LAS VEGAS (AP) — Poker faces cracked into grins Friday as the field at the World Series of Poker main event narrowed to those who will take home a minimum of $19,000.
After a tense two hours of play, just 648 gamblers — who are the only ones who get a payout — were left. Cheers went up and people jumped on their chairs as the final player was sent home empty-handed.
That unlucky gambler was Farzad Bonyadi, an Iranian pro who has world series bracelets to his name.
"It's so disappointing," he said, adding that he never would have entered had he known he would be knocked out so close to the money. "It takes it out of you."
Tournament officials awarded Bonyadi a free entry into next year's $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event.
His loss ended an unusually hushed morning at the Super Bowl of gambling.
Servers walked around offering Red Bull to preoccupied players who watched countdown clocks on the walls.
Gamblers with shorter stacks of chips played cautiously and took full minutes to think about their cards while others at the table stared hard and fiddled with their chips.
A monitor chastised Josh Prager, of northern California, for bugging a slow player to speed up. He wanted to get in as many pre-money hands as possible.
"They're being careful now. It doesn't last that long, and then everyone will start fighting again," he said, tall stacks of blue and orange chips arranged in a semi-circle around him.
As the countdown approached the magic number, players put on their sunglasses and drew up their hoods.
Brian Kellogg , of Ohio, was literally chewing his fingernails when ESPN cameras circled his table. He had among the smallest stack of chips in the room, and there were 650 players left.
He went all in, and was dealt a king and a jack. Everyone at the table folded but the player to his right, who got a queen and a jack,
That player got a break when a queen was among the first three cards the dealer laid out, known as the flop, giving him a pair.
Only a king would help Kellogg, and his eyes widened when got it in on the next card, known as the turn.
"You bet my heart was beating in my chest," a grinning Kellogg said afterward.
He hopes to use his winnings to pay down his credit card debt and "all my American dream bills."
The winner will take home $8.4 million and a gold-diamond-drenched bracelet.
Several high-profile professionals remain in the chase, including poker legend Doyle Brunson, who had threatened to concede to "father time" and stay out of this year's tournament, and defending champion Greg Merson, who was in the middle of the pack when play ended Thursday.
Entries were slightly down this year, with 6,352 players from 83 nations anteing up. The total field is 95 percent male. Several female players remain in play, including Melanie Weisner, of Houston, and Annette Obrestad, of Norway, who are among the top 100 chip leaders.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.