McKeehen wins from the front at a final table that promised a procession and delivered across three days of action
If the disgruntled tweets are any indication, this year’s Main Event final table is going to reignite the debate about stalling in poker. The live coverage of the final table on ESPN is supposed to be the highlight of the poker year, but play was so slow it was almost unwatchable at times.
Zvi Stern was the chief culprit here and, in an age when poker and Esports are coming closer together and the poker industry is desperate to attract new young players, this wasn’t a great advert for the game. ESPN’s coverage is exemplary but there’s a growing feeling that the game needs a fresh approach to thrive as a spectator sport.
We need to talk about Joe
Joe McKeehen was the huge chip leader when the cards hit the air on Sunday night, but he started off with the air of a petulant kid, pouting as he folded the first hand to a raise from the sartorially splendid Max Steinberg.
On the second hand Patrick Chan decided to call his stack off with K-Q after a button shove from Joe McKeehen. McKeehen had A♦-4♥ and his hand held in an effective flip – a pattern that would be repeated many more times over the course of the next three days.
Federico Butteroni and Pierre Neuville were next to drop at the hands of McKeehen, with Neuville getting desperately unlucky to lose with A-J to McKeehen’s J♥-6♥ and a rivered flush. That was the end of the action for Day 8, leaving the remaining six still staring up at McKeehen’s stack with the gap now even bigger. At least they were all now guaranteed $1,426,283.
Thomas Cannuli didn’t last long on Day 9. He got it in great with Aces against Max Steinberg’s Tens, but a Ten on the flop saw him heading to the rail, taking his cruel beat with amazing grace. Josh Beckley made a move at this point, claiming second place and close to a 50m stack. It was as close as anyone would get to McKeehen.
Serial staller Zvi Stern was eliminated in fifth, before Max Steinberg – the most popular player at the table – bust and brought the action to an end for another day. Once again he found himself on the wrong end of McKeehen who found A-Q to Steinberg’s A-J.
Three-handed, McKeehen might have been the best player at the table but he also got the best hands – something that was true since he knocked Daniel Negreanu out in 11th and went on a rampage, knocking five straight players out in a row. He also won without the best hand though, using the power of his huge stack to batter Beckley and Blumenfield into giving it up through fear of losing out on the $1m difference between second and third. It was the perfect storm for McKeehen.
It’s fair to say he hadn’t used his time at the final table to win over the support of the neutral, but he didn’t need it. You have to be impressed at a player who went into the final table as the chip leader and didn’t lose the lead for the entirety of the 184 hands.
In the end he picked up Queens to dispatch Neil Blumenfield and his Twos. Heads-up the lead was 155 to 37m and the pattern was set form the first hand when McKeehen raised with A-K and flopped two pair. What a time to run so good. ‘I can just imagine how ridiculous the commentators are saying I’m running right now,’ said McKeehen with unerring accuracy.
Immediately after saying this he called Beckley’s all-in shove with A-10. Beckley had Fours and there was no surprise when the dealer put a Ten straight in the window. There was no reprieve for Beckley. McKeehen raised his arms in triumph and finally claimed the prize that seemed destined to be his since the moment he knocked out Daniel Negreanu in 11th. When asked if he was ready to be a poker ambassador after being presented with the bracelet he just said, ‘We’ll see.’
For Beckley, coming into the final table as 7th and taking second place prize money has to be a triumph but he’ll forever wonder what might have been if the cards had decided to run for him heads-up.
2015 WSOP Main Event results
1st Joe McKeehen $7,683,346
2nd Josh Beckley $4,470,896
3rd Neil Blumenfield $3,398,298
4th Max Steinberg $2,615,361
5th Ofer Zvi Stern $1,911,423
6th Tom Cannuli $1,426,283
7th Pierre Neuville $1,203,293
8th Federico Butteroni $1,097,056
9th Patrick Chan $1,001,020