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ESPN WSOP Main Event Recap: Episodes IX and X12 October 2015
Since even the most ardent poker fan may have opted out of watching the two new episodes in their entirety and chosen to sweat out daily fantasy sports results by tuning in to Sunday Night Football or the Major League Baseball playoffs instead, Casino City sat through Episodes IX and X. At times, this was a chore – thanks to the antics of Jason Schwartz – but the coverage also had more than its share of entertaining highlights, thanks to Norman Chad, Lon McEachern, Tom Cannuli and Kelly Minkin.
As we move on to the recap, please remember that it is full of spoilers – so if you're attempting to watch the coverage in "real time" and don't want the end results spoiled, now is a good time to bail out of this article and move on to alternative Casino City content, such as a our coverage of the daily fantasy sports scandal or the new "This Week in Gambling" video.
SETTING THE SCENE: Episode IX begins with 69 players alive and Episode X ends with the event down to 46 players, about midway through Day 6. A major theme throughout the two episodes is Minkin, the last woman in the field. The 27-year-old medical malpractice attorney from Tucson sits at the featured table and handles herself with class while showing off her poker chops. Expect ESPN to continue to hammer away at the "Last Woman Standing" angle, and Minkin is worthy of the attention.
BIG-NAME BUSTOUTS: Justin Bonomo and Brian Hastings do the honors. Bonomo sees his all-in call with A-10 get cracked by George McDonald's pocket nines and exits in 64th place, his best Main Event finish and 34th WSOP cash.
In the second hour, Hastings is sent to the rail, ending an impressive and profitable 2015 WSOP run that saw him capture a pair of bracelets, make three final tables and place 49th in the Main Event, good for $137,000. Chad reminds us that Hastings also made some lucrative side bets with fellow pros during the WSOP, including pocketing $165,000 when his friend Jason Mercier gave him 3.3-to-1 odds on winning a bracelet.
NOVEMBER NINE APPEARANCES: As the field diminishes, we are beginning to see more of the November Nine, but eventual final table chip leader Joe McKeehen is hardly mentioned.
Federico Butteroni, who has gone from dishwasher to the final table, and Patrick Chan are introduced and see limited face time. The evening ends with Zvi Stern, who very nearly did not play in the Main Event, becoming the chip leader with 12,255,000 chips.
Neil Blumenfield goes head-to-head with Hastings twice as a 3-to-1 underdog and prevails both times. Wearing his signature scarf and fedora hat, Blumenfield's tournament life is at risk when he surprisingly calls Hastings' raise and sucks out on the river, prompting Chad to say, "That's the second time Hastings has shown Blumenfield the door and the second time the dressy amateur snuck back in."
We also see quite a bit of Josh Beckley, but the November Niners getting the most play were Cannuli and Max Steinberg, who were both at the featured table along with Negreanu and Minkin.
PLEASE SHUT OFF HIS MIKE: Not only is the constant chatter from Justin Schwartz a steady annoyance, it is also, at times, inappropriate. Schwartz, wearing a black-hooded "Air Jordan" sweatshirt, has a black handkerchief covering his mouth for most of the night, which saves us from his nonstop dribble a couple of times. But all too often, Schwartz's banter is clearly audible, much to the chagrin of those sitting at home and at the table alongside him. On multiple occasions, opposing players cringe when Schwartz opens his mouth, and a few ask him to rein it in.
McEachern and Chad talk about Schwartz's drug problems and point out that he told them "everything he says at the table is calculated and intentional."
Either way, it takes away from the viewer's enjoyment and seems to quiet Negreanu, which, quite frankly, hurts the broadcast. I was openly rooting for Schwartz to bust so the attention at the featured table could turn to the more compelling stories of Negreanu, Steinberg, Minkin and Cannuli, but it doesn't happen.
Schwartz's most pointed comment is an obvious shot at Negreanu when he tells Steinberg, "With Justin Bonomo out you are the most capable player in the field." Here's hoping Negreanu gains revenge in the next episode by knocking out the obnoxious Schwartz – and the earlier in the coverage, the better.
SIDE ACTION CHAMPIONSHIP: I realize my job here is to watch and report, but when this silly segment appeared and I saw Phil Laak donning his ski goggles again, I immediately changed the channel to Niners-Giants. Apologies for skirting my duties, but it's simply too painful to sit through this foolishness.
PRO ANALYSIS: Laak does take off the goggles and pair with Antonio Esfandiari for another well-done "Pro Analysis." As we have mentioned in previous ESPN Main Event coverage recaps, this recurring segment is always insightful and interesting – especially this week, when the two pros break down a hand that doesn't even see a flop, thanks to an aggressive bet by Bradley Berman, who scoops the pot with pocket nines.
"With (a short stack) you never just want to call," Esfandiari says. "I have seen a lot of players make the mistake of just calling here, trying to avoid over cards. With 22, 23 big blinds left you just have to shove, pray, fasten your seat belt and hope it works out."
NORMAN CHAD LINE OF THE NIGHT: As usual, there are more than a few to choose from, but we'll go with what he says of Butteroni, a native of Italy.
"In Italy, defending your big blind is like drinking wine with your dinner. Everyone does it; there are no questions asked. And if you don't, they ship you off to an Olive Garden, never to be spoken to again."
Chad also continues his fascination with and admonishment of the array of players with facial hair, saying of Bradley Berman's "Duck Dynasty" beard, "A few years back when I was in between jobs, I actually lived in Bradley Berman's beard."
MORE THAN JUST WISECRACKS: Chad is known for his sharp wit, but he also knows the game, as does his "straight man" partner. Throughout the summer, Chad and McEachern can be seen working the ballroom at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, taking notes and gleaning information about players, which leads to a lot of perceptive analysis during the telecasts.
The best of last night comes when they speak about Steinberg, who earned his entry into the Main Event by winning a DraftKings satellite:
"In many ways, Max's style is the opposite of small ball," Chad says astutely. "It's very unconventional and that's very hard to play against."
McEachern adds, "He makes unusually large pre-flop raises and that puts people in uncomfortable positions."
There is also plenty of chatter from Chad and McEachern about players going in the tank, with Cannuli, Beckley and Jake Toole the main culprits.
Chad laments, "It would be interesting to know just how much of the waiting before acting is real thought process, and how much is posturing."
McEachern chimes in, "Posturing is certainly a key to the game, but at some point it crosses the line to delaying."
EPISODES 9 & 10 MVP: While the night will most likely be remembered for Schwartz's intolerable actions, Cannuli is the most captivating character as he sits to the right of Negreanu all evening.
The 23-year-old from New Jersey comes across as very likable and easy to root for, in addition to playing brilliantly in a couple hands.
During an interview with ESPN in the first hour, he talks about how hard he has worked in his six-year career and says the struggles he has gone through have made him "appreciate this moment so much more."
Wearing a black baseball hat backwards, the fresh-faced Cannuli adds that it's "not right" for somebody to be "working their job and not finding happiness . . . You should be able to live your life how you want to and be happy throughout the process, and that's something poker has brought to me."
Chad follows by asking, "How did this kid get so smart, so young?"
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