3 Glorious Days: The Scott Blumstein Main Event Final Table Rail
What are you supposed to expect when the event you grew up watching is suddenly live and in front of your own eyes? Scott Blumstein saw Chris Moneymaker win the Main Event when he was a teenager but never thought he’d make it to the poker’s biggest stage in his first ever attempt. Neither did most of his closest friends, many of whom were on the rail at the start of Thursday’s final table of the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event.
As a friend of Scott’s, I joined his team of investors, confidants and “Due Theorists” on the rail for all three days of his journey to immortality. The shirts (brought to you by the good folks of RunGoodGear) were a nice perk but we were all there for a moment in time we would never forget, regardless of the result. This isn’t supposed to happen. You don’t just “attend” Main Event final tables. But it did. And we were there for it.
Day 1: “Is This Real?”
Anyone who’s known Scott will tell you that they always knew he was capable of doing something special in the poker world, but who could expect this? $8.1 million dollars on the line and Scott is the chip leader? His father, Len Blumstein, certainly didn’t. Five minutes before cards are in the air, he tells me a story about 13-year-old Scott convincing his mother, Randee, to buy him a $270 Phil Hellmuth-branded poker set. The set came with chips and an instructional book. Len says he was not pleased with the purchase at the time but with his son about to play for life-changing money, he could only marvel and say, “look at him now.”
You would think that with the Main Event title and millions of dollars on the line, there would be tension in the air that you could cut with a knife. It was the opposite, actually. Scott spent most of the time before the final table started talking to close friends on the rail about minor strategy details along with some casual ice-breaker discussion to keep his mind balanced before the biggest moment of his life.
With Scott starting the final table as chip leader, our hopes were sky-high. He didn’t come this far to not finish the job. Scott likes to say “it’s still a poker tournament” and all of us were conscious of that fact. None of us would say it out loud but we were sure that the title was his to lose.
The pageantry of the moment wasn’t lost on any of us. Last year’s Main Event Champion Qui Nguyen was in attendance to do “Shuffle Up and Deal” duties and made an effort to stop by and exchange a quick word with Scott. I didn’t catch any of their conversation and never bothered to ask Scott what was said between the two of them. The words were not relevant, but the scene was. It was finally time to play poker.
The rail was filled with a combination of both coaches and “fans.” Asher Conniff, Chris Horter, and Jake Schwartz led the charge with relaying pertinent information to Scott from the stream, giving him all information on the hands his opponents were playing. On the other end, Anthony Garofolo, James ‘Jimbo’ Hundt, and Jason Brauda were in charge of keeping Scott’s “mentals” in check. It’s easy to get overwhelmed under the bright lights with everything at stake and that trio made sure Scott stayed focused on the task at hand, rather than let a bad hand or unlucky break stay with him.
Brauda played a key role in Scott’s run to the final table for the latter part of play in the lead up to Thursday. He was on the rail for Days 5, 6, and 7, keeping Scott in check when it was necessary and putting everything into the right perspective. Scott played amazing poker, but if not for Jason keying Scott in on breaks and the occasional mindset adjustment, the run as we know it might not have materialized the way it did.
The first few hours of the final table showed just how loose Scott was for this moment. As the only person eligible to order cocktails for the rail, Scott asked for “37 beers” when pressed for order details. Even after losing a small all-in to eventual fifth place finisher Antoine Saout, Scott and Saout exchanged a laugh after Scott paid off the loss. Scott’s ease at the table and around the rail kept us calm as we sweated out his battle for millions and our fight for tens or hundreds of thousands.
Without specifically saying who or for how much, there were folks cheering for Scott who stood to win life-changing money of their own as a result of an investment paid to him before the start of the tournament.
With that said, you can imagine our collective excitement when Scott won the largest pot of the entire tournament against fan favorite and then-chip leader, John Hesp. Hesp and Scott had been battling in small pots for the first 46 hands of the final table but on Hand 47, Scott’s equity and the equity of those who bought a piece changed forever.
The legend has been etched in rock from Boulder Station to Stonehenge of the cooler Scott put on Hesp to claim 40% of the chips in play. With the ESPN microphones as my witness, I said to a friend and fellow railbird Eric Most, “this is the hand where Scott flops top set and gets it all from Hesp’s bottom two pair.” It didn’t quite happen that way, but the result was the same.
Whatever subliminal nervousness we had about Scott pulling this off was gone. He was basically at heads up play, waiting to take the title that he tweeted he was going to win.
Day 2: “Our Time”
The tension that existed on Day 1 was gone when play started with seven left. Our guy had 150 million. All we had to do was not give away chips and a place on Saturday’s stage was ours.
Scott played a hand discussed by many against runner-up Dan Ott at the end of Thursday night, in which Scott shoved the river with a pair of queens on an ace-high board. Prior to the start of Friday’s action, commentator Antonio Esfandiari asked Scott why he played the hand the way he did. In a two-minute burst of brilliance, Scott fully articulated his full thought process to Esfandiari and left Esfandiari doing that nod where you stick your bottom lip out a bit further than normal because you were not expecting what just happened in front of you but are impressed by it. Scott was sharp in explaining the hand and if there was any question about how well he knew his remaining opponents, it was answered there.
We had some new additions to the rail on Friday. Scott is a proud alum of Temple University and a few of his fellow Owls flew out to support their guy. While the majority of the rail had on the blue/white t-shirt, these guys came clad in Temple maroon complete with flags and cheers.
Nick, Aldo, Peter, etc., all great guys who made a lasting impression. Their story about how their small investment in Scott turned into gold was featured on ESPN, but even if there was no money involved, these guys still would have been there. Their friendship was strong like the faith they had in Scott.
