If Christian Pham's poker career got turned into a movie, it would probably get panned for being too much of a fairy tale, too hard to believe.
His first incredibly improbable moment came into 2015, when he claims to have accidentally registered for $1,500 2-7 Single Draw at the World Series of Poker when he meant to register for $1,500 Limit Hold'em. All he did was defeat a field of 219 and win a bracelet, overcoming the likes of Mike Leah, Robert Mizrachi and Huck Seed late.
Fast-forward to the 2017 World Series of Poker, and Pham fired in a $575 Main Event qualifier, winning a seat. On Day 5, with his tournament life on the line after bluffing all in on a four-straight board with one pair against a set, Pham needed a six and a six only to chop and survive or it was curtains.
He found the six-ball to avoid joining the payout line. Two days later, he's the leader of the final 27 players left after Day 6, with a career-best $263,532 locked up and 31,440,000 in the big. That will represent more than 100 big blinds when play resumes for Day 7.
A breathless Pham, sans the bucket hat he can be so often seen wearing at tournaments in and around his native Minnesota, could barely contain his excitement.
"It’s the hope of every poker player, we go to the final table, or we go the top 27, 18 something like that," he said. "And now, my dream has come true. I’m very happy about that."
"Now, my dream has come true. I’m very happy about that."
The key moment for Pham on Day 6 came in a three-bet pot against Superman costume-clad Jonathan Dwek, who accidentally reraised the minimum and wound up running a wheel with ace-eight. Unfortunately for the Canadian, Pham's bottom pair on the flop became a backdoor steel wheel, and Dwek was unable to find the fold button on the river when Pham shoved on him.
"Oh my God straight flush, that’s amazing," Pham said as he recalled the hand, adding that he made another straight flush shortly after. "Two straight flush today! That’s amazing! Oh my God, that’s incredible."
Immediately behind Pham in the counts are Valentin Messina (28,590,000), Jack Sinclair (27,535,000) and Ben Lamb (25,685,000).
Lamb, of course, finished third in the 2011 Main Event, banking $4 million. His tournament results have been relatively scarce since then, with appearances in $25K high roller tournaments here in Las Vegas accounting for the bulk of his action.
True to the feelings of a man who fires away in $25Ks and has been here before, Lamb isn't satisfied by getting to the final 27 and has his sights set much higher.
“I don’t care about the final table," he said. "I want to win the whole damn thing. I’m going to go home and watch Game of Thrones and then watch a little tape of today.
"It’s the most fun you can have to be deep in this poker tournament. I’m really excited to be here and the past will help me. But some of these guys have been here before too – multiple times."
One man in particular has made deep runs in the WSOP Main Event practically a yearly ritual at this point. Antoine Saout's own November Nine appearance predates Lamb's, as he made the final table back in 2009, also finishing third. Last year, Saout narrowly missed another final table with a 25th-place finish.
Saout had a fantastic summer in 2016 with three six-figure scores in Las Vegas, but admitted it has been a different story in 2017 as he came into the Main Event down and needed a big run to climb out of the hole he'd dug for himself.
Now, the Frenchman has navigated to the three-table redraw of the Main Event once again in something of a summer saver. He's in the middle of the pack with a stack of 9,945,000, but it's a count he's quite happy with as he struggled to gain much traction on Day 6.
"Today was a tough day," he said. "I fought. I was down to 4.6 million, but I finished at my peak at 10 million, so that's good."
Saout is far from the only Frenchman having a fantastic finish to the WSOP. Second-place Messina also hails from France, as do Benjamin Pollak (8,870,000) and Alexandre Reard (8,580,000). The four posed for pictures after bagging and had groups of fans waving French flags cheering them on throughout the day.
Saout accurately recalled that two of his countrymen also made the final 27 in 2009. Ludovic Lacay would finish 16th and Francois Balmigere 25th.
"It's very exciting," Saout said of the French contingent's surge. "We all have some chips. It's going to be a big day tomorrow. I hope we can make it two, three or even four [at the final table]."
The last 27 drew for their new seats after the eliminations of Joshua Horton in 28th when he made an inferior flush against Jack Sinclair. They'll come back to those seats at noon with 78 minutes left in Level 32 (120,000/240,000/40,000), and PokerNews will be providing hand-for-hand updates as the final three tables play down to the biggest final table in poker.