The World Series of Poker main event final table is set, and Jesse Sylvia leads a group of eight Americans and one Hungarian looking to become the next world champion.
Day 7 began with 27 hopefuls looking to fill nine seats. The Day 6 chip leaders, Marc-Andre Ladouceur and Daniel Strelitz, suffered tough beats throughout the day and finished in 13th and 24th, respectively. Sylvia entered the final day in the middle of the pack, but one incredible coin flip changed his fate, making him the chip leader at the final table, which will resume play Oct. 28.
After winning the coin flip and the largest pot in the tournament up to that point (16 million in chips), Sylvia remained aggressive and continued to try to build his stack. He enters the final table with 43.87 million in chips as a result of that aggression, which was demonstrated during a major confrontation with Scott Abrams.
With 12 players remaining, Abrams was in third place out of the remaining 12 and appeared well on his way to October. With the blinds at 120,000/240,000, Russell Thomas opened the pot for 500,000. Steven Gee, Sylvia and Abrams called. The flop was Kh-7d-3d. Gee bet 1.45 million, Sylvia raised to 3.4 million, Abrams reraised to 7 million and after Thomas and Gee folded, Sylvia, having Abrams covered, moved all-in. Abrams instantly called and revealed Kd-Jd for top pair and a flush draw. Sylvia showed 7-7 for middle set and would have to avoid a diamond on the turn and river. With everyone in the Amazon Room looking at the screen above the table, the dealer placed the Qc and the 6c on the board to award Sylvia a pot of 44 million. Sylvia had effectively punched his ticket to October and Abrams was shockingly out in 12th.
With 11 players to go, all eyes turned to the two remaining women in the field, who were also the two shortest stacks. Earlier in the night, Gaelle Baumann doubled through Elisabeth Hille to create some additional drama. Hille was cruising for most of the final day, but after that setback, she was unable to recover. Hille had been aggressive all night and three-bet all-in over the raise of Andras Koroknai. He asked for a count, called and showed 7-7 to her A-Q. Hille lost the race and was eliminated in 11th, receiving an incredible ovation from the crowd.
Baumann's elimination seemed inevitable as the French professional poker player was one of the short stacks all night. She played a much tighter game than Hille and entered the 10-handed bubble with fewer than 10 big blinds. She was down to six big blinds when she doubled up with K-K over Greg Merson's J-9. She then moved all-in a few hands later and was up to 5 million in chips, which could've lasted her quite a while given the way she was playing.
Everyone in the Amazon Room began to feel like they should settle in for a while, but only a few hands later, Baumann moved all-in once again. This time, Koroknai called with A-J and had her A-9 dominated. The board ran clean for the former World Poker Tour champion, and with his second consecutive knockout, he'll enter October's action in second with 29.37 million in chips.
Merson's run to the final nine was also an incredible effort. From the very start of play on Day 7, Merson was simply in another gear. He ran over his opponents and put his chips in good almost all day to finish with 28.72 million. Reaching the final table isn't only an amazing accomplishment for Merson, but he also takes over the WSOP Player of the Year lead from Phil Ivey. Merson is one of two remaining WSOP bracelet holders in the field.
The next few months will be spent analyzing this group and learning more about them, but one thing is for sure: These are nine truly talented players who are ready to take their poker careers to the next level. Be sure to tune in to ESPN for all main event coverage, starting Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. ET.
Here's the 2012 WSOP main event final table:
Jesse Sylvia (43.87 million in chips): The 26-year-old will have a huge advantage in chips come October and the fact that he surrounds himself with some bright poker minds at all times will help him prepare over the next few months. Sylvia knows a number of players at the final table extremely well.
"Russell Thomas was my roommate two summers ago for the World Series and … he's a really good friend," said Sylvia on the Poker Edge podcast. "We don't really discuss poker, but get each other pumped up. To see him at the final table I actually feel like I'm dreaming."
Andras Koroknai (29.37 million): Koroknai, 30, will be remembered for a number of reasons from his seven-day final table run. The World Poker Tour's 2010 L.A. Poker Classic champion made a number of mistakes en route to Day 7, but once under the lights, he remained composed. The Hungarian definitely got lucky on Day 7, but he's at the final table and supported by a very big group of vocal fans who made it clear that he is a major star in his country.
