Late on Wednesday night, the 2018 World Series of Poker reached its final table, and now that the tournament organizers have scrapped the whole November Nine concept, we will find out who this year’s champion is going to be in a short few days.
Now, this event has seemingly had it all. Let’s start with the size of the event. Even with everything the U.S. government has thrown at the online poker industry over the last 12 years, the World Series is resilient, to say the least. This year, when the dust had settled, the Main event had drawn 7,874 entrants, making it the second largest ever behind the 2006 event dominated by online qualifiers.
There were some great storylines during the event, including the entrance and attitude of one Phill Hellmuth. He showed up for his start day in a full Thor costume, which was the subject of the standard ridicule but as always makes great television for the shameless self-promoter. Hellmuth would have a decent run, especially since he was at televised tables for the majority of his time in the tournament. However, those tables would also cause his downfall as a tirade caught on camera that resulted in another player being eliminated sent the social media world into flames.
Back to the action at the tables. Day three of the event was dominated news-wise by the blazing moves up the leaderboard of Kelly Minkin. People started to wonder about the idea of a female at the final table, or a possible female champion. However, Minkin’s reckless style would eventually catch up to her, falling on Day 5.
When the event got down to the final few tables, there was an excellent mix of pros and no-so-pros…but one name stood out. Joe Cada won the main event as a youngster all the way back in 2009, and a long day of grinding on Day 7, he found himself with a chance to make the final table once again. There has not been a repeat champion of the Main Event since Stu Ungar did it, and Cada would find himself with a chance to be one table away from this incredible feat after one of the craziest bubble hands we have seen in any tournament.
While this description won’t do it justice (you should really watch the video), here is what happened with 10 players left on the Final Table Bubble. Amateur player Nicolas Manion, who had been playing very aggressively (more on that to follow), made a raise to 1.5 million. Antoine Labat called the bet, and then Yueqi Zhu looked down at his cards and announced he was all-in for 24,700,000. Manion barely hesitated, moving all-in for his 43 million chips. This left the action on Labat, who after pondering for a relatively short time called (he had the most chips to start the hand).
When the hands were flipped over, the fate of the final table had already been sealed. Zhu and Labat both turned over a pair of Kings, with Manion holding check-mate with his pocket Aces. To make matters worse for Zhu, his cards were the same suit as Manion’s, leaving his only chance of survival being a King high straight. The flop held nothing to help Zhu, and he had to patiently watch the other two cards dealt before he could shake hands.
This was nothing short of an incredible hand for a couple of reasons. First, the idea of three hands this strong all at once is just unfathomable from a probability standpoint. Then, all the players have to get their chips in. Labat, who has the last option to call, has to know one of his opponents has AA, but he must be thinking the other must have QQ or perhaps also has AA, leaving his KK with some outs. He also has the most chips of the three, although he will be crippled as a result of the hand.