LAS VEGAS — As the number of tables in play and participants in contention continued to plummet at a rapid pace on Saturday night at the World Series of Poker Main Event, Kenny Hallaert sat there in the middle of it all, smiling and collecting chips.
Just like he has the last three years.
In a profession where surliness and antagonism is prevalent, the 35-year-old Belgian thoroughly enjoys himself at the table. He’ll flash that big smile often, even if the cards don’t go his way, and he likes to chat up his opponents.
Then again, it’s probably easy to have a good time when you’ve made a habit of enjoying deep runs in the WSOP Main Event.
“I still have some chips and we’re under a 100 players,” Hallaert told Casino City on Saturday night at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino after ending the day in 35th place out of the 85 players remaining with a stack of 4,370,000. “The final table is still a long way away and I’m going to have to be at my best. But, I have to admit, it’s getting fun again.”
Last year, Hallaert had “fun” making it to the final table where he finished sixth and collected a check worth more than $1.4 million. The year before he also made some noise when he finished 123rd. Overall, he’s now cashed four times in 10 appearances at the Main Event, with the other ones coming this year — he was guaranteed to make at least $72,514 as he entered Sunday’s Day 6 — and in 2012 when he bowed out in 323rd place.
“For me, the Main Event is just so special,” said Hallaert, who, very quietly, has had an exceptional summer at this year’s WSOP with nine cashes, including a third-place finish in the $5,000 No Limit Six Handed event that was worth $238,855. “The first time I played in it nine years ago I said to myself that I never want to ever miss playing in it ever again and I’ve played it every year since.
“I try to treat it like any normal kind of event, but it really isn’t. It’s unlike anything else in the world because of the field size combined with the buy-in and structure, it’s just so unique. And then you add in the atmosphere that’s hanging around here in the Rio, it’s just so special. If there’s one event every year that I want put my focus on, this is it.”
Hallaert, who works as a poker tournament director back home, said his experience and style of play have benefited him greatly the last couple of years.
“I play a patient game and that’s a good thing to have, given the structure of this tournament,” he explained. “And I have made a couple of deep runs and that definitely helps. For example, when you are at the featured table and you have sat there before, it’s a big edge, compared to the players who are new to it and aren’t used to the microphones and cameras.
“They might be a little more stressed. But I’ve kind of already seen it all. Nothing is new to me.”
One accomplishment that would be different for Hallaert would be making back-to-back Main Event final tables. When Mark Newhouse did it in 2013 and 2014, becoming the first player to do since Poker Hall of Famer Dan Harrington (2003 and 2004), ESPN calculated that he overcame odds of 1 in 524,079.
Also in the running to pull off the near-impossible this year is Michael Ruane, who was in 47th place entering Day 6.
“I heard Michael has some chips; that would be cool if we both made it back-to-back final tables,” said Hallaert, who has $3.18 million in career live earnings, which places him third all-time for Belgian players. “But the odds are pretty high for just one of us to make it. It’s a long shot that either of us will make, never mind both of us. But, obviously, I would love to see it. That’s why we’re here.”
If he does somehow buck those astronomical odds this year, Hallaert likes the fact that the final table will be played two days after the nine players are decided, rather than in November, as has been the case the last nine years.
“I think on average I would need less time than the average player for preparation because I have already seen it all, so I think it would be in my advantage to play it out right away,” he added.
Craft makes last call with Tequila shots all around
The ESPN execs had to wince when amateur Mickey Craft was eliminated on Saturday. The West Virginia native entered Saturday in 27th place out of 297 and proved to be one of the more entertaining players due to his gregarious nature and aggressive, unconventional style of play.
But Day 5 was not good to him, and just after dinner break Ruane busted him. Craft received a payout ticket worth $53,247 for the 146th place finish, but before cashing in, he re-emerged to the Brasilia Room with a round of Patron shots for his former tablemates.
How do you go out with class? Instead of snap getting on a plane home, get your entire table shots instead. pic.twitter.com/p3A9RHXjvY
— Daniel Clarence Wolf (@wolf_clarence) July 16, 2017
“Whether you go out with king-queen or seven-deuce, it’s all for fun,” he explained to reporters. “I just wanted to make a little light of these guys day and to say thank you.”
Super hero Dwek turning heads
Jonathan Dwek and his friends thought it would be “funny” if he wore some kind of super hero costume during the Main Event. And since he had never cashed in eight previous tries, the Ontario, Canada native and CEO of a high-tech company figured he wouldn’t be around long enough for anyone to really notice.
Five days later, the 35-year-old wearing a full-blown Superman outfit was one of just 85 players remaining and, of course, was garnering attention from media and fans alike.
“I wore it on Day 1, took a break and then (on Saturday) I decided to put it on again,” he explained. “Now, I guess I have to wear until I’m eliminated. It’s been good luck.”
Dwek’s first choice was a Thor get-up, but the store didn’t have a king of the Norse god costume in stock, so he went with his second choice of Superman.
“If I somehow make the final table, I’ll still be wearing it and I’m going to require all family and friends that come to watch to wear one, too,” he laughed. “Now, that would be fun.”