There were no consistent, organized cheers for Scott on the first day but these guys changed that. “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE, FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE” rung out after Scott won the smallest of pots. It was great having that raw energy there from people not in the poker world.
That exuberance carried over to the other dozen or so people on the rail for Day 2 as the party atmosphere picked up. Aside from Bryan Piccioli’s rail full of excitable Bitcoiners, we had the largest cheering section throughout the final table. I think the lack of stress among us helped out Scott as well.
There was a point when Scott came up to me once the field was narrowed to down to five players and looked me dead in the eye asking, “Is this really happening?” Indeed, it was, and we knew just the meal to keep the party going.
Jimbo had the bright idea to order multiple pizzas for our rail as we were more or less trapped inside the Brasilia room with no immediate food options at our disposal. It felt a little bit like the scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Len alluded to while mowing down a slice but when it’s your time, it’s your time.
Len and Randee were the real stars of the rail. Neither of them had a solid sense of poker knowledge and we gladly supplied them with pertinent details about their son as big hands played out. The pair spent most of their time sitting in the stands as they tried to maintain their composure over what Scott was attempting to accomplish. Len joined the group near the rail on numerous occasions and it was a joy having him there. Going off of a sample size of a few hours, it appeared that Len was one of those “always a kid at heart” types of folks and that manifested in the zealous smile he had on his face for the whole final table. Overall, I think they loved seeing how much other people enjoyed being around their son.
There was a moment midway through Friday where he walked up behind a group of us and marveled at the spectacle, saying “this is just great.” No one disagreed.
Every time Scott lost ground at the final table, he found a way to gain it right back. The hand where he turned a full house against Benjamin Pollak’s trip nines was a prime example of this. Scott had lost an all-in right before then and suffered a few more small hits but when he needed to win a hand, he did. Being situated directly next to the French rail, we were careful about discussing the hand with Scott in the immediate aftermath as was he. He gave us a smirk and an “I’ll tell ya later” before heading back to the table.
When the hand became available on the ESPN stream 30 minutes later, a strange moment took place. Standing adjacent to each other, Blumstein and Pollak watched the hand unfold on the same screen, with Pollak gazing over the fan side of the rail as his better trips were foiled by Blumstein’s turned full house. Scott complimented Pollak on his river fold and Pollack furrowed his brow and nodded in acknowledgment.
The instant camaraderie among the final table participants was staggering. Hesp set a cheerful demeanor early on but I don’t think a similar situation would have unfolded the year before between Qui Nguyen and Cliff Josephy. The moment between Scott and Pollack that played out, though, is one of the most endearing minutes of the final table and I hope even a few years from now, those the two players are aptly recognized for their gamesmanship inside of that two minutes.
The last couple dozen hands on Friday flew by. As Hesp grew more short, we all knew the day was going to be over soon enough. I had left to tend to my day job at the Venetian by the time Hesp hit the rail in fourth place but we were already making plans for Saturday. We didn’t come this far to not see this thing all the way through.
Day 3: “Can We Just Win a Fucking All In Already?”
The pressure had officially got to us. Scott possessed nearly all the chips coming into the last day of play and only time was separating him from his destined bracelet. The cards, however, knew of no such divine right.
By leveraging his stack against Ott and Pollak, Scott won nearly every small pot but when the cards were turned up, our hair started falling out.
The peak of this moment came when there was the first three-way all-in to potentially decide the title in Main Event history. Scott had AQ. Ott had K9. Pollak had Q10. It was all right there for the taking. Until a king flopped and then it wasn’t. We were heads up, at least, with a 2-1 advantage.
One thing that did help us to forget the relatively dire situation we were in: In and Out Burger. That’s right. As the only one with a car who had the leeway to leave for a few minutes, I took Patrick Serda, a mutual friend of the group, over to the In and Out on Sahara and proceeded to order 12 burgers regular, 12 #AnimalStyle, along with 12 milkshakes. There was enough alcohol on the rail, we didn’t really need to worry about the liquid part of it but the ice cream base did its part to wash the onions down smooth.
The burgers repressed our screams as the first part of heads up play between Scott and Ott played out.
Without giving away all of the secrets, we had a last minute find for virtual coaching that helped Scott form a lot of his strategy. The large sizing he used when three-betting Ott’s opens was not an accident. Through the rapid communication of source to a phone to Scott, he was able to adjust on the fly and take advantage of Ott’s perceived weaknesses. It worked. Scott had an incredible advantage but there was one leak left to plug.
We still couldn’t win an all in.
Ott managed to wiggle out of trouble with K9 against Scott’s sixes when he flopped a better pair. There was a relative calm among us but it was a high-strung moment as the next hand was dealt out.
Scott put the last opponent of the 7,220 he battled his way through all in on the very next hand. We thought our guy had it, he just wouldn’t give his chips away this easily right? Ott tanked for what felt like hours and called with A8. All we had was A2. The flop was no good. The turn left us with three outs. And then. It happened.
By the grace of whatever poker god was listening, a deuce hit the river and the championship was ours. The celebration was on. Euphoria poured out of every one of us as Scott ran over to the rail and jumped into our arms.
“FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE, FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE”
“FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE, FOR THE CHERRY AND THE WHITE”
That chant is still in my ears and won’t be leaving anytime soon. We all thought this moment would happen from the time play started on Thursday but how are you supposed to react when your wildest dreams come true?
Scott Blumstein flew to Las Vegas to play one tournament and won it. And we were there for it.