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 —the top 10 percent who get a payout — were left. Cheers went up and men in sweatpants jumped on their chairs as the final player was sent home empty-handed.
That unlucky gambler was Farzad Bonyadi, an Iranian pro who has played in the world series for more than 20 years, winning three bracelets.
"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."
Bonyadi was having a great run when he decided instead to go all in. Cameras zoomed in on his face as his ace and jack lost to an ace and queen.
Tournament officials awarded a stunned Bonyadi free entry into next year's $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event.
His loss ended an unusually hushed afternoon at the Super Bowl of gambling.
Servers walked among tables 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 clacked their chips against each other.
A monitor chastised Josh Prager, of northern California, for hassling a slow player. Prager 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 threw up the hoods of their sweatshirts.
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, which was two eliminations away from the money.
Kellogg went all in, and was dealt a king and a jack. Everyone at the table folded save 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 another player at the table let out a whoop when he 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. The final nine players will be established Monday. They'll play out the final table in the fall.
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, Erik Seidel, featured in the movie "Rounders," and defending champion Greg Merson.
Many pros have already gone home, including poker personalities Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey.
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 Annette Obrestad, of Norway, who won the European world series one day shy of her 19th birthday in 2007.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.