Chin up, Bruno Politano -- you're looking like a winner.

Chutzpah Alone Won't Win the Poker World Series

James McManus is the author of "Positively Fifth Street" and "Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker." He has written about the game for the New York Times, Harper's, the New Yorker, Foreign Policy, Esquire and Grantland. He teaches writing and literature at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
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As he had early on, Zach Jiganti, an up-and-coming poker savant, dominated his table pretty much from noon to midnight on Day Three and most of Day Four of the World Series of Poker's Main Event.

In one hand, he called a raise in the big blind bet from a middle-aged dad type in a baseball cap and goatee sitting four seats to his left. There'd been some friendly conversation leading up to the hand, apparently about the weather in Florida. "The Dad" lived there; Jiganti had gone to school there. Meanwhile, the Dad, with position on Jiganti, had been raising his blind fairly often.

It seemed fair to say that a fierce test of wills was the subtext.

The flop, or the first three cards dealt, came down 4-8-9 with two spades. Jiganti checked. When the Dad bet 22,000 chips, Jiganti check-raised to 81,000, sending the Dad into the think tank. A couple of minutes went by, during which it seemed more and more likely that the Dad had an overpair -- that is, his pair was higher than any of the cards on the board -- but was scared Jiganti had flopped a three of a kind. Or did he have a straight or flush draw?

Another three minutes went by. Jiganti stared coolly into the middle distance above the pot, looking neither scared of nor eager for a call. Eventually, a player not in the hand tapped the face of his watch to show he was thinking of calling for a clock. Anyone at the table has the right to call a clock on another, though it seldom happens when the stalled player is facing a bet amounting to around half his stack, as the Dad was. If someone does call for one, the dealer summons a floorman, who informs the player he has 60 seconds to act or his hand will be dead.

The Dad had been given to understand he was on an unofficial clock -- and probably a real one if he didn't act soon. Yet he still appeared frozen, confused. At long last, he shrugged and turned over his cards, a pair of 10s, saying how much he hated to muck an overpair but that he thought he was beat.

Jiganti, who didn't have to show his hand, either, also chose to do so: an unsuited ace-6. Pure air. Squadoosh. Stone-cold bluff.

A brief, respectful silence ensued.

"You keep trying to steal my big blind," Jiganti said evenly, "and it's just never gonna happen." Not hostile, not friendly. Just a matter of fact. Who could doubt him?

The Dad smiled wanly, nodding and tapping the felt. "Very nice bet."

Sure, he was smiling, but neither he nor his tablemates were likely to be contesting any pots with Jiganti unless they were holding pairs bigger than 10s, or had flopped a set or huge draw. Now more than ever, he had them where he wanted them: cowed. Jiganti took full advantage, building his stack to 2,364,000 as Day Four ground to a close. He finished second only to Matthew Haugen's 2,808,000.

One of the key hands of Day Five came just before the dinner break. Jiganti -- a former tennis star who says he now favors 50-mile runs through the desert -- found himself in a four-bet pot with Bruno Politano, a young Brazilian martial artist whose stack was almost as big as Jiganti's.

After a flop of ace-king-9 with two hearts, Politano came out swinging with a bet of 279,000. Jiganti raised to 657,000. Politano sat back and thought about his options for almost five minutes, finally pushing out a three-bet of 1.2 million. Jiganti's response was "all in," which Politano insta-called for the rest of his 2,185,000 chips, turning over a pair of kings.

Jiganti betrayed no emotion as he flipped up a pair of 9s, the extremely unfortunate victim of set over set. He still had two chances for the fourth 9 to be dealt, but a 5 on the turn and an 8 on the river decimated his stack. The Brazilian raked in the 4,960,000-chip pot, which made him the tournament's leader.

As I discussed the hand with a few of my friends, the author and poker pro Peter Alson noted the "alpha-maleness of it all." Referring to Jiganti's play, he said: "Calling four bets preflop with nine-nine does deserve punishment, so not only don't I feel bad for Jiganti, I actually kind of feel, So there, that's what you get for your chutzpah." Alson mentioned another hand in which Farid Jattin, a Florida pro, had six-bet his opponent preflop -- blind bet, raise, reraise, rereraise, rerereraise, rererereraise. When his opponent eventually folded, Jattin taunted him by showing one card: a deuce.

Whatever the merits of his preflop play, Jiganti was unlucky to be coolered by flopping set under set. That happens only about 1 percent of the time when two players have pocket pairs.

After being at or near the top of the leaderboard for the first five days, Jiganti was down to a dozen big blinds. A few hands later, he was out, in 185th place, heading to the cage to collect what must be the least satisfying $44,728 of his life.

The chips in that pot comprise 43 percent of Politano's current stack of 11,625,000, good for sixth place. He's in excellent position to make the final table by tonight.

Cashing in for the same amount as Jiganti was David Einhorn, who finished 173rd when his ace-jack failed to improve against an opponent's ace-queen. The happy poker warrior will be signing over all $44,728 to the Robin Hood Foundation, on top of whatever else he may give, not to mention the charitable donations he inspires other wealthy players to make.

The 27 remaining players return to action today. By midnight or so, we'll know which nine of them will return to the Rio casino for the final table in November.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
James McManus at

To contact the editor on this story:
Timothy Lavin at