WSOP main event Day 3: Kenny Hallaert leads, Antonio Esfandiari 7th

8:49 AM ET

It was moving day Thursday in the 2016 World Series of Poker main event, with more than 60 percent of the field that came into Day 3 going out and going away empty-handed, with the rest either walking away with a small profit or intensified hopes of a spot in the November Nine and the $8 million first-place prize.

Eight hundred players have moved on to Day 4, with 40 of them bagging at least 1 million chips. Belgian Kenny Hallaert had the best day of all, building a stack of 1,709,000 to take the chip lead into Friday’s action.

“I started the day with 410,000, and that was already quite a lot of chips,” Hallaert said, “and my stack only kept growing throughout the day. I won a big hand in the first level where I had the nut flush vs. a set, and I won a big hand right before the bubble when my queens held against ace-king. I didn’t lose any big pots, I never ran into any big hands and it’s been going like that for three days already, which is one of the reasons I have a big stack right now.”

Despite his lofty position, Hallaert realizes the fight he has ahead of him.

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“The tournament’s only just hit the money,” Hallaert said. “Obviously it’s a dream, and I might have one of the biggest chances, but still, if you look at what the average chip stack will be at the final table, I only have a small portion of that.”

Unlike many of the 800 players still vying for the title, Hallaert knows what it’s like to make a deep run in this tournament. He got a lot of experience fighting through big fields in 2015, in fact; in addition to his result in the main event, Hallaert also finished fifth in the inaugural Colossus event.

“Last year I made my deepest run in the main event, I finished 123rd,” Hallaert said. “It would already be a big achievement for me if I beat that. Starting Day 5 last year, [it] was [feeling] like this could get serious — there were 200 players left, and unfortunately, I didn’t make it. [This year], I hope I make Day 6 — I would say that’s a small goal at this point — but if I don’t make it, I won’t be disappointed. I was chip leader, so that’s already something I could square off on my bucket list.”

As Hallaert is well aware, there’s still a lot separating him from a spot in the November Nine, including a number of players currently in tight competition for the top stack. Jared Bleznick (1,607,000) and Kilian Kramer (1,400,000) are both in the top five, with the likes of Antonio Esfandiari (1,381,000) and Marc-Andre Ladouceur (1,302,000) cracking the top 10.

“It was a good table today, everyone was having a good time,” Esfandiari said of his Day 3 experience. “I tend to do well when people are having fun at the poker table. But [there were] definitely some good players. I got bluffed in one key spot, where I was so close to calling, but the kid made a really good play and bluffed me a little bit.”

Esfandiari is also no stranger to deep runs in the main event; he finished 168th in 2015 and 24th in 2009. He’ll be in a position of power to start play Friday, and that puts him right in his sweet spot as he starts Day 4 in seventh place.

“No-limit hold ’em is such a different game when you actually have chips,” Esfandiari said. “Instead of having to just wait for cards, you get to just play anything. It’s a lot more fun, for sure.”

Notables are spread throughout the lead group holding seven-figure stacks. Shaun Deeb, Eugene Katchalov, Ray Dehkharghani, Steve O’Dwyer, Tom Marchese, Jon Turner, Antoine Saout, Melanie Weisner and Brandon Adams all fall into that category.

Only four previous champions hold onto hopes of a repeat victory heading into Friday’s action: Greg Raymer (732,000), Johnny Chan (588,000), Ryan Riess (270,000) and Tom McEvoy (202,000).

There won’t be a back-to-back champion, as Joe McKeehen went out shortly before the bubble burst Thursday. Phil Hellmuth, the 14-time WSOP-bracelet winner and 1989 WSOP main event champion, also failed to make the money. Among celebrity participants, Ray Romano and soccer star John Arne Riise also both failed to make the money.

After the bubble burst, the expected flood of eliminations followed. Scott Clements (1,007th), Farzad Bonyadi (977th), Noah Schwartz (971st), Dan Sindelar (935th), Shannon Shorr (911th) and Kristen Bicknell (885th) were among the 211 who fell once in the money.

Top 10 chip counts

1. Kenny Hallaert (Hansbeke, Belgium) — 1,709,000

2. Jared Bleznick (New York) — 1,607,000

3. Duy Ho (Honolulu) — 1,480,000

4. Kilian Kramer (Vienna) — 1,400,000

5. Mark Zullo (Seville, Ohio) — 1,390,000

6. Myung “Mike” Shin (Milwaukee) — 1,385,000

7. Antonio Esfandiari (Las Vegas) — 1,381,000

8. Nolan King (Boynton Beach, Florida) — 1,355,000

9. Jasthi Kumar (San Ramon, California) — 1,351,000

T-10. Marc-Andre Ladouceur (Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec) — 1,302,000

T-10. Farhad Jamasi (Ocoee, Florida) — 1,302,000

Adam Furgatch takes main event bubble in stride

Unlike several previous years, where several players went out on the same hand, Adam Furgatch earned the traditional bubble-boy prize of a seat in the 2017 WSOP main event unopposed before hand-for-hand play could even begin. After a brief pause so that staff could be certain they were at the right number, WSOP tournament director Jack Effel walked over to Furgatch’s table and, after a brief word, awarded him a free seat to the 2017 WSOP main event.

“The famous quote is that the day you bust out of the main event is the saddest day of the year for a poker player,” Furgatch said, “and yeah, it’s sad, you always want to do better, but the experience of being the bubble boy is actually more exciting than if I had lasted a few hands longer and made $5,000.”

This was Furgatch’s second WSOP main event, and he hasn’t walked away empty-handed yet. He won a live satellite to earn his seat the first time around in 2015 and made the most of his opportunity, finishing 387th for $24,622. Furgatch didn’t come in with the intention of just folding his way to the money, but the cards simply didn’t cooperate for the majority of Day 3.

“I really went totally card-dead, no playable hands,” Furgatch said. “There was one hand where, I guess, in the end, I should have folded. I thought I needed to win one more pot [to get into the money], but again, I’m the bubble boy. Is that better? It’s definitely more exciting, except for [the possibility] of a chip and a chair, once you’re in.”

Small blinds: After three starting sessions, there were 4,360 entrants for the $1,111 Little One for One Drop event. Jeffrey Papola leads the way with 197,700, which he bagged on Day 1C Thursday. The prize pool reached $3,924,000, with $525,520 and the final bracelet of the summer awaiting the champion. … Four players who started Day 3 of the WSOP main event have reality TV experience in their backgrounds. While Maria Ho’s 765,000 (“Amazing Race”) and Garrett Adelstein’s 175,000 (“Survivor”) got them through to Day 4, Anna Khait (“Survivor”) and David Williams (“MasterChef”) each failed to cash.

What’s next: Friday’s action begins with the final 30 minutes of Level 16, with blinds of 3,000/6,000 and a 1,000 ante, starting at noon PT. Five full levels of poker will follow, with Day 4 play scheduled to wrap up around 1 a.m. PT.

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