From the time cards went into the air Monday just before 5 pm until the final river card was dealt shortly after midnight, the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event provided few opportunities to catch your breath. As the numbers continued to shrink and threaten to slow the pace down, a hand of massive proportion would seemingly develop out of nowhere, each bigger than the last one.
Just three players now remain in the race for the most prestigious title in poker, each having done their fair share of work to put themselves in position to win. Greg Merson holds the chiplead overnight after winning the biggest pot of the tournament against Andras Koroknai and, not that he needs any extra inspiration, but he would also win the WSOP Player of the Year award if he were to win this bracelet. Jesse Sylvia led going into the final table and spent the entirety of play Monday at or near the top of the counts. Jake Balsiger began as the second-shortest stack and, after an early push and a double-up through Robert Salaburu, Balsiger now has a chance to become the youngest Main Event champion ever.
Salaburu’s day didn’t start off so bleakly, though, taking a sizable portion of Steve Gee’s chips with pocket kings to make an early run up the leaderboard. This confrontation would put Gee in a position where he needed to try to pick up some chips as the blinds went up at the end of the level. Gee opened to 900,000 under the gun and got called by Merson and Russell Thomas as they saw a flop of 7 5 4. Gee bet 1.6 million, Merson folded and Thomas called, bringing the J on the turn. After another bet by Gee, this time of 3.25 million, Thomas called again. The river was the 3, putting a four-card straight on board, and Gee went all-in for just over 11 million. After tanking for a number of minutes Thomas called with Q Q and was best, with Gee tabling 8 8 for a lesser pair and missed draw as he exited the final table in ninth.
Salaburu lost half his stack to Balsiger with pocket queens against pocket kings, but he looked poised to double through Sylvia in a blind against blind confrontation. Sylvia put Salaburu all-in and was quickly called by Salaburu, who had 7 7 against Sylvia’s Q 5. The flop was A A 4 to keep Salaburu well ahead, though the 2 on the turn gave Sylvia four extra outs to a straight. The Q crushed Salaburu’s title hopes, sending him out in eighth after several unfortunate spots.
Michael Esposito started to get critically short-stacked at this point, but he wouldn’t go out without a fight. After taking down two pots in a row with uncalled all-in bets, Espositio three-bet all-in for over 10 million over a raise by Merson. This time would be different, as Merson had A K and was well ahead of Esposito’s A J. The flop provided little help, coming out 9 7 4, but the 6 on the turn gave Esposito a flush draw. The 8 on the river was a brick and Merson claimed his first bustout of the final table in the form of Esposito, who settled for seventh.
Koroknai had picked his spots well throughout the final table and continued to accumulate chips until he crossed the 40 million mark. It was at this point that Koroknai invoked memories of Joseph Cheong in 2010, running into a monster after trying to pull off a high risk maneuver. Merson opened with a min-raise to 1 million from the button and Jesse Sylvia three-bet to 2.6 million from the small blind. Koroknai cold four-bet to 5.3 million and the action returned to Merson. He five-bet to 9.2 million, driving Sylvia from the pot, but Koroknai decided to six-bet all-in for just over 40 million. Merson snap-called and suddenly the second and third largest stacks at the table, almost identical in size before the hand began, were playing for all of their combined chips.
Merson had A K and Koroknai was in big trouble, getting caught with K Q. With the chiplead on the line and a ticket to the cashier for the loser, the biggest pot of the 2012 Main Event had developed in less than two minutes. The 8 3 2 flop kept Merson ahead and provided no help whatsoever to Koroknai. The 7 on the turn gave Merson a flush draw and reduced Koroknai’s outs to just two cards with only the river to come. The 7 brought an explosion of celebration from every corner of the Penn & Teller Theater, as Merson collected the pot, the chiplead, and his second elimination in one hand.
Even as the field shrunk and the average stack ballooned, one of the remaining stacks always seemed to be on the brink of being dangerously low. Jeremy Ausmus started as the shortest stack of the nine, but managed to almost triple his starting stack without being at risk even a single time. After Koroknai went out, though, Ausmus was left as the shortest stack with the two chipleaders sitting to his immediate left. On his fateful final hand Ausmus opened to 1.2 million from the button and Sylvia called in the big blind. They each checked the 9 8 3 flop, but Sylvia check-raised the 3 turn to 3.6 million. Ausmus three-bet all-in and Sylvia called, ahead with A 9 against Ausmus’ T 7 for an open-ended straight draw. The river was the 5 and Ausmus’ unlikely ascent from shortest stack to potential contender was derailed in fifth.
It wouldn’t take long for the number to go from four to three to bring play to an end for the evening. Thomas made a big call to build his stack early on in the final table, but it was another call that would ultimately be his undoing. Thomas raised to 1.5 million from the small blind and Balsiger three-bet enough to put Thomas all-in, which was just under 16 million. After weighing his options for about two minutes, Thomas eventually called with A 9 but had run into a big hand as Balsiger tabled A K. There wasn’t much on the Q 8 5 flop but the 5 on the turn added chop outs for Thomas. The 7 would not do it, though, as Thomas was eliminated in fourth, bringing play to a halt.
Four millionaires were crowned Monday and three more will join them Tuesday, but only one player can claim over $8.5 million and the bracelet. When play resumes Tuesday afternoon at 5:45 PT blinds will be 300,000/600,000 with a 75,000 ante, and here’s how the chips are spread out after Monday’s action.
- Greg Merson – 88,350,000
- Jesse Sylvia – 62,750,000
- Jake Balsiger – 46,875,000
Here are the payouts for each of the six players who were already eliminated as well as the top three prizes, which have yet to be awarded
- ? – $8,531,853
- ? – $5,295,149
- ? – $3,799,073
- Russell Thomas $2,851,537
- Jeremy Ausmus $2,155,313
- Andras Koroknai $1,640,902
- Michael Esposito $1,258,040
- Robert Salaburu $971,360
- Steve Gee $754,798
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