The Most Insane Final Table We Can Imagine3 years ago
With the first part of the Main Event here and gone, I thought I’d treat you all to my vision of the final table from hell – a November Nine which would be remembered for all time as the ultimate poker struggle!
Of course everyone has their own idea of what makes for great poker, but when it comes to the Main Event, it’s the characters rather than the actual cards which tend to live on in memory – so my fantasy final table reflects that, pitting heroes against anti-heroes, with much more on the line than the $10million and the bracelet.
So, the Main Event always throws up some unlikely names; amateurs who have run hot over the week, small-time pros who find themselves with a life-changing opportunity and one or two well-known names who finally have the chance to take down the ultimate title.
My Ultimate Final Table, however, is a bit different. Take a look ;)
Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu – the Canadian maestro who leads the tournament all-time earnings by a country mile, with $30million in cashes. Never short of a smile or a comment, Negreanu likes to think of himself as poker’s good guy, speaking out on a whole host of issues. This doesn’t always find favor –an ‘unappointed saviour’ rarely does – but he’s adored by the public and looking to make amends for busting out just short of the big November date last year.
Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer – the Full Tilt founder has lived under a cloud of suspicion and open hatred since his site was taken out of the game by the Government 5 years ago, with hundreds of millions of $ missing from player accounts. After recently apologizing for his role in the scandal, Lederer has made his comeback and somehow found his way to the last 9 –but he has tough opposition in both the poker sense and the personal arena.
Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson – if Lederer making the November Nine set the cat among the pigeons, then his former colleague Ferguson getting there has created a revolt in the poker world. Still having never apologized for his own part in the FT ‘Ponzi scheme’, the goal of the world’s poker media is to get him to say something other than ‘What do you mean? No comment’. Ferguson’s reply to ‘how does it feel to have made the November Nine’ on his comeback was: “What? No comment. What are you talking about? No comment.”
Jason Mercier – the man of the moment in the WSOP, Mercier has already taken two bracelets and a 2nd in the series over the summer. The Main Event is his final chance to land the 3rd, which would not only put him up there with legends of the WSOP, but also win his massive prop bet with Vanessa Selbst.
Doug Polk – a likely candidate for ‘best player ever’ in the future, Polk has had a feud going on with Mercier for a while, claiming that the Canadian is simply a “bad reg” and “Jason just isn't very good”– after which of course Polk has had a summer to forget about while Mercier has been the darling of the WSOP with his amazing runs. Such is life and karma!
Vanessa Selbst – well she may be the world’s best and most ‘winningest’ player, but she certainly knows how to rub people up the wrong way! And she drinks and makes silly bets, which has seen her sweat in a way that proper women should never do, with $1.8million on the line against Mercier winning three bracelets. Despite laying off most of the action, her best bet of stopping Mercier seems to be right here, right now at the final table.
Antonio ‘the Magician’ Esfandiari – an extraordinary poker player and one of the men most likely to die from a prop bet! In fact, Esfandiari only made the final table because he took a prop bet from Bill Perkins that he couldn’t play an entire tournament ‘blind’, wearing an eye-less balaclava. It seems to have worked, and the magician stands to double his $million 1st prize should he manage to win blindfolded!
Phil Helmuth – the Poker Brat may hold the most WSOP bracelets ever – 14 of the golden trinkets to be exact – but should he take down this final table it will be up there among his best performances. Promising once again to ‘go on the rampage’, Hellmuth has also said he will donate all his earnings to the Mike Matusow retirement fund in honor of a fellow loudmouth.
Tony G – having pretty much given up poker for a political career, Anatanas ‘Tony G’ Guoga was a surprise entrant this year and basically blustered and bluffed his way to the November Nine. Describing himself as “the best player at this or any other table”, Tony G said that he is looking forward to renewing his rivalry with Hellmuth most of all, promising he won’t peek at his hole cards whenever Hellmuth raises him.
Ladies and Gentlemen... THE MAIN EVENT
The lights dimmed in the Rio Casino, as a crowd of thousands gathered for the biggest poker finale of their lifetime. The normal rail, counted in dozens, were swallowed by those who had come to see what promised to be an explosive final table.
The sponsors, PokerStars, had adorned the hall with their banners – red and black WSOPStars flags and advertisements filling every inch of the playing hall, with a massive backdrop to the table, up on the stage and surrounded by cameras – a solitary red-and-black clad dealer awaiting the arrival of the combatants.
