Thursday, July 13, 2017 | 2 a.m.
The man or woman who will win $8.15 million and emerge as champion in the World Series of Poker Main Event next weekend will be playing today at the Rio.
Thursday’s round is the first time that can be said with certainty, despite the $10,000 buy-in tournament running for each of the last five days. The Main Event started with three separate starting days for players, before survivors were split into two Day 2 sessions.
Day 3, which begins at 11 this morning, is the first time that everyone is brought together. A total of 2,572 players out of a starting field of 7,221 advanced through the first 20 hours of action.
Only 1,084 of them will earn a payout, with the money bubble likely to burst late tonight. Those hoping to make the final table, which comes with a guaranteed $1 million prize, will have to outlast their competitors for four more straight days.
The final table will be set late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, and play out live on ESPN next Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s nearly impossible to predict the nine players who will realize their dream of playing for the WSOP gold bracelet this year, but it’s not too early to start labeling some of the most compelling contenders.
Here are 10 players who just might turn into the main attraction at this year’s Main Event during their quest to reach the final table.
Ryan Hughes (510,000 chips)
The two-time bracelet winner set a record with 15 in-the-money finishes at the WSOP this summer, including three final tables, but bemoaned not breaking through for a victory in any of them.
Maybe he’s not out of chances. Hughes spent a large portion of Wednesday’s Day 2C with the chip lead, steamrolling his table much like he did the rest of the competition throughout this year’s WSOP.
John Monnette (81,000 chips)
Hughes currently sits fourth in WSOP Player of the Year standings, with Monnette the player he’s looking to chase down for the honor.
The veteran high-stakes professional has 14 in-the-money finishes this year, highlighted by a $256,610 win in the no-limit 2-7 lowball draw championship. Monnette fell on hard times at the end of Day 2C but spent much of the day as dominant as Hughes.
Lawrence Bayley (618,000 chips)
Main Event history is littered with players who won the tournament in their first attempt, including Peter Eastgate and Joe Cada in back-to-back years to start the “November Nine” era.
Perhaps Bayley, a young professional player from London, will carry on the tradition this year. Out of the 2,164 players who started on Day 1B, Bayley wound up with the second-most chips at 247,400. He one-upped himself on Day 2AB, building the chip lead over the 2,219 other hopefuls who played Tuesday.
Grayson Ramage (471,000 chips)
The exhaustive schedule of the Main Event has the tendency to undo players who aren’t prepared for its demands.
That won’t happen with Ramage, who has Main Event experience only few left in the field can rival. The Austin, Texas, native has made it into the final 100 twice in the last eight years, finishing 35th for $253,941 in 2009 and 80th for $84,786 in 2013.
Kenny Hallaert (331,800 chips)
Speaking of experience, Hallaert is threatening to make a deep run for the second year in a row.
The Belgian native was a popular pick to win last year’s Main Event upon making the final table before he ultimately busted out in sixth for $1.46 million. He’s come back with a vengeance at the WSOP this year, cashing in eight tournaments for nearly $400,000.
Melanie Weisner (319,400 chips)
It’s inevitable that a female will eventually break through to the final table for the first time since Barbara Enright made history by coming in fifth in 1995.
No one would be surprised if Weisner was the one to do it. In fact, she came relatively close last year with a 127th place showing following holding the chip lead after both days 3 and 4.
Natasha Mercier (476,000 chips)
Mercier has solidly chipped up over each of the first two days despite being six months pregnant.
She’s established herself as a force on the tournament circuit over the last few years and was a part of one of the most memorable moments at last year’s WSOP. After finishing third in $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament for $348,347, then-boyfriend Jason Mercier proposed to her.
Jason Mercier (101,800 chips)
Jason Mercier is known as one of the best players in the world, but he’s been chasing his wife on the leaderboard through the first two days.
Jason has five WSOP bracelets and $18 million in career earnings to his name, but the Main Event is one tournament where success has eluded him. He has only two cashes, with his best finish a 463rd place in 2010.
Between Natasha and Jason, no family has a better chance at a final table appearance than the Merciers.
Joe Hachem (134,700 chips)
Out of the 13 Main Event champions since the tournament exploded in popularity, Hachem is one of the better regarded.
The Australian has continued to play regularly since winning the $7.5 million first-place prize in 2005, racking up nearly $5 million in additional career earnings. That includes three more cashes in the Main Event, where he can never be counted out.
Scotty Nguyen (147,600 chips)
Reaching back to a winner from a different era, the locally based Nguyen has also gone on to major success since his world championship.
Nguyen, who sported his 1998 Main Event bracelet on Wednesday’s Day 2C, ranks 35th in all-time tournament earnings with more than $12 million. He’s cashed four more times in the Main Event, including an 11th place finish in 2007 for $476,926.