Using Your Stack at The WSOP Main Event

6 years ago
Using Your Stack at The WSOP Main Event
08 Nov

The WSOP Main Event is here! The most important tournament of they year is going to conclude in the next couple of days. Every poker player at some point in his or her journey fantasized about becoming a World Champ. Even if you're mostly interested in the cold steady EV of a daily cash game grind you've probably seen "Rounders" or watched a WSOP final table broadcast and thought to yourself "I wish I could be there" (you might have skipped the "wish" part if you're particularly ambitious). What if you did get there? What if you were in the spot of one of this years November Niners? Let's look at some major factors that could influence the last hands of this year's WSOP Main Event and try to figure out the strategy that each individual November Niner might bring to the table.

WSOP Champion Bracelet

It could be argued that WSOP main event lost a tiny bit of its prestige and glamour in recent years. The immense popularity of the event combined with the soul crushing variance of multi-table tournaments, results in the fact that more often the not November Nine consists of mostly new faces (at least for the average poker enthusiast). That being said becoming the main event champion is still a dream of every poker player. No matter if you're playing 0.01$/0.02$ cash games or you're a regular in high stakes online tournaments the thought of becoming a world champion can raise your body temperature and get your blood flowing a bit faster than usual.

The idea of winning the entire tournament and getting that Main Event bracelet can affect players in many different ways. Some of them won't care about it or convince themselves that they don't care for a number of reasons. Players could think that emotionless approach is optimal from a mindset or EV standpoint, they might genuinely care more about the money than the title etc. Some players will get more motivated by the idea of becoming a champion. Some players - even the more experienced ones - can get paralyzed by that idea.

Payout Structure

It's hard to argue that money can be really important and Main Even prizes might play a major part in how the final table plays out. Here's the payout structure of this year's WSOP Main Event:

  • 1st $7,683,346
  • 2nd $4,470,896
  • 3rd $3,398,298
  • 4th $2,615,361
  • 5th $1,911,423
  • 6th $1,426,283
  • 7th $1,203,293
  • 8th $1,097,056
  • 9th $1,001,020

As you can see the 5th place finisher will enjoy the first significant prize bump. While $100k-200k is certainly something that the average poker player would, in fact, write home about, with each player already guaranteed to take home at least one million dollars (not counting the action sold and other deals) those small bumps might not seem that significant to the November Niners. Short stacks can feel like they don't have anything to lose and everything to gain. They can treat the period before the first 4 eliminations almost like a cash game, get aggressive and take even the smallest edge possible in hopes for a quick double up that would make their situation much more comfortable. Mid-stack players might see this as a great opportunity to eliminate some of the short stacks very early in the tournament. Some of the players with 50 or more big blinds to their name might decide that they don't care much about winning, but getting 1,6 million on top of what they already earned sounds great. They can try to wait out their way to a top 4 finish by playing a solid tight game. It seems that the payout structure promotes the aggressive strategies a bit more which can result in a very interesting final table.

Lights, Camera, Action!

November Niners already had the chance to see themselves on TV. Some of them have more experience with televised poker than the others, but WSOP Main Event final table is really something special and stress might be a huge factor in how this final table will play out. Bright lights shining in player's faces combined with the crowd cheers and the stress associated with making big decisions can result in some huge mistakes. Fortunately, players had a lot of time to prepare and, many if not all of them probably included the mental game training in their preparations. It's important to be well prepared and focus on making good decisions at the table. Otherwise. the perspective of a huge payday or winning a bracelet could overwhelm you and it's very easy to make a bad decision in that state of mind.

Now that we looked at some factors that could influence the WSOP Main Event final table, let's look at the particular seats and try to figure out how certain players might approach the game.

Seat 1: Ofer Zvi Stern (Israel) - 29,800,000 (74.5 Big Blinds)

The 36 years old Israeli player wasn't heavily featured in ESPN's WSOP Main Event coverage and with only two significant live tournament cashes in his resume he's a bit of a wild card. The lack of ESPN footage could be caused by his conservative play style, but there's no way of knowing that for sure. That being said if money is a priority for Zvi he's in the position to potentially "wait out" the competition by playing a tight solid game. He has a healthy stack and he can also put pressure on smaller stacks behind him for some easy button steals. While Zvi obviously has to win some pots to get to the final four if he picks his spots carefully he can certainly do just that.

Seat 2: Pierre Neuville (Belgium) - 21,075,000 (53 Big Blinds)

When you find yourself on the final table of the most important tournament in the world right after you've won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the European Poker Awards you know you're doing something right. 72-year old Pierre Neuville is a good tight player with a touch of madness and he's in the position to show the young guns who's really the boss. While Pierre most likely won't get uber aggressive he probably doesn't care that much about the money and he won't wait for the sake of getting a prize bump. Neuville will take the spots as they come, but he won't hesitate and because of that he might be one of the most interesting players at this final table.

