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January 19, 2018

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10 players to watch in World Series of Poker Main Event as money bubble nears

Fresh off of winning $1 million buy-in tournament, Esfandiari making another run


Leila Navidi

Antonio Esfandiari plays in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 12, 2012.

The average chip count for the nine players who eventually reach the World Series of Poker Main Event final table will come in at approximately 22 million.

At the end of play Thursday, with 720 players left out of a starting field of 6,598 at the Rio, only four hopefuls had more than 1 million chips. The discrepancy illustrates how it’s way too early to start penciling anyone in for the final table, which should emerge sometime Tuesday morning.

On the other hand, the field is short enough to allow the speculation to begin. Last year, we listed Ben Lamb as the top player to watch at this point in the tournament.

Lamb went on to not only make the final table, but finish in third for more than $4 million. The local pro met his demise in the 2012 Main Event Wednesday night, but several other notables are still vying for the $8.5 million first-place prize.

None other than $18 million man Antonio Esfandiari is at the top of the list for players to keep an eye on this year. Esfandiari has continued his recent tear to build his chip stack in the Main Event to an above-average 485,000.

He should cruise his way into the money Friday, as the top 666 finishers earn payouts with a chance to accomplish more. Check below for the rest of the list of players to watch as the 2012 WSOP Main Event winds down.

    • A.J. Jejelowo

      For someone who doesn’t play cards full time, Jejelowo has certainly made a splash on the poker tournament scene.

      The 28-year-old medical researcher from Houston won a WSOP circuit event last year for $235,956 and cashed in a World Poker Tour tournament for $47,430 earlier this year.

      He spent much of Thursday as the Main Event’s chip leader, before a handful of others caught him at the end. But Jejelowo’s stack of 928,500 chips remains intimidating to the rest of the players at the Rio.

    • Shaun Deeb

      The local pro made this list a year ago with a gigantic stack, but got derailed with the most talked-about bad beat of the 2011 Main Event.

      An aggressive foe attempted to bluff by going all-in with Ace-6 against Deeb, who had pocket Aces, before the flop. The community cards improbably brought two 6s to kill Deeb’s Main Event dreams.

      He’s putting the bad memories to rest this year. Deeb will start with a stack of 600,000 Friday.

    • Vanessa Selbst

      The two-time bracelet winner was on her way out the door when an opponent called her semi-bluff with a three-of-a-kind late during Thursday’s play.

      But Selbst completed a club flush draw on the river to stay alive and win a pot of more than 500,000 chips. By the end of play, the 28-year-old had 814,000 chips.

    • Leo Wolpert

      Wolpert was in law school when he memorably won the 2009 WSOP Heads-Up Championship for $625,682.

      He was just as dominant during Day 3 of this year’s Main Event, as Wolpert controlled his table and consistently chipped up to reach the 1 million mark.

    • Gaelle Baumann

      A female has only reached the Main Event final table once in the 43-year history of the tournament.

      It’s a baffling trend that’s due to break sometime soon. Many felt Baumann had the chance to do it after holding the chip lead going into Day 3 with 599,000.

      The France native dropped back to 375,000 chips Friday, but remains dangerous.

    • Liv Boeree

      Speaking of female poker players capable of making a deep run in the Main Event, Boeree inched close to the top of the chip leader board early Thursday.

      Selbst is widely considered the most talented woman in poker at the moment, but Boeree is in the next class behind with more than $2 million in career earnings.

      The 27-year-old model from England is slightly below average with 207,000 chips.

    • Ronnie Bardah

      Bardah won his first bracelet last month, perhaps easing some of the pain from his near miss of making the final table in the 2010 Main Event.

      The kickboxer is striking his way through the opposition to give himself an opportunity at vengeance two years later. Bardah had a stack of 245,000 chips in front of him at the end of Day 3.

    • Jason Somerville

      The cameras at ESPN’s secondary table revolved around Somerville Wednesday.

      It’s about time, as Somerville has taken the poker circuit by storm in recent years without an overwhelming amount of notoriety. With 637,000 chips, Sommerville is looking for the second Main Event cash of his career.

    • Eric Baldwin

      Like the Diamondbacks logo always on his hat, the Henderson native slithered his way through Thursday to end with 368,000 chips.

      He came in 59th in the 2010 Main Event, cashing for $138,285. In total, Baldwin has one bracelet and $1.2 million in earnings at the WSOP.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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