Nov. 9: Kim short on chips, long on cool

Kelly Kim

This is the seventh in a nine-part series taking a look at the players set to battle at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event final table on Nov. 9. This time we take a look at the short-stack player, Kelly Kim.

When conversation turns to the 2008 World Series of Poker final table, it's usually Kelly Kim's name that gets the least attention.

Sure, Kim is by far the shortest-stacked player remaining at the table, but he's also among the most experienced of the November Nine.

Kim knows he is a big underdog but that that won't stop him from taking his best shot at poker's biggest prize.

"I am realistic about my chances," said Kim. "I know I have to get lucky early but if I do get lucky early everything changes. Obviously, when we redraw I hope to be in good position. I am looking for an optimal situation.

"Optimally I hope to have a pretty big ace in the small or big blind and somebody in late position raises and … I would take a 70-30 or a 60-40 for all my chips, absolutely."

Kim is from Whittier, Calif., and started playing poker seriously while he was in college.

"I went to UCC San Diego. All through college my passion was poker," said Kim. "I played a lot part time. By my third and fourth year while people were getting internships, I was playing poker."

Kim earned a degree in economics but eventually made a career out of the Los Angeles poker scene. He quit his day job in marketing to try his luck making a living at the game he loves, and has managed to post some big-time shows in recent years.

In July 2003, Kim claimed first in a $300 event in Gardena, walking with $22,000. In 2005, he came fourth at the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em WPT Five Diamond preliminary event, and added $28,850 to his bank roll.

However, it seemed like Kim's coming-out party was at the 2006 WPT L.A. Poker Classic. There he placed third in a No-Limit Hold'em preliminary event for $62,201 and added another $46,502 for cashing in the main event.

And now, as part of the November Nine, Kim's made the most hyped final table in WSOP history. The guaranteed $900k for ninth place in the 2008 Main Event is nearly three times his career tournament earnings of just over $300k.

David Rheem, Kelly Kim, Craig Marquis
Bottom of the pack: Craig Marquis and Chino Rheem are Kim's closest competitors at the final table.

Kim will start play with $2,620,000 in chips, by far the lowest chip stack and nearly $8 million less than his closest opponents Craig Marquis and David "Chino" Rheem.

But Kim doesn't seem rattled at all by the fact he is playing short; he sees himself as a dangerous opponent when he's up against the wall.

"Now I am on an absolute freeroll," said Kim. "I am not going to do anything reckless. [But] I've played in enough tournaments and played enough short-stacked [that] I know where to pick a spot when I see one."

The South Korean-born Kim claims that he actually got cold-decked for the first few days of the tournament, yet he somehow managed to survive.

"Day 3 I was down to like $35,000. I don't know how I did it; I just chipped up and survived."

On days 5 and 6 Kim made his run, double and tripling up his stack up. The run didn't last but he made the most of its effect, hanging on to his chips, making it down to the last 27.

It was around that time that Kim started to realize he needed to reprioritize his goals. Instead of focusing on winning the whole thing, he concluded his first goal had to be to make it to the final nine.

"My whole game plan changed," said Kim. "Essentially I split my tournament into two. The ultimate goal is to win it, but the reality is you've gotta finish in the top nine to have a chance to win it."

Kim managed to catch a few of the drops that leaked out of Day 7 chip leader Joe Bishop. He doubled up through Bishop after pushing all-in with pocket eights, which held against Bishop's 8-7 suited.

Although he was still seriously short-stacked and had a bull's-eye on him the whole way, Kim managed to keep playing patient and to ride those chips through to the final table. And now anything could happen.

"Survival is the most important thing," said Kim. "Poker is a game of luck, too. I could get lucky."

Through it all Kim seems cool with the hype and pressure. That will no doubt be an advantage leading up to the 2008 WSOP final table as he doesn't have the burden of expectation. Everything from here on in for him is gravy.

"I am just glad I have a chance," Kim told ESPN. "If I double up or triple up or double up twice, I am back in the hunt and it's a whole different game. Until that happens I don't really have much expectations because I am a tremendous favorite to finish ninth. So I am just in it for the ride, you know?

"The fact that I am still alive and still playing, that's enough for me."

That sense of relief came at a steep cost, as Kim said the pressure was almost more than he could handle at times.

"The most pressure in the whole tournament was for 10th," said Kim. "To finish 10th would be like the worst place to go out. I would much rather finish 12th than 10th because you don't have to deal with the agony, you get the same amount of money."

At least one expert, ESPN's Norman Chad, thinks Kim could be tougher than people think, despite being severely short-stacked:

"[Kelly] has to feel like he's on a free roll," Chad told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "He was the short stack when they got down to 10 players, but that doesn't mean he'll play recklessly. In fact, with a big gallery of friends and family on hand, he'll probably play it snug. You don't wait 117 days and bring all your supporters into town to go bust in 15 minutes."

The next installment of the November Nine series will debut on Thursday.

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