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Memorable characters bring fun back to WSOP Main Event

It could have been nothing. Just three shooting stars streaking across the poker landscape, never to be seen again.

Or, maybe, it was a watershed moment.

For several years, the World Series of Poker has been dominated by deep-thinking introverts, more concerned with four-bet sizing than interacting at the table.

But thanks to the presence of amateurs Mickey Craft, Jonathan Dwek and John Hesp, the 2017 Main Event could long be remembered as the tournament that brought the fun back to the table.

“It’s interesting how the game continually changes,” WSOP tournament director Jack Effel said. “We went through a long period of time where it was all hoodies and sunglasses and people having long stares and stalling every hand.

“And this year, outside of a few isolated things, we’ve seen a lot of people playing poker, people being respectful, people wanting to have a cocktail at the table. It’s a lot more of a fun atmosphere.”

Hesp, a flashy 64-year-old Englishman decked out in a multi-patterned sportcoat and white hat, was in fourth place with 18 players remaining as play neared the dinner break at the Rio Convention Center.

Action in the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship continued late Monday until nine players remained.

The final table begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Rio, and the winner of the $8.15 million first prize is crowned Saturday.

Craft was near the top of the leaderboard throughout the first half of the Main Event, and his carefree attitude endeared him to fans and fellow players.

ESPN cameras followed Craft’s tequila-fueled shenanigans, and by Day 5, he was on a mission to satirize poker as much as win the tournament.

“I’ve played poker for 13 years, and I’m not joking when I say that the first hour of this event was the most entertaining poker I’ve ever played in my life,” said Danielle Andersen, who was at Craft’s table to open Day 4. “The chip leader (Craft) showed up drunk and just was going insane. It was entertaining and fantastic and hilarious.”

Fittingly, Craft’s demise came while he was holding 7-2 offsuit — the worst starting hand in Hold ’em — and he returned to his former table some 90 minutes later with a round of shots.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone for everything,” Craft said at the time. “I just wanted to make a little fun of poker. Whether you go out with king-queen or seven-deuce, it’s all for fun.”

Dwek stood out on Day 1A in his Superman costume. He was a mild-mannered business consultant from Toronto for the next two days of play, but brought back the Man of Steel on Friday for Day 4.

Dwek was wearing the costume again Sunday when he was eliminated in 38th place ($176,399) by Christian Pham’s straight flush.

“I just thought part of what makes the Main Event great is the excitement,” Dwek said. “It’s a fun event. I think some players, yeah there’s a lot of money involved, but it’s all business. There’s no talking, there’s no nothing. I just think it’s the kind of thing, you want to have fun.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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