Would you spend half a day fighting to be the last player standing in a competition that awards the winner $8.5 million?
There’s no questioning the motivation of Greg Merson, Jake Balsiger and Jesse Sylvia — the three qualifiers for the World Series of Poker’s main event on Tuesday. The competition began in July with more than 6,500 players and was whittled down to nine players by Monday.
When the final table convened on Tuesday night at 5:45 p.m. PT in Las Vegas, who knew it would take nearly 12 hours for Maryland native Merson to emerge champion? The contest, aired from Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, concluded at 5:44 a.m. PT this morning — the longest final table in WSOP main event history.
ESPN provided wire-to-wire coverage over the air (forcing SportsCenter to ESPNEWS), while on ESPN.com poker analyst Andrew Feldman was there for all 399 hands, live-blogging, tweeting (@AFeldmanESPN) and drinking as much coffee as he could stomach. He graciously shared his thoughts with Front Row afterward.
You’ve been involved in ESPN’s poker coverage since 2004. Where does this marathon WSOP rank against other events you’ve covered?
I’ve been part of a couple real marathons on the poker beat. Over the two days, this was a 19-hour final table and, in my opinion, not much can compare to this one. In 2009 there was a similar lengthy final table that lasted nearly 20 hours. That said, while we may look at hours versus hours, there was one major difference. With the live coverage on ESPN and ESPN2, the customary 20-minute breaks between levels, plus dinner breaks, were removed. As we started play at 5:45 p.m. PT on Tuesday, the players, or the media, didn’t have more than a 10-minute break at any point.
When Monday night’s play wrapped up after only seven hours, I spoke about the timing on the Poker Edge Podcast and joked that we would have an epic long final three battle given the amount of chips each player had. Sure enough, that came to fruition.
Is it unusual for this event to go so long?
It really isn’t that unusual. It truly depends on the blinds and antes scenario. These guys were playing for $8.5 million. They need to take their time, make the right decisions and go from there. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the patience each of the final three displayed was simply incredible.
What kind of reaction were you getting on Twitter as well as your live blog?
There was a strong following in both my blog and on Twitter and as the final table continued, people began to joke about things that would end before we had a champion (#WillWSOPEndBefore). For 12 hours, the conversation just didn’t stop and I have to thank everyone who participated as it truly enhances the Final Table experience.
How did you keep yourself going? We understand that once pizza arrived, the ESPN production crew celebrated.
I didn’t get the pizza! Not fair! Coffee helped, though. In all seriousness, you never know what hand may be the last hand or if something exciting will happen on what you may think is a meaningless card. . . okay, really, it’s the coffee!
Did most fans at the Rio stick around the entire time?
The fans were incredible. While the audience thinned a bit, the groups on stage were always cheering, yelling, holding up signs. Some guy was even playing the trumpet. They all traveled from around the country to support their friends and the players truly received a boost each time their group gave them some support.