Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Gary Trask
Joe McKeehen plays the bad guy at WSOP Main Event final table9 November 2015
In McKeehen’s defense, even if he didn’t have that steely glare and massive chip stack entering Sunday night, he probably would have been the “bad guy” by process of elimination.
Max Steinberg has movie-star looks to go along with his made-to-order expensive suits. Neil Blumenfield and Pierre Neuville are sincerely nice men with compelling backgrounds. They’re easy to root for, since they’re literally senior citizens playing among a bunch of kids half their age.
Baby-faced Josh Beckley looks like the kid next door that you could never, ever get mad at, even if he did throw that baseball through your window. Patrick Chan is the quiet, polite kid who sits in the back of the classroom and doesn’t say “boo.” Same goes for the black-hooded Zvi Stern, whose biggest crime is that he plays the game painfully slowly.
And what’s not to like about Tom Cannuli and Federico Butteroni? Those two guys haven’t stopped smiling since they stepped off the plane at McCarran. They both are polite, genuine and bring an infectious personality to the table. The game of poker needs more players exactly like them.
So, that leaves us with McKeehen. We saw the 24-year-old from Philly on ESPN bully his way to a historic chip lead entering the final table. He had the audacity to deliver the knockout blow to Daniel Negreanu’s final table dreams, immediately making him the New England Patriots of the final table. Nobody likes the heavy favorite, and McKeehen was the biggest chalk we had ever seen during the November Nine Era.
As the players were introduced on Sunday night, it was clear that while McKeehen was the most likely to win the Main Event, he had, by far, the least amount of fans at the Penn & Teller Theater inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Steinberg’s rail was dressed in suits in support of their man. Blumenfield had a sturdy and boisterous group of friends and family wearing his familiar fedora hat with black t-shirts that said “Fear the Fedora.” Cannuli’s crowd was the most raucous of the lot; a blue-collar, beer-drinking section that was just waiting to explode if “Tommy Guns” ever caught any cards during a big hand.
And then there was McKeehen’s “fan base.” No t-shirts. No props. Just one large, rambunctious gentleman wearing an Eagles baseball cap that screamed without fail from the eighth row, “JOOO-EEEY, ICE CUBE . . . JOOO-EEEY, ICE CUBE” every time McKeehen won a pot (and that happened a lot).
When the dust settled Sunday night, McKeehen had significantly increased his commanding lead. It took him just two hands to dispose of the short-stacked Chang, and hours later he showed Butteroni and Neuville the door, in that order. Incredibly, McKeehen has now busted the last five players from the Main Event, dating back to July when he sent Kid Poker and bubble boy Alexander Turyansky to the rail.
But for someone who’s on the doorstep of a $7.6 million payday, McKeehen doesn’t appear to be enjoying the ride. More than one member of the final table told me that during the ESPN video shoot on Friday, McKeehen was acting “weird.” While the other eight players were living it up and soaking up every single second of this true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, McKeehen stood by himself for most the session, never offering even a glimpse of a smile.
"It was really hard to understand,” a November Niner told me. “He didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was awkward.”
Then on Saturday, McKeehen took to Twitter to take out some frustrations. He bashed the WSOP and the Rio, writing, “hey thanks Rio and @wsop for the suite with the shower that doesn't work AND the lack of customer service to have anybody fix it!” He launched another missive shortly after, complaining that, “both myself and my family members have been treated incredibly poorly at Rio over these last two days. Is this what @wsop represents?”
On Sunday, just hours before he was to sit down and be the key figure on the poker's biggest stage, he seemed to be more worried about ticket requests, sending a strict tweet that warned: “If you're not on my list, you won't get a ticket. So if you're a random person, don't bother trying.”
You had to wonder where McKeehen’s head was at. Was he psyching himself out; getting caught up in the minutia, instead of focusing on the task at hand?
McKeehen squashed any such concerns early and often on Sunday night. He may not have been on his best behavior at the ESPN shoot, but it didn’t matter. McKeehen once again played the big stack brilliantly. He continued to run hot. And now it appears there is no stopping him. He’ll enter Monday night with nearly half the chips in play. It’s not a matter of “if” anymore. It’s a matter of “when.”
So, go ahead and boo him. Openly root against him. Dart your dirty looks at the guy in the Eagles hat howling “JOOO-EEEY, ICE CUBE” and mutter under your breath that you wish he’d shut up.
It won’t help. Sometimes the bad guy wins. Sometimes Pete Carroll hands the ball off instead of running it in at the goal line and the vast majority of fans across the country go home irked and disappointed.
Joe McKeehen doesn’t care. And two nights from now, he’ll have a Main Event bracelet and $7.6 million to show for it.
Joe McKeehen plays the bad guy at WSOP Main Event final table is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
Best of Gary Trask