LAS VEGAS >>
The blue and purple lights of the Rio casino facade came to life Monday night as a weary group of card sharks passed the midway point of the last day in the contest for a place at the World Series of Poker’s final table.
Fewer than 10 eliminations stood between the remaining players in the world’s biggest no-limit Texas Hold ’em competition and a ticket to a November finale worth $8.4 million for the winner.
Men in hoodies and sunglasses played amid the blue and red lights of an ESPN set crafted within the Rio hotel-casino off the Las Vegas Strip.
The day started with 27 players in the hunt. The field had been winnowed to 18 by the dinner break. Play was expected to last into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Those remaining are already guaranteed at least a $300,000 payout, but each is hoping for a chance to make the final nine.
The “November nine” will take a four-month break before returning to the casino to settle the title in front of ESPN cameras.
The bleary-eyed gamblers, who have logged more than 70 hours of play over the past week, beat out more than 6,000 hopefuls from 83 nations.
The bad beats and roller-coaster chip swings have weeded out the one-in-a-million dreamers, leaving skilled, mostly professional players.
A single Las Vegas local, Jay Farber, remained in play. Other contenders hail from Amsterdam, Sao Paulo and Israel.
The youngest player remaining is Anton Morgenstern, 22, of Berlin.
Clement Tripodil, who ended his first day in the tournament as the chip leader, busted out in 23rd place.
No women remain in the field, which started out 95 percent male.
Last year’s winner, Greg Merson, was knocked out of the tournament Saturday, in 167th place, leaving 2001 champ Carlos Mortensen as the only former main event winner remaining in the field as of Monday afternoon.
Poker legend Doyle Brunson, who played the whole tournament in his trademark cowboy hat, bowed out Friday in 409th place.
Popular pros Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey tried their luck and went home having lost the $10,000 entrance fee with nothing to show for it.