What seemingly could have been an inevitable clash between those two turned into something very different over the course of the final table Friday. By the time the final hand was dealt, the lead had changed hands 17 times and been held by four different players.
Mermelstein would ultimately go on to battle Eugene Todd, and despite nearly conceding the lead several times in their heads-up match he never trailed on his way to the biggest win of his career. For that, Mermelstein earned $712,305, a seat in the 2015 WPT World Championship, a permanent spot on the WPT Champions Cup, a pair of Gold 24K Monster headphones and a Hublot watch.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Mermelstein said immediately following his victory. “Especially to do it with the most amazing rail of all time, and against the competition I faced to do it.”
Mermelstein began heads-up play with a lead of over 2.7-to-1 against Todd, but after such a long day of battling before they even reached two players the blinds were big and the swings were too. After a few pots in a row Todd nearly pulled even for the first time, but Mermelstein seemed to scoop every key pot he needed to keep control.
Finally, on Hand 181 of the final table, Todd limped the button, Mermelstein raised to 1.6 million and Todd called. The flop came Q J 7, Mermelstein bet 2.7 million, Todd shoved for 12,050,000 and Mermelstein quickly called with A Q. Todd had flopped top pair too, but his Q 8 was desperately behind with the vast majority of the chips in play in the middle of the table in this pot.
The 3 turn eliminated any chance of a runner-runner straight or chop, and left Todd with three outs going into the river. The A gave Mermelstein two-pair and the victory, leaving Todd to settle for second place. Appearing at his third career WPT final table and first in more than seven years, Todd – who’s largely stepped away from his formerly heavy tournament schedule – earned the biggest cash of his career.
Cunix flirted with the 10 million chip mark on Day 4, but he’d finally cross that milestone on just the fourth hand of the final table. Randy Pfeifer and Justin Liberto, however, each slipped to dangerously low levels in the first two orbits of the day.
Liberto took his stand on Hand 13, when he miraised from the button and Esther Taylor-Brady three-bet to 560,000 in the small blind. After Liberto four-bet all in for 1.55 million, Taylor-Brady called with A 7 and Liberto showed 9 9; a harmless 8 5 2 Q 3 runout earned Liberto a much-needed double.
He wouldn’t get to enjoy that victory for long. On the very next hand, Liberto raised to 200,000 in the cutoff, Mermelstein three-bet to 600,000 in the small blind and Liberto four-bet all in yet again – only this time it was for 3.3 million. Mermelstein weighed his decision for a moment before calling with A K – which had Liberto in some trouble with K Q. The J 6 3 4 2 runout offered little reprieve, and on Hand 14 Liberto exited in sixth place.
Pfeifer enjoyed a pay bump, but he had just eight big blinds left to fight with going forward five-handed. He too would find himself all in during consecutive hands – only Pfeifer would live on to tell the tale. His A K held against Todd’s K 8 for the first double, and his K K earned him another pot from Todd, whose J J could not catch up.
That led into the first break of the day, and the stacks were truly stratified; Cunix had 10.3 million and Mermelstein held 8.8 million, while Taylor-Brady, Pfeifer and Todd were each in the 3 to 4 million range. Pfeifer eventually edged ahead of the other two in the trailing pack, but a big confrontation between Cunix and Mermelstein would cause the first change to the chiplead in days.
Mermelstein raised to 260,000 on the button and Cunix called in the big blind. The flop fell 9 8 5, Cunix led out for 325,000, Mermelsetein called and the Q landed on the turn. Both checked, the river was the 8, Cunix bet 625,000 and Mermelstein raised to 2.2 million. Cunix called with J 8 for trip eights, but Mermelsetein had flopped two-pair and rivered a boat with 8 5. That gave Mermelstein over 11 million and the lea – which he’d keep for all of two hands.
Pfeifer led with a raise to 260,000 in the cutoff, Cunix called on the button and Taylor-Brady made her stand in the big blind for 2,540,000. Pfeifer folded, Cunix called with K Q and Taylor-Brady showed 9 8 – which gave her live cards and a chance to double. The flop fell A J 8, giving Taylor-Brady the lead, but the K was a disastrous turn that left her just five outs going into the river.
