LAS VEGAS -- Amid a constant rattlesnake buzz of chips being shuffled and stacked around the crowded room, Doyle Brunson sat quietly and studied the cards from under a white cowboy hat.
The stars are falling by the wayside at the World Series of Poker. Brunson, 79, still was hanging on late into Thursday night.
“Good luck, Dolly. I hope you make it to the final table,” Phil Hellmuth said before exiting the Rio Convention Center around 8:30 p.m.
Hellmuth was eliminated from the Main Event before the dinner break. Soon after, Phil Ivey was knocked out. In a span of about an hour, two of the game’s biggest names were headed home.
Brunson, also known as “Texas Dolly,” was perched behind a significant stack of chips and in front of a small group of spectators.
The $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship is an event Brunson has won twice, in 1976 and 1977. He’s making a good run at cashing this year, if nothing else.
The Main Event field, which started with 6,352 entrants, was cut to 747 at 11 p.m., shortly after the final break of the night. The final 648 players will finish in the money.
Max Steinberg, who sent Ivey to the rail after a big hand on the ESPN stage, went into the last break as the leader with just under 1 million in chips. He started the day with only 39,000.
Dick van Luijk of Belgium surged to 1.1 million before taking a hit after dinner. He was among the leaders with Somar Al-Darwich, Matthew Huey and a few other unrecognizable names.
Al-Darwich had about 380,000 in chips and survived going all-in early in the evening.
“It was just incredible. I’m still alive,” Al-Darwich said, before hurrying off for a restroom break.
Hellmuth, the “Poker Brat” often criticized for boorish behavior, was anything but a sore loser. He lingered in the room after getting eliminated and posed for photographs with fans, talked with Brunson and welcomed an interview.
“So, it’s a bummer,” said Hellmuth, who denied media requests for most of the year. “I was pretty disappointed, pretty depressed, because it’s the worst day of the year when you go out of the Main Event.”
Hellmuth went out with a pair of 10s, getting no help against a pair of jacks. He detailed his moves and said, “I liked my hand.”
He was sidelined at about the same time as a friend, Liv Boeree, one of 298 female participants. Boeree went from 270,000 in chips to knocked out after a series of big hands. Females accounted for 4.7 percent of the original field.
Hellmuth, from Palo Alto, Calif., has won almost everything there is to win. In 1989, at 24, he won the Main Event. He owns a record 13 WSOP bracelets.
This year at the Rio, in 40 events, he cashed three times with a fifth-place finish. But he was counting on a lot more.
“I don’t expect to play for 40 days and not do something great,” he said. “I’ve been here for 42 days, fighting. To me, it feels like an epic fail. I haven’t cashed in three weeks. It’s been a long summer.”
He might not be the most popular player in poker, but Hellmuth said, “I don’t like to root against other people.”
His cell phone rang, and he enthusiastically greeted his wife.
“I’ve been married for 23 years and never cheated on my wife,” he said before walking out the door.