A strange hush had descended as the lights went down, interrupted only when Michael Buffer strode onto the main platform, a spotlight illuminating him as he reached for the mic.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he began, “Let’s get ready to…GAMBLE!!” his voice rising to a crescendo, and the crowd went wild, chants for their favourites mixed with the deafening roar of the Rocky theme-tune, a thousand camera-flashes, mobile phone, and iPad clicks capturing the moment for all eternity.
The introductions were swift, welcoming one-and-all to the biggest, the boldest, and the best WSOP final table to grace Las Vegas history. Buffer, done with his preamble, began to introduce the players…his boxing MC skills translated into poker parlance.
“All the way from Vilinius, Lithuania…and sporting the colours of his home-nation….give it up for…Toooooooony Ggggggggggggggggggggggg!” as the tracksuited figure emerged from the shadows behind the crowd, half-running and throwing mock punches as he threaded his way down the centre aisle and bounded onto the stage.
“Presenting the all-time leading WSOP bracelet winner,” boomed the voice, “and fighting out of Madison, Wisconsin….Phiiiil ‘PokerBrat’ Hellmuth!” and the crowd erupted as one of the most famous figures in the poker world strode, smiling sheepishly through the crowd, half-heartedly high-fiving the spectators who lined his route.
As he reached the table and took his seat, Tony G leaned across offering his hand, but as Phil went to take it, his legendary opponent quickly snatched it back – putting his thumb to his nose and laughing outrageously. “Hahahaha, did you believe I was really going to shake hands?” cackled Guoga. “This is poker my friend! Don’t be so gullible!” he laughed as Phil sank into his seat, desperately looking around for his wife in the audience.
The audience, laughing at the antics on stage, were quietened suddenly as the MC once again took to the mic. “In seat number 3, all the way from San Fran Ciscoooooooooooooooo,” Buffer rattled out, “….Antonio…the Magician….Es-fan-di-aaaariiiiiiii!!!”
The crowd cheered and whistled as the balaclava-clad Esfandiari appeared as if out of nowhere amongst them, bumping into many of them as he was led to his chair on the stage, unable to see a single thing in his attempt to win yet another huge bet.
Next up, the crowd went wild as Buffer announced Vanessa Selbst, the sole woman playing in the final table. The mix of cheers and screams were muted, however, when some confusion was apparent at the stage. Buffer, his deep-accented voice carrying across the noise of the hall, interrupted events.
“My apologies folks! That was in fact Doug ‘WCGRider Polk! An easy mistake to make,” his apology confusing people even more as Selbst appeared on stage uttering obscenities under her breath, with nobody able to tell the difference between the young online wizard and the best female player in the world.
The glamour and glitz of the opening ceremonies was enthralling for all involved, but the bright lights and showbiz razamatazz were interrupted once again, this time by a shuffling, dishevelled, and bearded figure pushing his way through the crowd to the stage.
Tight security meant he was quickly huckled to the ground, his lumberjack shirt ripped in the process, until the tournament director intervened, explaining rapidly that this was not some homeless bum who had found his way into the casino, but was actually Jason Mercier, the Canadian who had been ripping the WSOP events to shreds all summer, making more final tables and cashes than anyone in the history of the festival.
The confusion quickly fixed, the crowd were hushed as they realise only three players were still to appear. Buffer himself appeared uneasy, as if knowing the next few minutes would be the most dramatic of all. Security men filed down the centre of the standing audience and the TV crews and cameras started jostling for position.
“In seat number 7, all the way from Toronto in Canada…a player who has enthralled us all for years with his small balls…” began Buffer, correcting himself quickly, “…I mean small-ball play and big-time wins…. Daniel ‘KidPokerrrrrrrr’ NEGREANU!!”
The spectators went wild as their favourite emerged from the shadows, clad in a red and black PokerStars karate suit, his head shaved almost completely bald except for a tiny pony-tail, looking for all the world like a Shaolin monk.
His face was a vision of angered concentration as he shadow-punched and high-kicked his way towards the stage, his kung-fu skills drawing gasps from the crowd and his fellow players alike. A somersault across the table above the dealer’s head, and Negreanu was seated.
