“Congratulations players, you are all in the money.”
It’s never easy to stay in a poker tournament long enough to hear those words and know they refer to you. In the case of the Main Event at the 2023 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event, it would have taken two-and-a-half days’ work.
But bear this in mind: There’s one other player who will still be in earshot when the tournament director makes that announcement, prompting widespread jubilation. And that person knows they are not included. That’s the player knocked out on the bubble.
In this instance, with a min-cash of $17,600 looming into view, and a $1.5 million winner’s cheque on the distant horizon, it was Juan Membreno who filled the unluckiest role in the room.
Membreno, the lone representative from El Salvador in the PCA Main Event, at least had the good fortune to be buried behind dark sunglasses and beneath a hoodie when he took his final walk.
He also had the gracious Andre Marques as his neighbour to shake his hand and offer what seemed to be genuine consolation, even as that same man Marques had been his assassin.
Membreno’s departure ended a tortuous money bubble period, where at least five players were all in, called and at risk of elimination, only to survive. The hand-for-hand bubble period lasted around 90 minutes of high drama, the highlights of which were as follows.
With 127 players due to be paid, the elimination of Joseph Drory in 129th brought the tournament on to the stone bubble. The next player out meant everyone else would be in the money.
ACES VS. KINGS
The first stone money bubble drama happened on Table 4, and it was a doozy. Anthony Hu was the all-in player, called by Justin Steinbrenner. There’s always a delay while the full bubble phalanx moves into place, and Hu used it to ask Steinbrenner what he had. “Kings?” he proffered.
It wasn’t obvious whether Steinbrenner answered, but it was soon revealed to be a good read. After the tournament director arrived and asked the players to put cards on their backs, Steinbrenner did indeed show K♠ K♣ . Hu had A♠ A♦ .
This looked great for Hu, until the dealer put the flop down: 6♣ K♥ 8♠ .
“Not like this!” said Xuan Liu from the feature table on the stage, from which she had a bird’s eye view of the outer table.
Just as it was looking like being a sick, bubble-bursting outdraw, the dealer put the turn on the table. It was the A♣ and we now had two sets, with the aces back in the lead. Hu rubbed his hands in delight.
The 6♦ river was anticlimactic in the circumstances, but John Juanda, who had shimmied over from another table, attempted to add some additional drama. “Oh. My. God,” he said. No one bought it.
As Hu stacked up his new chips, another hand came down, and this time the tough decisions played out on Juanda’s table.
SIENA BREATHES AGAIN
Alessandro Siena, a PokerStars qualifier based in Malta, was all in for his last 65,000 and Andrew Moreno went deep into the tank. He rubbed his nose and massaged his temples, all the moves of someone pondering a marginal call. But he had a big stack and did indeed drop in the calling chips, tabling A♣ J♣ .
Siena showed his hand. He was in as good a shape as he could have hoped. He had J♦ J♥ . But the dealer didn’t make it easy for him. Although the flop missed the overcard, it brought a straight draw — 10♣ Q♠ 7♦ — and then the 3♣ turn added a flush draw.
Siena was visibly sweating, and the group of reporters and TV camera operators moved ever closer. There were also two massage therapists working on John Racener and Nick Petrangelo, so this table was particularly crowded.
However, Siena breathed deeply and stared to the heavens when the 7♥ landed on the river. He would live to fight another day.
BUBBLE-UPS FOR PROUDFOOT AND RIBEIRO
One more hand, one more all-in. This time it took place on the secondary feature table on the TV stage, where Allan Ribeiro and the aforementioned Liu were in a pot that had gone all the way to the river.
By the time any reporters arrived, all the dealing and betting was done. The board of K♣ 6♠ 2♠ 2♥ 9♠ was out there and Ribeiro’s chips were at risk against the bigger stack of Liu. It wasn’t clear whether Ribeiro was concerned at all, but he shouldn’t have been. When instructed finally by the tournament director, he turned over K♠ Q♠ for a flush, and Liu shook her head and tabled pocket jacks.
That was another bubble-up, and another came soon after on an outer table. In this one, Mustapha Kanit opened from the button, Jonathan Proudfoot moved all-in from the big blind, and Kanit made the call. There was another long pause as the bubble crew drew nearer. Then Proudfoot was able to show his pocket kings.
Kanit had A♠ 9♦ but the board was blank. The at risk player actually ended with a full house, when a king fell on the river. So Proudfoot marched on, and we went looking for our real money bubble boy.
MONEY BUBBLE FINALLY BURSTS
“Deal one more hand please,” Toby Stone, tournament director, instructed his staff.
But a member of the TV crew was quickly on to it. “No! Stop the deal!” he said, like an FBI agent approaching some kind of parking lot handover. “There’s another all-in!”
It was lucky that he’d noticed: Membreno and Marques had all of their chips in the middle too.
The action in this hand had frozen on the flop. The Q♥ 7♠ 2♥ were on the table, and everyone now jostled for position beside the pair of them. They turned over their hands.
Membreno had 7♥ 9♥ for middle pair and a flush draw. Marques had A♥ Q♦ for top pair and a backdoor flush draw.
“One more card, please.”
The 8♦ came on the turn, shutting the back door.
But the Q♣ river was only good for the player already in the lead. Marques was the victor and Membreno was toast.
“Congratulations players, you are all in the money.”
(Unsaid: “Not you, though. You’re out.”)