The 4 sealed Taylor-Brady’s fate in fifth place, meaning the WPT’s unlikely stretch of almost 13 full seasons without a female champion would carry on for at least one more tournament. That pot also put Cunix back in the lead, albeit in a much tighter race with Mermelstein.
Pfeifer took a 3.3 million chip pot from Mermelstein without showdown by shoving a J 6 5 flop, and then played a 6 million chip pot with Cunix. With a board reading 9 6 5 7 Q, Pfeifer bet 1,550,000 on the river, Cunix quickly called with bottom two-pair, but Pfeifer’s 8 8 gave him a straight, that pot and the chiplead.
Todd fought his way back into things too, and for a time during Level 33 it truly became anyone’s game. They’d jockey for position for some time – and that’s when things took yet another crazy turn. Cunix, Pfeifer and Todd went three ways to a flop of J J T, and they checked it through to an A turn.
Pfeifer checked, Cunix bet 575,000 and Todd raised to 1.5 million. Pfeifer got out of the way, but Cunix responded with a three-bet all in – having Todd slightly covered. With K Q for the Broadway straight, Todd called – but he was far from in the clear for a major double as Cunix held Q J for trip jacks. Any king would make it a chop pot, while any queen, jack, 10 or ace would give Cunix the massive pot. The 9 kept Todd’s hand best, however, and he became the fourth different player to hold the chiplead at this table.
Cunix was left with almost nothing, but after folding his big blind he earned a triple-up through Todd and Pfeiefer that got him back to almost 2 million – and he wouldn’t stop climbing there. He’d double through Todd in dramatic fashion with 9 8 against A 4, as it ran out K 7 6 Q 5 to give Cunix the straight on the river.
They continued to battle in their marathon four-handed session, with Pfeifer briefly slipping into the short stack. He’d soon pick off a river bluff shove from Mermelstein, bringing the top three stacks close yet again with Cunix sliding back to the bottom. Mermelstein shoved a nearly identical board of low cards – this time reading 6 3 2 5 3 – and Todd called with A 3. Mermelstein had the goods this time with 2 2, though, and regained the chiplead.
On the 83rd hand of the four-handed play – more than twice the number of hands it took to get from six to four, mind you – Cunix open-shoved from under the gun for 5,075,000 (17 big blinds) and Todd reshoved over the top to isolate. Todd had A J, but Cunix held A Q; if he were to lose this pot, Todd would go from the chiplead to just over 1 million and on life support.
The J 7 6 flop turned everything on its head, giving Todd top pair and the nut flush draw – leaving Cunix with two outs. The 9 ended all debate, giving Todd the better flush and sending the former dominant chipleader home three spots shy of his second WPT title, in fourth.
Todd and Mermelstein traded the chiplead, while Pfeifer fell shorter and shorter. The short stack went through the full gamut of emotions when he got all in with K J against Mermelstein’s J 9 on a K T 4 flop. The Q turn gave Mermelstein the straight, putting Pfeifer on the brink needing a non-club ace or nine, but he matched Mermelstein’s straight with the A river to earn a chop.
Things took a dramatic turn when Mermelstein rivered the nut straight and got paid on a 4 million chip bet against Todd – earning him a pot of 10.7 million and a stack of 12.6 million. He further distanced himself by taking a big pot from Pfeifer, sending Mermelstein over 15 million and Pfeifer under 6 million.
Pfeifer met his end on Hand 153. Mermelstein raised to 925,000, Pfeiffer shoved for 6.9 million and Mermelstein snapped him off with K K. Pfeifer needed serious assistance from the board, but an A A 7 flop offered very little. Both players shook hands when the 7 hit the turn and most thought it was over there – though a seven on the river would have made it a chop. The T made things official – Pfeifer was out in third and Todd and Mermelstein would battle heads-up for the title.
With a lead of 21.75 million to 7,925,000, Mermelstein had the clear advantage at the start of their match.
2015 World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Poker Open – Final Payouts
- Aaron Mermelstein – $712,305
- Eugene Todd – $419,467
- Randy Pfeifer – $253,263
- Shawn Cunix – $212,108
- Esther Taylor-Brady – $174,118
- Justin Liberto – $140,878
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