The 2015 WSOP Main Event is Joe McKeehen’s to Lose

“This is Joe McKeehen’s Main Event.” – Lon McEachern

It certainly looks like it. Joe McKeehen is absolutely steamrolling the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event final table. He entered the November Nine with 63.1 million chips, about 33 million more than his closest competitor. He ended the first day of play with 91.45 million, nearly half the chips in play. And when the second day of the final table ended at close to 8:30pm PST last night, he McKeehen had 128.825 million, twice as many chips as the two remaining competitors had combined.

Joe McKeehen Image credit: WSOP.com / Jayne Furman

Joe McKeehen
Image credit: WSOP.com / Jayne Furman

Not since 2006 has there been as dominating performance at the Main Event final table. It was then that Jamie Gold used Jedi mind tricks to convince the other players to do exactly what he wanted en route to what was one of the easiest end games in major tournament history. McKeehen is looking to do the same thing, go wire-to-wire as the chip leader at the final table.

It’s not like McKeehen is just pounding on everyone, either (he reserves that for the table when he checks). Though he has a gigantic spiked club to wield, he has actually been playing small ball. A look at yesterday’s starting stacks will give some indication as to why this has worked:

Joe McKeehen – 91,450,000
Zvi Stern – 32,400,000
Neil Blumenfield – 31,500,000
Max Steinberg – 16,000,000
Josh Beckley – 10,875,000
Thomas Cannuli – 10,425,000

The two men who were in the best position to threaten McKeehen’s top spot were also far enough ahead of the rest of the players that they likely did not want to risk getting knocked out because the pay increases are so significant at this point. Thus, Stern and Blumenfield didn’t want to get out of line when tangling with the chip leader. The smaller stacks probably wanted to either outlast each other to move up in the money or wait for the perfect spot to make a move.

In the meantime, McKeehen could just pick on everyone with small raises, knowing that nobody was going to mess with him unless they had the goods. His stack dropped below 80 million for a short time, but as the table got shorter, he got on a roll and showed no signs of slowing down.

Three Down, Two to Go

One of the players looking for his spot was Thomas Cannuli, who was in the hot seat with the chip leader to his left and respected former poker pro turned DFS pro Max Steinberg to his right. On the second hand of the night, Cannuli found that spot, raising to 1.4 million under the gun holding Aces and getting Steinberg to move all-in over the top. Cannuli quickly called, a good bet to double-up against Steinberg’s Tens, but a Ten was dealt on the flop, spelling doom for the youngest player at the table.

One of the tough parts about the WSOP final table is that the blinds are so high and the bets are so big that almost any hand, even if only a couple bets get in the pot, can dramatically turn someone’s fortunes. That’s what happened to Zvi Stern, second in chips going into Monday’s play. The action had folded around to him in the small blind and with only the new short stack, Josh Beckley, still to play in the big blind, Stern decided to bully him with an all-in raise holding 9-T. It was a solid move; Beckley would need a great hand to make the call for his tournament life. As it turned out, he had that hand: pocket Aces. Beckley doubled-up and Stern was sent tumbling to the bottom of the pack. He never regained his footing and was later knocked out by Neil Blumenfield, A-K beating A-J.

Similarly, lucky hand against Cannuli aside, Steinberg could never find any traction on Monday. There wasn’t really one hand that sent him spiraling – he ran into a couple tough hands where he lost chunks of chips – but he just never put together a hot streak, unlike Beckley, who after he doubled through Stern, went on a healthy run of cards and strong play. Steinberg’s stack just got worn down until he eventually moved all-in with A-J over the top of a raise by McKeehen. McKeehen quickly called with A-Q. By the turn, the board read 9-7-5-8, giving Steinberg a sweat as he had chop outs plus extra outs for an outright win with a Jack-high straight. Alas, none of the outs materialized and he was gone in fourth place.

Upon exiting, ESPN interviewer and poker player Kara Scott asked Steinberg, “Did you play the game that you really wanted to play?”

“I think I prepared for the game that I wanted to play,” he replied. “I attempted to execute it as best possible. I think that I really played my best and it didn’t really show with everything and hopefully I can be back soon so I can show the world that I have something a little different. But I’m happy with everything and obviously I was very fortunate.”

Blumenfield and Beckley Have the Steepest of Mountains to Climb

Thus, going into the final day of the final table, it is two young Pennsylvania poker pros in McKeehen and Beckley, plus the popular, friendly, fedora-wearing 61-year old amateur Blumenfield, dubbed “The Legend” by Antonio Esfandiari.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One would expect McKeehen to win this easily, as his 129 million chips dwarfs the 40 million and 24 million of his opponents. It could be a very short night. But then again, as there is a million dollar pay jump from third to second, we could see Blumenfield and Beckley trying to wait each other out. Of course, this would play into McKeehen’s hands, as if the other two don’t want to dance, McKeehen could pick up lots of easy pots.

And there is table position. McKeehen is to Beckley’s left and to Blumenfield’s right, which would logically be to Blumenfield’s advantage, as he gets to see what the big stack is going to do before he himself acts. But thinking the opposite way, McKeehen could just decide to raise Blumenfield’s pants off every time, making it hard for the table’s senior to do much. McKeehen is certainly going to raise every button. It is also possible that Blumenfield and Beckley might try to steal each other’s blinds whenever possible to put themselves in a better position to at least get to heads-up, but of course, they have to contend with McKeehen when doing so.

While it looks like a walk in the park for McKeehen, there are actually a lot of possibilities on how things could go. It would be very surprising if he didn’t emerge as the champ, but the process by which he gets there should be quite interesting.

Day 3 of the November Nine will begin at 6:00pm PST with the ESPN broadcast starting half an hour later.

2015 World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table – End of Day 2 Chip Counts

Joe McKeehen – 128,825,000
Neil Blumenfield – 40,125,000
Josh Beckley – 23,700,000

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