (although we did find out in the credits that Nordstrom Las Vegas provided her wardrobe), and she doesn't make an appearance in the second hour until the final minutes when she conducts Hellmuth's exit interview. Here's hoping we see more of Scott in future episodes.
TV CRITIC, PART III: OK, one last scolding for ESPN. The "EARLIER" box that's flashed up on the top left of the screen a couple times when they come back from a break is unnecessary. ESPN is trying to make like a golf telecast, when they shift to a player sinking a putt that wasn't shown live. The difference is that in golf, the "taped" footage took place in the previous few minutes. In this case, the ENTIRE episode happened more than two months ago, and there's no reason to try to hide that and attempt to lure non-educated viewers into thinking the action they "missed" took place while they were grabbing a beer from their fridge.
FIRST-TIMERS: Love the segment where Main Event rookies explain what they do for a profession (realtor, scientist, unemployed, "host of a crappy radio show") and why they wanted to compete. Best answer: "If I win I'd be more attractive to the ladies."
EPISODES 1 & 2 MVP: Phil Hellmuth gets plenty of air time, and he takes advantage of the opportunity.
One of the true highlights of the show is when Negreanu "randomly picks a card" and is sent to the featured table to sit with Hellmuth. (Call me a cynic, but I'm guessing that having Hellmuth and Negreanu go head-to-head was no accident). The two poker giants – who have 20 WSOP bracelets between them – engage in some interesting banter, and you can tell Kid Poker is genuinely troubled that he's the one who bounced Hellmuth from the tournament.
But before his exit, Hellmuth is as entertaining as ever. From buying ice cream for the entire table (although we never do see him shell out any cash) to telling an opponent who out-flopped him a couple times that it's like "biting off his leg to get out of the trap," to telling Scott after being bounced that Negreanu "feels like he needs to gamble against me because I'm so good," this is vintage Hellmuth. And that always makes for good TV.
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