Everyone knew what was next. The hush was palpable, a pin dropped could be heard as Buffer started in low tones. “And now,” he almost whispered, “his return to the poker world being met with delight by one and all,” he continued, hundreds of gasps and spluttered drinks filling the casino, “the one… the only… Howard ‘The Profesorrrrrrrrr’ LedereRRRRR!!!!!”
The audience went wild as the FullTilt founder appeared, on his knees and clad in a drab grey cloak, his head bowed almost to the ground, and started the slowest of entrances towards the stage. The boos and jeers and shouts of shame echoed through the room as Lederer hobbled his way forward, stopping every few feet to flail his own back with a wooden-handled leather strap.
When he finally reached the stage, he removed the cloak revealing a plain white shirt with an arrow fixed to it. He looked towards Negreanu, whispered something and kneeled on the felt before the Canadian – hands clasped in prayer before him.
Negreanu, a stern look on his face, reached across and touched the top of Lederer’s scalp with the flat of his palm, the nearby microphones picking up a softly-spoken “You are forgiven my son”, followed by a tearful Lederer retracing his tortuous crawl back across the table to his seat.
And finally, the man who had refused to speak at all about his part in the biggest scandal the poker world had seen, was ready to take centre stage. The crowd had already started to scream out their hisses and boo’s before Buffer even reached his microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and GENTLEMEN,” his voice rising as he implored for calm. “Our final player…and one who has given his all to the poker community over the years…the one…the ONLY….Chris ‘Jesus’ Fergusonnnnnn!!”
The extra security pushed back against the surging tide of spectators as the spotlight searched for the most reviled player in the modern game. Suddenly, above the noise and clamour, loud drumming was heard and the crowd was split in two as a huge black horse appeared from the entranceway, the legendary black-clad figure of Ferguson straddling the beast, his trademark big, black Stetson silhouetted against the piercing lights of cameras.
Jumping off the horse and smacking its rump as it tore away through the casino, Ferguson strode slowly through the baying mob, touching his cap and smiling as fingers reached for his exposed neck – held back only by the mass of heavy-set security guards.
Reaching the table, he stood and surveyed the crowds, then turned to face his fellow players. Negreanu’s monk-like demeanour to Ferguson’s immediate left had turned a hue of purple unseen outside of a paint store, his knuckles turning white as they gripped the table’s edge.
Lederer, to his right, thrust his chest out and twirled the arrow on his t-shirt until it faced Ferguson – and then tore the strip of cloth above it off, revealing the words ‘It was him, not me!’ in huge, bright, blood-red lettering.
In the history of warfare, let alone poker, there had never been such a conglomeration of hatred, ill-feeling, and violence in the air as there was in the Rio at this moment.
Buffer strode to the table, lifted the mic to his lips and said…..”Let’s get Reeeeaaaadyy…to ….RUUUUUMMMMMMBLLLLLLLE!!!!!
With the players seated, the cameras rolling and the spectators still scrambling for a decent view, the final ‘shuffle up and deal’ of the 2016 WSOP final table was announced – the dealer none other than big John McCarthy of UFC fame, the organizers figuring his skills might be required should things get a bit ‘testy’ among the world’s finest poker players.
Bickering had already broken out as the first cards were sent skimming across the felt, Jason Mercier turning to his left, waving his double-braceleted wrist and asking Vanessa Selbst if she still thought he was a bad reg? “I’m here doufus”, said Polk to his right, Mercier doing a double-take as he realised he had no idea which was which – his prop-bet opponent Selbst or his Twitter-foe Polk.
Elsewhere, Tony G was already riling Phil Hellmuth, offering to “go all-in blind on the first hand”, despite having peeked at his cards once already – big Phil oblivious as his eyes scanned the audience.
“Did you hear what he said honey?” shouted Hellmuth. “Did you hear?”
Meanwhile Antonio ‘the Magician’ Esfandiari was struggling to find his cards on the table, and then remembered, having overheard Tony G’s comment, that he actually had a prop-bet going with Dan Bilzerian which meant he had to raise every hand without seeing his cards, promptly announcing “I raise” from seat 1 and shoving what he hoped was a min. raise into where he hope the middle of the table was.
What he actually did was shove half of Hellmuth’s stack towards the dealer while simultaneously spilling the ‘purple health juice’ he had bet his grandmother he could drink 10 litres of per session without visiting the bathroom during play.
