Kim, a Korean-born former business analyst who has three previous WSOP cashes to his credit, found himself with the short stack with 13 players remaining, but managed to tread water while those around him drowned, riding out a bubble worth more than $300,000 in prize money and substantially more in sponsorship opportunities.
PokerListings.com talked to Kim during the first day of his 117-day media frenzy and found that while he's definitely happy to be here, he's not ready to count himself out just yet.
So you made it to the final table. How are you feeling?
It's surreal, man. The dream is still alive.
You know, my expectations - I felt the agony of finishing 10th, because I was a big favorite because of my chip count. I was shortest in chips with 13, 12, 11 and even with 10 players left, so my whole attitude towards the tournament changed.
It became two tournaments - one with the goal of finishing in the top nine first, and then freerolling anything after that. The prestige is so big. I mean, we're playing for so much money, we've got a four-month gap, I'm doing interviews and pictures - it's so overwhelming.
And next thing you know, I make it to ninth and the big pay increase and I get to come back in three months in November and now I have a chance. I don't have any false expectations because my chip count is so small, but the way I see it I'm completely freerolling. I've already hit my goal and everything else is just gravy.
Let's talk about how the day went for you yesterday.
I started the day with $8.8 million and my game plan ultimately was to make the final table. On Day 6 I was totally a card rack. I got so many hands and chipped up from $2.4 million to $8.8 million to end the day.
Yesterday I was completely card dead. I never had aces or kings - I had jacks twice and that was it. I never had any big hands and I never picked up chips by reraising people with big hands. I just bled chips; I survived.
Obviously I wish it was easier. I wish I'd had big hands and been able to play pots with big hands against medium hands but it just didn't happen. That's the way it goes sometimes with tournaments. You can't really dictate what you're going to get as far as cards [go] but you have to go with it.
I think I made a little error in strategy at the end when we got really close to the final table. It turned into two short-handed games and I didn't adjust my strategy. Every day prior I'd played at a full table when it broke and finally when it got down to two tables we went down to eight-handed and seven-handed, and you have to adjust your playing style.
If I could go back in time I would definitely change some little wrinkles in my game at that time. I think I was playing a little too tight and ultimately my chips got so low that I had to play tight. I had the chance to maintain a few more chips if I would have adjusted, but I didn't.
It was definitely a massive bubble.
Massive. I would much rather have finished 12th than 10th. The payout's the same and it's still a huge achievement, but once we got down to 10-handed the pressure was huge.
I was praying that people would play hands and go all-in and they did. The first time was a huge suckout but the second time the best hand held and I'm in.
My whole objective of the tournament changed. It went from winning it with 18 players left to making the final nine with 13 players left. So in that sense I've won my tournament that I created for myself and now I'm playing a second tournament where I'm a huge underdog.
How do you approach this "second tournament" then as the underdog?
I'm hoping to get lucky. Obviously I have 10 big blinds. I'm hoping to get the button obviously and that I'm not in the blinds in the first hands. I want to get it in good. I don't have any fold equity so I'm hoping someone raises with a marginal hand and I can get it in good to double up quickly.
The blinds are so slow and the structure is so good that even if I had $8 million - or even $6-$7 million - I'd have so much play. Obviously I'm in critical condition but if I double or triple early then it's on, you know?
I'm playing for $9 million. Who would have thought that?
How do you plan on spending the next four months?
Dude, I'm going to enjoy life. I mean, all of my friends have been supporting me; I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to go back to Los Angeles and I might play some tournaments at the Bike with Legends of Poker coming up.
I haven't really thought that far ahead. I'm just glad to be still playing.
You're a pro by trade. Can you talk about your poker career up to this point?
I got really into tournaments a few years ago and I had some successes and failures, some really close shots. The last year and a half I didn't play many tournaments because it started wearing down on me. I'd get so deep and have a shot and then something devastating would happen.
It started wearing [me down] physically and mentally and I started questioning whether playing tournaments was the right decision. But the Main Event is one tournament you can't miss. I've played it for five straight years now and this is my second cash.
I'm definitely never going to miss this tournament as long as I'm physically able to play. The mistakes I've seen in the last seven days have been mind-boggling, even at the greatest stage of the tournament when play was 10-handed. I think there were some crucial mistakes and as a result I got into the final table.
I just feel like the crowd's behind me. Yesterday I got some support from people I didn't know. In America we root for the underdog and I'm the underdog.
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Underdog though he may be, Kelly Kim still comes into the final table with 10 big blinds and the tenacity to jump up a few pay levels should some of his more well-heeled counterparts come ready to play big pots. Kim still has enough chips to dictate his all-ins on his own terms and though he can't be considered a favorite, he can't be counted out just yet either.