Fourteen players remain on Day 7 of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. Daniel Negreanu, for the fourth day running, has a seat at the feature table. Chip leader Joe McKeehen, Justin Schwartz, and four others surround the Poker Hall of Famer. There are two open seats at the table, but there is not an empty seat in the house. The Thunderdome is at capacity and all eyes are on Kid Poker.
There are other characters, but the feature table might as well be Daniel Negreanu and six others to those watching live and following online around the globe. They’re watching to see history, to see Negreanu make the final table and punch his ticket for the November Nine. Since the two table redraw though, there have been some tense moments. Negreanu has to protect and maneuver his short stack and has done so for 45 hands.
Daniel Negreanu, the fans watching and following online, and the other players still in the Main Event don’t realize it, but Hand 46 will decide the tournament. Joe McKeehen is about to flop a set of sixes, Justin Schwartz is about to flop a set of threes. The next Main Event champion is about to be crowned.
The cards are exposed and The Thunderdome erupts. McKeehen is called a “disgusting human,” Negreanu is heard saying, “Sick one.” off-camera, and Justin Schwartz declares that he doesn’t do handshakes. While the crowd moans and groans for maybe one of the biggest coolers in Main Event history, Schwartz quietly tells McKeehen, “You better win this f****** tournament.”
McKeehen quickly smiles and, for a split second, you almost expect him to say, “I’m going to.” He doesn’t, but McKeehen and Schwartz seem to have an unspoken understanding. Schwartz knows that he was likely the only player capable of stopping, even slowing, McKeehen. McKeehen knows that, too.
As Schwartz exits the Main Event in 14th place, Alexander Turyansky, who correctly folded pocket queens against both sets, innocently tells McKeehen, “I was scared of you.” Little does Turyansky know, it’s only going to get scarier.
When Hand 46 begins, Joe McKeehen has just under 28 million chips. When the hand concludes, McKeehen is up near 38 million and he moves above 40 million before the Day 7 dinner break. Play resumes with 13 players remain and McKeehen is behind 134 big blinds, equal to the combined stacks of his five table mates. Four players hit the rail over the next 87 hands, Daniel Negreanu included, and McKeehen bags over 63 million for the final table. McKeehen has nearly a third of the chips in play and more than double the stack of his nearest competitor.
How did Joe McKeehen more than double his stack from Hand 46 on? Ruthless aggression, made possible by the elimination of Justin Schwartz. Outside of Daniel Negreanu, the feature table post-Schwartz was about as inexperienced as it gets on Day 7 of the Main Event. Add that inexperience, pay jumps worth Super High Roller buy-ins, and the fact that six of the eight smallest stacks left in the tournament surrounded McKeehen and it is not hard to see why Schwartz’s elimination was so consequential.
With stealthmunk dismissed, McKeehen turned the usually marathon-esque journey to the November Nine into a drag race. McKeehen had the green light and he sped towards the checkered flag. He waited more than three months to officially cross the finish line, but that was just a formality.