The 2019 World Series of Poker main event is down to its final table of nine after a wild finish to Day 7.
All nine players in contention for the title have already locked up a payday of at least $1 million once action resumes Sunday night at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino. Once action resumes, two massive pots contested late on Day 7 will have a significant impact on how the early stages of the final table will play out.
Hossein Ensan takes 177 million and a considerable chip lead into the final day of action thanks in large part to a 116 million-chip pot he won off Timothy Su. After Ensan flopped a full house with pocket 10s, Su made a pair of queens and eventually called a massive river bet.
Ensan had the experience and exerted his pressure through much of the day, but his firepower increased significantly when he and Su tangled in the 116 million-chip pot -- the biggest of the tournament to that point.
With the potential of $10 million seemingly within reach from his advantageous position, Ensan was at a loss for words in the immediate aftermath early Saturday morning.
"What can I say? Money is very important for everyone, but this much money, I don't know," Ensan said. "My plan is to continue on my game. ... After tomorrow [an off day], I have to work."
Garry Gates starts the final table in second place with 99.3 million, because of a 100 million-chip pot of his own. Despite Gates and Henry Lu sitting in the middle of the pack at the time, with little pressure for immediate action, they went to war and Lu found himself all-in on a Jc-Td-7s-6d board with K's-J's against Gates' Ac-Jh. With the harmless 8h on the river, Gates all but punched his ticket to the final table while Lu was out in 11th place, for $800,000.
As someone who spent the past 15 years of his life in a variety of roles within the world of poker, including time spent with media outlet PokerNews and later with operator PokerStars, the experience of being on the opposite side of the ropes has been surreal for Gates.
"It's hard to put that into words," Gates said. "Being an industry person, and having so many interactions with the best players in the world, and being on the other side of the rail watching their deep runs and cheering for them and seeing their dreams come true. ... I mean, this morning I woke up to text messages from Erik Seidel, and John Juanda, and Jason Koon, wishing me luck. That's crazy.
"I think 15 years ago, I packed up my entire life," Gates continued. "I didn't even have a cellphone, and threw all of my belongings in a 1999 Honda Accord and drove across the country to pursue this dream -- this pipe dream -- of playing poker for a living. Early on, I went broke again and again and again. Just to see my life and my career pan out the way that it has, it's incredible."
The rest of the chips in play at the final table are fairly well distributed among the other seven remaining players, who also represent a diverse cross-section of countries in North America and Europe. In addition to Hossein (Germany) and Gates (one of four Americans, along with Su, Zhen Cai and Kevin Maahs), there are representatives from England (Nick Marchington), Italy (Dario Sammartino), Serbia (Milos Skrbic) and Canada (Alex Livingston) among the final nine.
While the final-table bubble is often an extended affair, considering the stakes at hand, it only took 17 hands to go from 10 players down to nine. Robert Heidorn got all-in with Kc-Qs, but was at little risk as Gates similarly had Kd-Qh. Livingston got all of his chips into the middle with the exact same hand, Kc-Qs, but Skrbic's Qd-3h failed to connect, handing Livingston a vital double-up.
Heidorn's luck ran out around 2 a.m. local time in Las Vegas. He got the last of chips in with an all-too-familiar hand at this point -- Kh-Qh -- and found himself up against Livingston, who put Heidorn to the test with 8h-8d. The 9c-8c-7s flop seemed to be an instant death knell for Livingston, but he was handed a glimmer of hope with the Jd turn. The 5c river did not complete his straight, however, and Heidorn's tournament came to a close in 10th place.
Play will resume at 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday, with the live broadcast on ESPN2 running on a 30-minute delay starting at 10 p.m. ET. Once the field of nine is reduced to six, play will halt for the evening, with six being whittled down to three on Monday. The 2019 WSOP main event champion will be crowned on Tuesday, live on ESPN.
When play resumes, there will be 1:31:35 remaining in Level 37 (500,000/1,000,000 blinds, with a 1,000,000-big blind ante).
Final table chip counts
1. Hossein Ensan - 177 million
2. Garry Gates - 99.3 million
3. Zhen Cai - 60.6 million
4. Kevin Maahs - 43 million
5. Alex Livingston - 37.8 million
6. Dario Sammartino - 33.4 million
7. Milos Skrbic - 23.4 million
8. Timothy Su - 20.2 million
9. Nick Marchington - 20.1 million