Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Hossein Ensan shared a laugh with a World Series of Poker floor person as he shoveled several handfuls of chips into his sealable overnight bag after the second night of the Main Event final table.
It might have been the 55-year-old German professional’s first true show of emotion at the table in more than four hours Monday night at the Rio. Ensan stayed stone-faced as he sustained his stifling pace in poker’s $10,000 buy-in world championship to put himself in prime position to win the $10 million first-place prize.
“It was very good,” Ensan said. “I’m here, I’m happy. I enjoyed that and I look towards the future.”
Ensan will come into the final session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. tonight and airs on a 30-minute delay on ESPN, with nearly double the amount of chips as the other two competitors still alive.
He entered the final table with a sizable chip lead and has only been able to increase it as he now sits with a stack of 326.8 million. It’s up to Canadian pro Alex Livingston (120.4 million chips) and Italian pro Dario Sammartino (67.6 million) to chase him down and provide the suspense that’s so far been lacking.
“I have respect (for) all players,” Ensan said. “But I have chips and I am strong.”
No one would argue any differently after the way Ensan outmuscled the other four players that remained at the start of play Monday after some initial adversity. On the third hand of the night, Ensan actually doubled-up Sammartino when he called an all-in with pocket 10s pre-flop.
Sammartino held Ace-Jack, and found two Jacks spread as part of the community cards.
Ensan said losing the pot motivated him, and he never stopped gaining vengeance from there. He eliminated his third opponent of the final table hours later when his pocket 9s held up against Chicago IT professional Kevin Maah’s Ace-10.
More importantly, Ensan came out on top in practically predestined meetings with local poker-industry veteran Garry Gates, the second chip-leader going into the day. Ensan and Gates squared off in two of the biggest pots of the night, and on both occasions, the latter helped drive the action despite holding an inferior hand.
Gates was the most aggressive player at the table, but most of his advances were ill-timed. His opponents always seemed to have hands when he bluffed, which led to him bleeding off the entirety of the 171.7 million chips he had built up before Monday and finishing in fourth for $3 million.
“I think people were playing a little tidy and trying to ladder up,” Gates said. “Maybe I was a little too clicky today, but you can’t have any regrets.”
Livingston and Sammartino played snugger than Ensan and Gates. In Sammartino’s case, it appeared to be largely predicated on a bad run of cards as he rarely looked down at a decent starting hand.
Livingston seemed to be purposely employing more of a survival strategy, as he backed down from building big pots with the largest stacks at the table even when he had strong hands for the second night in a row. He was biding his time, which worked in his favor when he looked down at pocket Queens in the big blind after Gates had committed his final 29 million chips with pocket 6s in the small blind.
Scooping the roughly 60 million chip pot gave Livingston enough chips to ensure Ensan can’t relentlessly push him around going forward.
“Dario is a big name for sure, and Alex plays very good,” Ensan said. “Anything can happen.”
A few things are for certain: This will be the first time since 2014 that the world champion is not an American. That was also the last time that the final three players represented three different countries.
Sammartino could become the first Italian champion, while Ensan is looking to follow 2011 victor Pius Heinz as the second German to achieve the feat and Livingston would similarly be the second Canadian winner after Jonathan Duhamel in 2010.
Ensan would be the oldest champion since Noel Furlong took down the tournament at 62 years old in 1999 and third-oldest of all-time.
For someone as big of a favorite as he is, relatively little is known about the Iranian-born player with $2.6 million in career earnings. Ensan’s official WSOP bio stated he was a former painter and considered himself a poker amateur, but he shook his head when asked about it Monday night.
Ensan said he had been a professional gambler for more than six years and felt comfortable going into the most important moment of his career.
“I have to prepare for tomorrow,” Ensan said. “I will continue my same game.”