There have been some truly dominant performances in the history of the World Series of Poker Main Event. However, there are few, if any, examples of anything quite like what Joe McKeehen accomplished on his way to the 2015 title.
McKeehen added his name to the pantheon of poker’s World Champions Tuesday night at the Rio in Las Vegas. He completed a wire-to-wire run to victory that was seemingly never in doubt at the final table. It all culminated in hoisting up the championship WSOP bracelet and claiming $7,683,346 in front of a packed crowd at the Penn & Teller Theater.
“This is definitely the greatest accomplishment anyone can have in this game,” said McKeehen to a crowd gathered onstage shortly after his victory. “I was always confident I could make money playing the game professionally, but to get this really proves something.”
McKeehen led for the entirety of the final table and held for almost that entire span. He had at least twice as many chips as his closest opponent throughout the three days of final table play. To put McKeehen’s level of dominance into perspective, he started the first of three final table days with just over 60 million chips and never dropped below that point. None of the other eight players ever managed to cross the 50 million chip mark for the duration of the final table.
Joe McKeehen's Heads Up Magic
He began heads up play against Josh Beckley with a lead of over 4-to-1. While McKeehen received a number of big hands (including ace-king on three different occasions) during their battle, he continued his relentless pursuit of the title and made short work of Beckley; taking it home after just 12 total hands of heads up.
When the money got in on Hand 184, it was a race between Beckley’s 4c 4d and McKeehen’s Ah Td. As he did for much of the final table, McKeehen got just the flop he was looking for as it fell Qs Tc 5s. The 5d turn left just two cards to dodge for the win, and with the Jc river McKeehen hoisted his fists in the air to celebrate his victory.
It was the last in a long stretch of near-perfection for McKeehen, who either had the cards, got the cards or used pure aggression to accumulate every chip on the table in record time. Considering the stakes and the stage, it couldn’t have gone any better for the newest World Champion.
“It was very smooth,” said McKeehen. “Just the way the cards came out, it wasn’t like I had many tough decisions. It was definitely easier than facing adversity, or having to come back from behind.”
Team888 Makes a Great Showing
McKeehen prominently sported an 888 patch throughout the three days at the final table, and it was a great performance across the board for Team 888 at the final table.
Tom Cannuli got all-in with Pocket Aces against Max Steinberg's Tens on the second hand of the second day of the final table. He had a chance to surge up the counts, but his hand got cracked, and he had to settle for sixth place.
Neil Blumenfield put on a tremendous show over three days, displaying a bold style that drew the attention of the commentary team and viewers around the world and eventually led him to a third place finish.
Blumenfield enjoyed his wild Main Event ride as much as anyone else who made the final table.
“Sure, I’m disappointed now, but if you had told me before this all started that I’d be standing here right now and asked me, ‘Would I take third place?’, I certainly would have,” said Blumenfield. “This was as good as it gets for a poker player, and for an amateur like me to come here and be able to compete and make it to this far is a great feeling of accomplishment.”
While the first day of play was somewhat marred by complaints of slow play, by the conclusion of the tournament the 2015 WSOP Main Event final table was one of the fastest in history, in terms of hands played. The last time the final table went even close to as quickly as it did in 2015, with 184 total hands played over three days, was in 2007. Jerry Yang took down the title in 205 hands.
A Well-Deserved and Well-Played Win
McKeehen did a lot of the dirty work himself. After knocking out Daniel Negreanu in 11th and Alex Turyansky in 10th to lock in the November Nine, McKeehen also took out the first three players - Patrick Chan, Federico Butteroni and Pierre Neuville - from the final table to make it five in a row.
After Max Steinberg had cracked Cannuli’s aces to bust him in sixth, Blumenfield eliminated Zvi Stern in fifth. McKeehen would then record the final three eliminations of the tournament, giving him credit for six of the eight bustouts at the final table and eight of the last ten overall.
The final night of play in the 2015 WSOP Main Event nearly felt like a coronation for McKeehen at times. Despite an overwhelming lead that made him a favorite throughout the final table, he was still largely at a loss of words when he considered the scope of what he accomplished.
“It still hasn’t hit me just yet, but I suppose sometime it will,” McKeehen said. “Sharing this with my family and friends, for me, that’s the best part.”
Total Hands Played at WSOP Main Event Final Table Since 2007
2015 - 184 hands
2014 - 328 hands
2013 - 261 hands
2012 - 399 hands
2011 - 301 hands
2010 - 262 hands
2009 - 364 hands
2008 - 275 hands
2007 - 205 hands