The purple juice splashed all over Selbst’s sleeve, who then accused Mercier of not allowing her to change her shirt. By this time it was obvious the New York female was absolutely hammered – a fact which was confirmed when she offered Mercier a side-bet that her moustache was bigger than his beard. Mercier, struggling to see through his beard which by now covered almost his entire face, turned to Polk and – on seeing the clean-shaven lookalike -instantly accepted the $1million wager.
With the commentary room in fits of laughter at this ridiculous turn of events, several million TV viewers were then treated to the bizarre sight of a 3-way all-in on the first hand of the final table.
Esfandiari turned over Phil Hellmuth’s pocket kings in error, and then his own 72 offsuit was turned over by the dealer, while Tony G started claiming that he had been joking - before bursting out laughing in Hellmuth’s direction and exposing his pocket aces, calling the 14-time bracelet winner “an Eastern European idiot”, which simply confused the rest of the players.
The flop came a staggering 772, both Tony G and Hellmuth turning to the rail and screaming, “Did you see what the dealer did honey?” With the turn and river bricking for both men, the first hand had seen off two of poker’s worst behaved players – quite an achievement given the rest of the line-up.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the table the trio of Negreanu, Lederer, and Ferguson had started what amounted to a Mexican stand-off.
“What happened to all the money Chris?” demanded Daniel.
“It wasn’t me,” cried Lederer.
“No comment,” added Ferguson.
“You simply don’t give a fuck!” shouted Daniel taking up a kung-fu ‘crane’ position, although it seemed his words were out of synch with his lips - and the three burly security guards inched ever closer.
Shortly afterwards, with Esfandiari raising every pot, playing blind and drinking way too much purple liquor, the inevitable happened. Bursting for the toilet, he grabbed what he hoped was an empty bottle, but which was actually a PokerStars-sponsored tennis ball can which Selbst had sneaked in to hide her Jack Daniels.
Hidden from the cameras, Esfandiari proceeded to urinate in the mostly empty can, but had failed to realise that the hole-cam of the cards had come loose under the table, shocking half the poker world viewing in real-time.
Selbst meanwhile had started drunkenly hiding Mercier’s chips in his beard, as, even though she was paralytic from the alcohol, she had spotted that Mercier simply couldn’t work out which one was her and which Polk.
Polk meanwhile was quietly chanting “bad reg, bad reg, bad reg” under his breath, although all the cameras picked up was his beautiful, white-toothed, all-American smile.
Mercier, already raging at his inability to work out the Selbst/Polk double act conundrum, stood up and shouted, “OK, I’ve had enough of this!” Unfortunately for his Main Event hopes, the chips Selbst had hidden fell onto the table, a loud gasp going up from the crowd, and the tournament director instantly appearing on stage to accuse Mercier of cheating.
At this commotion Esfandiari turned round, liberally covering Polk and Selbst in his wee as he did so, and exclaimed “I raise”. A drunken Selbst, trying to focus on the table then announced, “I bet everyone here $1million at 100-1 that I can win 3 bracelets today by withdrawing from the event.”
Polk instantly accepted the bet, banging on the table as he did so, and knocking over Selbst’s tennis ball can, covering the tournament director in Esfandiari’s piss too.
Well, nobody had ever seen such an absolute mess of a table – and the TD, angrier than anyone at what was happening on the biggest day of the poker year, decided that Esfandiari was DQ-ed for pissing under the table, Polk for spraying him with it, Mercier for hiding chips in his beard, and that Selbst had announced she was withdrawing and her bet stood.
Three minutes of total chaos had reduced the field of player to the big three – although it took security almost 10 minutes to separate and remove the feuding players, Esfandiari blindly ‘windmilling’ his arms among the melee having recalled a prop bet he’d arranged with his pet dog, the winner taking the other one for walkies for a year.
When the dust had settled, Negreanu was still sat there staring evilly at Ferguson, while Lederer was staring adoringly at Daniel – while Ferguson seemed to be staring at his cellphone on which he had his bank balance displayed prominently, a small smile cracking his cowboy façade.
So far there had been precisely 1 round of poker played, as the November Nine final table limped into the first commercial break.
Chris Ferguson wandered over to his rail where all five of his supporters had congregated, each wearing a letter from the word ‘Jesus’, though they had somehow got their order wrong, the message ‘susej’ flashing across screens worldwide.