Greg Merson (28.72 million): For a cash-game player, this guy can really crush tournaments. Merson entered a total of seven events during the 2012 WSOP, cashing in four, winning a bracelet and making another final table outside of the main event. He said it and everyone in Vegas has said it: He's the 2012 version of Ben Lamb. Merson has been an online cash-game superstar for the past few years, but since he's turned his sights toward tournament play this summer, he's been on quite a rush. Like Sylvia, Merson has plenty of experience with a few of his competitors.
"I'm going to be real comfortable, that's for sure," said Merson of his thoughts at the final table, citing how deep the play will be at the beginning. "It's nice to see the cash-game players have a good shot. … [The final table is] not going to be like a turbo like has been in the past."
Russell Thomas (24.80 million): Thomas is an actuary by trade, but he may be reconsidering his career path after making the main event final table. The 24-year-old from Hartford, Conn., is cash-game focused, but plans on incorporating some more tournaments over the next few months to prepare. Thomas cashed in the main event in 2011, finishing in 248th, and has one other WSOP final table under his belt with a fifth-place finish in a six-handed no-limit hold 'em event in 2010. Thomas admitted that he hasn't played much since Black Friday, but he's thrilled for the opportunities ahead. "Everything went pretty well," Thomas said of his final day. "I'm going to work really hard on my tournament game [for the next few months]."
Steven Gee (16.86 million): At 57, Gee is the oldest member of the final table and joins Merson as the only WSOP bracelet winners that remain. Gee's big moment on Day 7 came with a lucky river card that gave him a straight in a three-way all-in with 20 players to go. Just like so many players at this final table, Gee plays cash games almost exclusively and know that while he may have the live experience the younger players may not, he has a lot of work to do before October.
"It's unbelievable. It's a really hard feeling to describe. I know I feel great," said Gee. "In 2010 when I won my bracelet it was the brightest moment of my life, poker-wise, and I didn't think I could ever top that. … Guess what? In 2012, this moment is bigger than 2010. I don't have the bracelet yet, but the moment is still different. Making the final table is almost as good as winning the bracelet."
Michael Esposito (16.26 million): On Day 7, Esposito almost made it look easy to reach this point. The commodity broker from New York played with an intensity that was clear with every bet, call and raise. The 43-year-old has been playing poker well before the Moneymaker boom and now has four career WSOP cashes, including two in the main event.
Robert Salaburu (15.15 million): His friends call the 27-year-old Texan a solid player and one who is truly modest. Even after making the final table of the biggest event of the year, that personality was clearly on display. He's been playing for a decade, and while he's had some success, maintaining that success has been a challenge. Now, with his sights set on October, he's just looking to write the next chapter in his poker career. "I'm just happy to be here," said Salaburu. "I've just been having fun with this, that's all you can do. … I'm just trying to win the thing. That's all I can do. I'm playing as good as I can."
Jacob Balsiger (13.11 million): There's little debate that when Balsiger returns to Arizona State University in the fall, he's going to be one of the most popular kids on campus. The senior is a political science major with one year to go, and in between finishing his classes, he'll have to play the biggest final table of his life. A victory for the 21-year-old, who doesn't have a lot of live tournament experience, will make him the youngest main event champion in WSOP history.
"I [started playing poker] back in middle school for $5 and it was a big deal to win $30," said Balsiger. "Now the stakes are a little bit higher."
Jeremy Ausmus (9.80 million): Not only does Ausmus have the final table to look forward to this fall, but his wife is expecting the birth of their second child in early November. The 32-year-old professional poker player had nine WSOP cashes in 2012 and has 14 throughout his career. It wasn't easy to get to the final table and Ausmus is determined to make the most out of this opportunity.
"You enter the tournament and in the back of your mind, it's possible," Ausmus said of what he expected at the start of the main event. "Almost 7,000 people [entered] and you're a long shot to make it. It still doesn't seem real that I'm here. Honestly."
All players left Las Vegas with at least $754,798 in prize money, but there's plenty more up for grabs in October. Here's what they're playing for in addition to the WSOP main event championship bracelet: