Wednesday, June 15, 2016 | 1:30 p.m.
The razz championship event has once again produced a stacked final table at the World Series of Poker.
Two of the world’s highest regarded players, Jason Mercier and Brian Hastings, go for a gold bracelet in the $10,000 buy-in tournament when the final eight begin their last day of play at 2 p.m. today at the Rio. The action will stream through WSOP.com. Razz, a variation of seven-card stud where the lower hand wins, isn’t a popular form of poker, leaving the tournament fields comprised almost completely of top-tier professionals. Phil Hellmuth, the all-time leader with 14 championship bracelets, had won two of the last five razz events at the WSOP coming into this week’s tournament.
He cashed again, coming in 15th for $15,464, but couldn’t last long enough to give the final table an extra boost. Mercier and Hastings, who have combined for seven bracelets lifetime, face tough enough opposition.
Among the other players to advance are John Racener, who finished second in the 2010 Main Event, and Bart Hanson, a cash game and online training extraordinaire.
Whoever outlasts what started as a field of 100 players to win the $273,338 first-place will emerge as one of the talks of the summer at the WSOP so far.
Here are five other storylines that have gripped the Rio with the WSOP about a third of the way through its 69-event schedule.
Mercier started the latest $10,000 lowball championship event late, because he was too busy winning the previous one.
On Monday, Mercier prevailed in the Deuce-to-7 Draw championship for $273,335 — and reportedly as much as three times more in side bets with other professionals.
Instead of celebrating, he registered directly into the razz event and started running up a chip stack.
One of the few achievements Mercier, who has $16.6 million in career poker earnings, hasn’t notched is winning two WSOP events in the same year. With the chip lead going into the razz final table, he has a golden opportunity today to join the ranks of those who have.
Surprise heads-up champion
Mercier might be the most notable bracelet winner so far, but one of the more anonymous victors turned just as many heads.
Like the razz tournament, the $10,000 buy-in heads-up no-limit hold’em tournament is annually expected to produce a high profile champion. Not this year.
An amateur from South Florida beat out a field of 153 players in the 2016 event for $320,574. Alan Percal, a 23-year-old actuary, made his first WSOP cash with the win after he said he went 0-for-20 in tournaments last summer at the Rio.
Included in his path to victory, Percal had to knock off two of the world’s best heads-up players in Olivier Busquet and Brian Rast.
The poker community has an arguably unhealthy obsession with analyzing the entry numbers in WSOP events.
The numbers have been a minor cause for concern over the first couple weeks. Entrants are slightly down from last year in most of the highest profile tournaments.
Everyone expected the WSOP to break its own record and conduct the largest live tournament in history, but this year’s $565 buy-in Colossus attracted 21,613 entrants. Last year’s inaugural event brought 22,374.
Evidence against the downturn being a random blip materialized last weekend with one of the other biggest events on the schedule, the $1,500 buy-in Millionaire Maker. The tournament drew 7,190 players, down from 7,275 last year and a record-high 7,977 in the 2014 WSOP.
Players on full tilt
The WSOP has always maintained that anyone is welcome to play in its events as long as the buy-in is paid.
That’s especially been on display this summer with two of the most reviled poker personalities making their return to the Rio after six years. Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson made millions of dollars as founders of Full Tilt Poker, an online poker site the U.S. Department of Justice seized in April 2011 and later classified as a Ponzi scheme.
They disappeared from poker while thousands of Full Tilt players for years were left without millions of their own dollars they had deposited on the site. With PokerStars having purchased Full Tilt and paid out the players, Lederer and Ferguson felt now was the appropriate time to reappear.
It doesn’t appear other players agree, as Lederer and Ferguson have drawn scathing reviews on social media. But there have been no major altercations involving the two thus far at the Rio.
Konstantin Puchkov set the record with 11 in-the-money finishes at a single World Series of Poker in 2012. That mark might be in danger if any of a handful of players keep up with a torrid early pace.
Seven players have already cashed at least five times at the WSOP already, led by Pot Limit Omaha bracelet winner Ryan LaPlante. The other six are Mohsin Charania, Adam Owen, Dan Weinman, Bart Lybaert, Vineet Pahuja and Ismael Bojang.
They’ve all implanted themselves as early contenders for the coveted World Series of Poker player of the year award.