Negreanu meanwhile was using the break to practice measured king-fu kicks to where Ferguson’s Stetson had been a moment ago, while Lederer had lain himself across the table and was gazing up at Negreanu and clapping quietly, his eyes shining with tears of happiness.
When play resumed, Ferguson appeared unaware that he was on the button, the dealer prompting him and meeting with the response “No comment”. When ‘Jesus’ finally folded, Lederer stared down at his 72 offsuit, flashed them quickly to Daniel and announced “all-in!”
Negreanu, who had missed seeing the Professor’s less-than-sly show, was staring at Ferguson again, while simultaneously talking to Lederer. “Hmmm, you can’t have a pocket pair.”
“I have 7-2 Daniel. Offsuit! Call me,” whispered Lederer.
“And I doubt you’d shove with AK either,” mused Negreanu in his own inimitable way.
“7-2 Daniel. Worst hand in poker. Call me and take my chips!” continued Lederer under his breath.
“Hmmm, I reckon you’ve got…a really bad hand! I call!” exclaimed Negreanu, the crowd going wild at the Canadian’s phenomenal hand-reading skills, while an overly-happy Lederer revealed the worst starting hand possible.
And so the Professor found himself hitting the rails as Negreanu’s 67 of clubs held up, Lederer donning his cloth robes and bowing and scraping as he crawled backwards away from Negreanu.
And now, as everyone had hoped and dreamed of, the Main Event had reached the showdown of the century – Daniel Negreanu against Chris Ferguson.
As the $10million 1st prize was brought to the table in cold, hard, cash by security guards, Ferguson’s face lit up. His eyes never strayed from the massive haul before him, Ferguson struggling to even look at his cards such was his focus on the money.
Finally, after Negreanu had raised him for the umpteenth time, the black-clad figure of hate decided enough was enough.
“I’m all-in,” he announced, staring down at pocket Aces, the black clubs and spades.
“What did you say?” asked Negreanu.
“No comment,” replied Ferguson, then quickly realised what the question was and stammering, “Errr, I’m all-in” again.
Negreanu’s instacall had the audience on their feet, the cameras zooming in on the cards and the faces of the two men as Daniel turned over pocket kings.
When the flop came 6, 7, 8 the crowd groaned – no help for their hero against poker’s greatest villain. The turn was another 8, this time a heart, giving Ferguson Aces and eights.
His smile was a thing of great evil, a dark cackling laugh accompanying it as Negreanu stared slack-jawed in horror.
“Tell you what Daniel, let’s make the river interesting. How about a side-bet.”
“How much?” fumed Negreanu, desperate to take down the despised cowboy.
“Oh… let’s say… $440million!” shouted Ferguson straight into the cameras, a satanic laugh escaping him.
The entire poker world stared on in horror at Ferguson’s boastful bet. How could he? Not a single morsel of remorse for 5 years, and then this? The final blow to the poker community!
Unbeknownst to Ferguson, however, another final blow was about to be delivered. As the dealer made to reveal the river card, a shadowy figure lurched out from behind the big PokerStars screen behind them.
He ran towards Ferguson, pulling a gun from his jacket as he did so and, at point blank range, shot Chris Ferguson in the back. Again and again and again the shots rang out as people dived for cover.
“I did it for you Daniel!” screamed the gunman. “I did it for all of you!!” as he was tackled to the ground by big John McCarthy the dealer.
A stunned Negreanu knelt down beside the trapped figure, as Ferguson lay dying barely feet away. He pulled back the hood of the killer.
“Oh my god!,” he exclaimed, as the cameras fought to zoom in on the killer’s face. “You!”
“I did it for you Daniel!” screamed Annie Duke. “I’ve always loved you, and Ferguson tried to destroy us all! You, my brother Howard, all of us.
As the poker community looked on in horror, the fallen figure of Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson crawled to his knees, then to his feet, the mile->wide grin returning. He removed his long trenchcoat to reveal a solid gold Full Tilt shirt, riddled with bullet marks, none of which had made it through the 24-carat vest.
“Muwahahahahahahaha!” he cackled endlessly, stopping only to whistle loudly, at which point his huge black steed appeared through the crowd.
Ferguson effortlessly lifted himself onto the horse, raised his Stetson in the air and whirled it wildly…then ‘yeehaa-ed’ as he rode through the casino, out the doors, and off into the Las Vegas sunset.
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