The day began with six nine-handed tables plus one player returning to the Fontana Room at Bellagio in Las Vegas to play from 55 down to 18 or a total of five levels, whichever came first. As it turned out, the former scenario played out, but only barely. A mini-bubble occurred between 20th and 19th place, with the pace of play slowing considerably as survivors jockeyed to avoid being given a free Thursday.
The man at the top of the chip leaderboard at the start of the 16th level of play (first of the day) was one Gus Hansen, whose $2.25 million in chips put him at a decided advantage over his competition. His closest opponent was Haligonian Cory Carroll, with $1.9 million. As has been the case throughout this event, the rest of the day's starting roster was a stacked field of some of poker's very best in both the live and online arenas, with plenty of bracelet-winners and forum favorites returning to Fontana for another day at the tables and a guaranteed $39,570.
Right from the word "Deal" the action came hot and heavy, with Zvi Shiff hitting the bricks on the first hand of the day. He'd be followed quickly by Mats Rahmn, before Johnny Kincaid, Eric Kesselman and Tom Schneider rounded out the first payout bracket by self-combusting within seconds of each other. As it turned out, the eliminations straddled the first pay jump, so the Donkey Bomber et al. would split the difference and each man walked with $43,968.
WPT Season 5 Player of the Year J.C. Tran would headline the 41st-50th payout bracket, busting after moving all-in with king-high on an ace-high board and running into an opponent's paired ace. Tran, who'd collect $52,765 for his time, would be joined by Joe Sebok, Tim Phan and last-woman-standing Isabelle Mercier in his particular tax bracket.
The second level of the day would be the last for two former champions of this prestigious event. WPT Season 2 World Champion Martin de Knijff would find himself crippled after doubling up David Tran with A-K against Tran's pocket queens and would get his dregs all-in pre-flop with two callers. One of those callers rivered the wheel straight with 4-3 and the Knife was dulled in 39th place for a $65,955.
Defending champ Carlos Mortensen earned $3.9 million for his efforts at Bellagio a year ago, but the WPT Season 5 Champion would only add another $65,955 to his bankroll in the Season 6 iteration. Mortensen got all-in just minutes after de Knijff's elimination and probably caught up with him at the cabstand, busting with a pocket pair of jacks against Jeff Shulman's pocket aces and adding a 38th-place finish to his resume.
Other pros finishing up in the 31st-40th category included Noah Schwartz, Steve Wong and T.J. Cloutier, who fell to Gus Hansen in a predictably Hansen-esque hand when the Great Dane called Cloutier's pre-flop raise with 6-3 and flopped two pair, cracking Cloutier's pocket eights and sending the Legend to the rail.
Meanwhile, Steve Wong's elimination would be quickly followed by Danny Wong's bust in 30th place. Where Steve fell with middle pair to David Tran's pocket kings, Danny lost a race with A-J against Amir Vahedi's pocket tens and was gone, but not before he collected a $79,145 bounty from behind Jack McClelland's Curtain of Doom.
Wong's elimination meant that the WPT Player of the Year title for Season 6 would be awarded to Jonathan Little, already the co-winner (with Alan Sass) of the PokerListings.com Least Obnoxious ShipitHolla Balla award and winner of the WPT Mirage Poker Showdown last May.
Little also logged a seventh-place finish at Beau Rivage in September and a runner-up showing at Niagara Falls in October, falling to Scott Clements in a result that lost this reporter a lot of money. Congratulations, FieryJustice; I'm not bitter at all.
David Grey, Steve Billirakis and Men "The Master" Nguyen would headline the 21st-30th place payout bracket, with The Master hitting the road after trying to pull a Hansen-esque move on the Great Dane himself, re-popping with 6♠ 4♠ against Hansen's K♠ J♦ and watching Hansen make a jack-high straight for the win. All of the above took $79,145 from Jack McClelland or his minions.
Jon Kalmar's elimination in 21st place left only two eliminations to go before the end of the day, and after James Calderaro busted in 20th shortly thereafter it looked like an early night in Vegas. Then the field hit pause and seemed to go into stasis, with a few short-stack double-ups and some minibubble milking from Amir Vahedi about the only reportable results.
After two hours of nothingness, however, Mark Newhouse snapped the tie when he lost a race with A-10 to Vahedi's pocket deuces. At the same time, Scott Epstein was moving all-in with K-Q and running into Jeff King's aces. Newhouse dropped out in 19th and Epstein followed him in 18th, with both men earning $105,525 and the satisfaction of knowing their eliminations had ended the day's proceedings.
Play will resume tomorrow with the 17 survivors returning to the Fontana Room to play down to a final table of six; it could take 15 minutes or it could take all night. Chip leader is the aforementioned Vahedi, with $3.9 million, while Hansen ($2.93 million), Tom Dwan ($2.87 million) and David Tran ($2.54) also lurk near the top of what remains an all-star cast.
Tune in to PokerListings.com tomorrow for more from the most exclusive team in World Poker Tour coverage, and in the meantime check out our Live Tournaments section, the results thus far, and this video of Mark Newhouse drinking, well, everything in sight at the WPT gala on Monday night. Payce!