The first of a three-part World Series of Poker (WSOP) trilogy is in the books as the 2019 Main Event final table played five hours on Sunday night. The idea was to reduce the returning field of nine to the last six, and when that was achieved within the second level of play, organisers agreed to play on for another 100 minutes or so.

That was enough time for one more elimination: Zhen Cai lost a flip with A♠K♦ to Kevin Maahs’s pocket nines, ending his chance of glory and also bringing the action to a close. Now only five players remain in this 8,569-entry tournament, all of whom are now guaranteed at least $2.2 million. Cai, for his part, took $1.85 million.

The fearless Hossein Ensan leads still

Hossein Ensan was leading at the start of the day and is leading still, bagging 207.7 million, or 173 big blinds. Meanwhile Garry Gates, who scored the first knockout of the night when he sent Milos Skrbic home in ninth, is still in second, with 171.7 million (143 BBs) and their inevitable big-stack clash is still in the offing.

Gates is unafraid.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “At some stage, we’re going to get involved in some pots but we’re going to cross that bridge when we get to it. It’s not something we need to think too much about now.”

After a day on which he nearly doubled his overnight stack, Gates said: “We’ve already won. It doesn’t matter if I go out fifth. This is a win. This is a dream. It’s a dream come true, it really is.”


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Having played pretty much flawless poker for seven days, Gates said he felt some nerves coming on as Jack Effel did the ceremonial introductions for the last nine at around 6.30pm in Las Vegas. But Gates picked up ace king on the first hand, got his fingers to work properly, and said he soon calmed down.

“After half an hour I settled in and I feel comfortable out there,” Gates said. “It’s a good feeling. It also helps when you’re just making hands left and right. I was joking, this is the World Series of Having It. If you’re going to run good in a poker tournament, this is the one you want to do it in. I feel like today was a very successful day.”

Overnight stacks:

Hossein Ensan, Germany – 207.7 million (173 BBs)
Garry Gates, USA – 171.7 million (143 BBs)
Kevin Maahs, USA – 66.5 million (55 BBs)
Alex Livingston, Canada – 45.8 million (38 BBs)
Dario Sammartino – Italy – 23.1 million (19 BBs)

Gates “had it” early on when he managed to knock out Milos Skrbic in a blind-vs.-blind encounter. Gates had ace-queen to Skrbic’s ace-jack and the latter described it as a “huge cooler”. Skrbic took $1 million for ninth.

Ensan then accounted for both Timothy Su and Nick Marchington, still during the early stages of the day, who were eliminated in eighth and seventh, respectively. That consolidated his chip lead, with neither Su nor Marchington expressing anything other than delight at how their tournament had played out.

Skrbic and Su depart
Marchington marches out

Gates’s table image was good enough that he managed to get Alex Livingston to fold pocket queens in a three-bet pot (Dario Sammartino also had a pocket pair), and situations like that allowed Gates to build all-but untroubled. “The way I feel today, I just have a hand every single time,” he said.

His packed rail of supporters were given plenty to cheer about as this extraordinary run continues. Gates said dozens of friends have jetted to Vegas. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me,” he said. “That’s everything. It really is. It keeps me sane. I’ve got them for comfort.”

Garry Gates feels the love from his rail

Tomorrow’s plan is to play until only three players are left, with the champion then to be named on Tuesday. Gates echoed other players at the final when he insisted that the last nine have all become firm friends in their shared delight.

“This is such a good group,” he said. “There couldn’t be a bad winner out of this bunch. Nicest guys. There’s not a bad guy in there. You’re going to have a good 2019 World Series of Poker champ, no matter who wins.”

In two days, we’ll know who it is.

WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive

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