In Las Vegas, excitement is building as Friday and the traditional "shuffle up and deal" call that launches the Main Event dawns.
In the meantime, Thursday saw the last of the preliminary tournaments in this year's 40th anniversary World Series of Poker play down to a three handed stage, and a final table was set for the third addition of the praiseworthy "Ante Up for Africa" charity event.
Event 56 – the $5 000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em / Six Handed competition is now between just three survivors after 4 days of play, an entry field of 928 and a prize pool of $4 361 000. When InfoPowa went to press late night Thursday Vegas time, just three players remained in contention: Matt Hawrilenko on 6.75 million; Faraz Jaka holding 5.15 million and Josh Brikis on 3.5 million.
The three survived a final table that was decided late afternoon and included: Robert Kay (1.28 million) Matt Hawrilenko (1.62 million) Faraz Jaka (3.1 million) Sean Keeton (825,000) Matt Waxman (1.75 million) Jonas Wexler (1.65 million) and Josh Brikis (3.8 million).
In action earlier in the day was the third edition of "Ante Up for Africa," tournament, a charity event organised by actor Don Cheadle and poker ace Annie Duke which has now become a regular part of the World Series of Poker. This year it attracted 138 players from the worlds of poker, entertainment and sports with a roster that included Ben Affleck, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Mike Tyson, Sarah Silverman, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Garrett, rapper Nelly and the star of the poker movie Rounders, Matt Damon, along with poker champs such as Erick Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, Howard Lederer, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, Mike Caro, Andy Bloch, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and Tiffany Michelle.
Cheadle opined that it looked to be the biggest yet, and with the international media gathering for the soon-to-start WSOP Main Event, good television and print media coverage was assured, raising awareness for a very worthy cause.
"When we first conceived of the charity, we were thinking we'd just do a little event and raise like 20 or 30 thousand dollars," said Duke. "But (WSOP Commissioner) Jeffrey Pollack had a vision for this event that we didn't have and he made us part of the World Series of Poker.
"It's an amazing platform where not only are poker players involved here, at one place at one time, but media is also focused on poker this time of year right before the Main Event. It's so exciting to see everyone come out."
Players bought in to the event for $5 000 each, raising a prize pool of $670 680, so the winner – who traditionally donates the win to the charity – should receive $177 730.
When InfoPowa went to press the final table was down to nine players that included Jennifer Harman, Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel, Phil Gordon, John Hennigan, Alex Bolotin, Rafe Furst, Matt Kay and Adam Richardson.
WSOP observers are expecting a big signup for the Main Event – the $10 000 buy-in World Championship No-Limit Texas Hold'em commencing Friday in Las Vegas. While a few of the 56 preliminary tourneys leading up to the big one have fallen short in terms of attendance, others broke records and the interest is clearly there judging by the large numbers of players at the Rio this week.
Just before midnight, Las Vegas time on Thursday, Matt Hawrilenko was declared the winner in Event No. 56, scooping a first placing prize worth $1 003 163 and a coveted WSOP bracelet in the last of the preliminary tournaments this year.
Internet and live tourney player Hawrilenko defeated Josh Brikis in a heads up of just four hands.
The last four survivors of the 4 day tourney battled for some time before low stack but persistent Sean Keeton, was eliminated by Hawrilenko in fourth place. Three-handed action then lasted another hour before Faraz Jaka took pocket queens up against Hawrilenko's ace-king, and Hawrilenko won the race, sending Jaka home in third place for $400 526.
Hawrilenko went into the heads up against Josh Brikis with a 4 million chip lead, and just four hands later it was over. Josh Brikis' second placing was worth $619,609.