Saturday, July 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Two days before the World Series of Poker Main Event began, Dan Ott didn’t know if he was going to play.
Ott had planned to play in poker’s world championship all summer, but he was supposed to do so alongside his twin brother Dillon and two other friends. All three of the others were wavering on making the trip from Altoona, Pa., to Las Vegas, and the 25-year-old Ott wasn’t keen on coming alone.
He had just started to accept going another summer without competing in the event that made him interested in poker in the first place when a desire he couldn’t kill washed over him. He confronted his brother.
“I said, ‘Listen, this is our time to play the Main Event. I want to take my shot at it,’” Ott recalled. “I convinced him and convinced our other friends to come and play.”
The last-minute decision has proven to be lucrative. Although neither his brother nor friends cashed in the $10,000 buy-in event, Ott has made more than made up for it.
He’s one of the final three out of a starting field of 7,221 players with a chance to win the $8.15 million first-place prize and championship bracelet. Ott will return for the 10th and final day of play at 5:30 tonight at the Rio second in chips with 88.37 million after a major surge on Friday night.
Chip leader Scott Blumstein maintained control on the second night of the final table, and now sits with a daunting stack of 226.45 million chips, but Ott made the biggest move upwards. He came in with the least amount of chips, but heated up to build his stack nearly six times bigger than it started on Friday.
Benjamin Pollak, who holds 45.85 million chips, is the other finalist. All three players are guaranteed a minimum $3.5 million payout.
“The money hasn’t sunk in, the fact that there are two people standing between me and the bracelet hasn’t sunk in,” Ott said. “It’s just unreal ... I didn’t expect to make it anywhere near this far.”
Ott has a lot in common with Blumstein, a 25-year-old from Morristown, N.J. They both initially took an interest in poker after watching amateur Chris Moneymaker win the 2003 Main Event for $2.5 million, and turned professional after graduating from universities in Pennsylvania — Ott went to Penn State, with Blumstein attending Temple.
This year’s tournament is also Blumstein’s first Main Event, though he had higher expectations than Ott coming in. He told friends he wasn’t traveling to Las Vegas for any preliminary WSOP tournaments because he planned on winning the Main Event.
“I’m not saying I called my shot by any means, but I think if I don’t have that type of confidence, I’m not here,” Blumstein said. “I was just hoping something was going to happen soon. In poker, all you need is a breakthrough. Everyone is chasing the same thing when they come out to play this tournament.”
Blumstein wanted to play in the Main Event last year, but settled for entering a $560 buy-in tournament closer to home at the Borgata in Atlantic City. He won the event for a then career-high $199,854 payday.
“I was like, ‘OK, I have this money now. I’m playing the Main Event next year,’” Blumstein said. “I didn’t come out at all this summer. I stayed home, ate better, tried to work on my health and play at home and it’s paid major dividends.”
Blumstein’s biggest hand Tuesday night came when he eliminated Antoine Saout in fifth place. Blumstein turned a well-disguised straight on a board of Jack-7-6-4 with 5-3 of spades as his hole cards, and forced Saout to a decision for all of his chips after a second Jack hit on the river.
Saout, holding King-Jack, couldn’t fold his three of a kind.
Ott scored the first two eliminations of the night. Down to 15 million chips with six players remaining, Bryan Piccioli went all-in from the small blind with Ace-7 but Ott looked down at pocket Kings. His advantage held up.
He came from behind to knock out short-stacked Damian Salas in seventh. Ott, holding pocket 4s, tried to semi-bluff Salas off his hand after a flop of Ace-3-2 with an all-in bet but the Argentine pro called immediately with Ace-10.
But Ott found one of six cards that could save him on the river, when a 5 landed to give him a straight.
“I just got the cards today,” Ott said. “No doubt about it; I won almost every pot I played. There was nothing I could do wrong today. It was just a really easy, smooth chip up.”
Ott can only hope tonight follows the same pattern. He has made his living exclusively playing cash games for the last few years, having not finished in the money in a single tournament until earlier this summer at the World Series of Poker.
After leaving Las Vegas in June following two scores totaling $3,656, he wasn’t sure he’d return. It’s a good thing he decided otherwise.
“I was like, ‘You know what? This is going to be the year; I can’t keep putting it off. I want to play in the Main Event,’” Ott said.