Seat 3: Josh Beckley (Marlton, New Jersey, USA) - 11,800,000 (29 big blinds)

Josh is a very solid player. During the Main Event, he already showed us that he's capable of making big folds, despite the small stack size. Even though he has one of the shorter stacks at the table he might choose a more conservative strategy. 29 big blinds gives him a reasonable amount of room to play with and despite the young age Josh has a good amount of experience under his belt so he'll know a good spot when he sees one. If Beckley isn't card dead and manages to find one of those good spots quickly he'll be in a very good position to surprise many WSOP Main Even viewers.

Seat 4: Max Steinberg (Oakland, California, United States) - 20,200,000 (50.5 Big Blinds)

Steinberg had a very successful poker career so far including a bracelet win in WSOP a no-limit hold'em tournament. While he's only 27-years old he's among the most experienced players at the WSOP Main Event final table. Recently his poker career took a backseat to daily fantasy sports betting, but his game is anything but rusty. Max is calm and composed, but he doesn't shy away from big plays. A quick google search of his name reveals his famous, failed J-high hero call many people remember him for, but the fact that he's even capable of making plays like that with bright lights shining and cameras rolling means that he's very unlikely to cave under pressure. The main problem of Max (and many other players at this table) is that he's sitting two places away from the chip leader which might prevent him from being as aggressive as he'd like to be.

Seat 5: Thomas Cannuli (Erma, New Jersey, United States) - 12,250,000 (31 Big Blinds)

Cannuli is in a fairly similar situation to Beckley when it comes to stack size. Their playstyle during the WSOP Main Event was also fairly similar. Both play on a tighter side, but they don't shy away from big plays. Cannuli is capable of bet/calling a gutshot against the likes of Daniel Negreanu and that proves something. Some people point out that Thomas got lucky in a couple of spots towards the end of the tournament but with such a huge field it's almost impossible to get to the final table without luck on your side. Just like Josh, Cannuli needs to find a good spot reasonably fast, otherwise his stack could fade away quickly and with the chip leader of the tournament directly on his left, finding a good spot might be somewhat problematic.

Seat 6: Joe McKeehen (North Wales, Pennsylvania) - 63,100,000 (158 Big Blinds)

Joe has it all. The gigantic stack, the experience and the run-good. It's really hard to bet against him in this tournament but as we saw time and time again stack advantage at the final table, doesn't automatically equal a win. Fortunately for McKeehen (and unfortunately for all the other players) he seems to know exactly how to use his advantage. Joe will probably put tremendous amounts of pressure on his opponents right from the start and make the lives of players directly on his right (and short stacks directly on his left when he has the button or cut-off position) a living nightmare. McKeehen is in it to win it and he has everything he needs to do just that but no-limit can be very unpredictable and one misstep could change everything.

Seat 7: Patrick Chan (Brooklyn, New York, USA) - 6,225,000 (16 Big Blinds)

Seat 8: Federico Butteroni (Rome, Italy) - 6,200,000 (15.5 Big Blinds)

While there's a lot of differences between those two players in the context of WSOP Main Even final table they also share many similarities. Both Federico and Patrick seem to represent the "blue-collar grinders". They are good at the game, they have some solid live cashes, they both have similar stacks and they both have the pleasure of sitting right next to the Joe McKeehen. It's very likely the that chip leader of this tournament will do what he did so far and put pressure on both short stacks when he has the button, but both Patrick and Federico could potentially capitalize on Joe's wide opening ranges. They are in desperate need of a double up and they have very little to lose so we could see some serious fireworks on their side of the table.

Seat 9: Neil Blumenfield (San Francisco, California, USA) - 22,000,000 (55 Big Blinds)

Neil Blumenfield doesn't have a poker Lifetime Achievement Award or a history of many 6-figure life tournament cashes. We know very little about him (aside from the fact that he's very successful in his professional life) and the WSOP coverage didn't reveal much. Just like Zvi Stern he's a bit of a wild card and it's really hard to predict what he's going to do. His opponents might also not know what to think of him and that can allow Neil Blumenfield to surprise everyone. While 55 big blinds stack seems like a good amount Neil's position at the table with two short stack on his right means that he most likely won't be able to keep his blinds without a fight.

This year's WSOP Main Event final table can be very exciting. We have a chip leader who proved that he can use his stack advantage, many talented players with +50bb stacks who can capitalize of Joe McKeehen missteps and short stacks who will be looking for a quick double up in order to stay in the game. While some players might decide to wait things out it looks like aggressive strategy is the way to go and we can all hope to watch a thrilling game of poker in the next couple of days.

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Scott Wolowich is an experienced writer, editor and eSports expert. He is open for player development/performance coaching consultations and inquiries.He blogs at more


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