Editor's Note: Live coverage of the final night of the WSOP main event final table will begin on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday. It will also be streamed on ESPN3.com, ESPN Mobile TV, WatchESPN and ESPNPlayer.com
After a hiatus of nearly four months, the nine players who made up the World Series of Poker main event final table returned to a spectacular main stage at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. While the action was surprisingly passive early on (as evidenced by three walks in the first 15 hands), the play became increasingly aggressive later in the night.
With a final table that included more foreign players than in any previous main event, it seems only fitting that three different countries are represented in the final three players: Germany's Pius Heinz (107.8 million in chips), the United States' Ben Lamb (55.4 million) and the Czech Republic's Martin Staszko (42.7 million).
While Heinz and Staszko are trying to become the first player from their respective countries to win the main event bracelet, Lamb is attempting to become the first player to win the WSOP Player of the Year and main event in the same year.
All three players will return on Tuesday night, and with everyone remaining already guaranteed more than $4 million in prize money, the trio will not only battle for an additional $4.7 million to the winner, but also the dream of every poker player -- to become WSOP main event champion.
During the 10 hours of play Sunday, we all witnessed some memorable hands that were seen "virtually" live with the unprecedented coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. However, since the play did not end until almost 3 a.m. ET, you may have missed some of the incredible hands of the night. You can see the replay of the action right here.
Nevertheless, here are my top 10 hands from the final table, in chronological order.
First four-bet of night ignites Heinz's rise to top (Hand No. 36):
As previously mentioned, the night began very passively. However, Hands 29 and 30 saw the first true three-bets of the night and it may have planted the seed for this following hand. With blinds 300,000/600,000 and a 75,000 ante, Phil Collins made his signature move of the day -- a limp into the pot. This was already the fourth time he had limped in, this time from middle position. From the cutoff, the ever-aggressive Heinz raised to 2.1 million. After the remaining players mucked, Collins tanked for a few moments and suddenly reraised his opponent to 4.5 million. Collins' unorthodox tactic seemed to have set up his opponent, potentially catching the aggressive German on a move. However, to everyone's amazement, Heinz came out of his think tank and pushed all-in. Collins mucked his hand in disgust. The ESPN coverage showed that Collins made a solid laydown as Heinz's As-Ks had his Ac-Qs crushed. This intense hand seemed to launch Heinz's run to the top of the leaderboard.
Ladies love Heinz (Hand No. 39):
Heinz entered the final table as one of the wild cards. As stated on ESPN Inside Deal, Heinz is a self-professed "uber" aggressive player and if the young German could accumulate some chips, he would be very dangerous. After the aforementioned big hand with Collins, Heinz began to climb the leaderboard when the following hand occurred. With blinds 300,000/600,000 and a 75,000 ante, Heinz raised to 1.3 million from mid-position. After Lamb called, the late position players all folded. Eoghan O'Dea, sitting in the small blind, seemingly tried to make a squeeze play by reraising to 4.1 million. After Phil Collins in the big blind folded, Heinz chose to make the call and Lamb folded. With a flop of 8d-8c-4c, O'Dea made a continuation bet of 4.6 million. After a few moments, Heinz made the call. The turn brought the 2c and more betting by O'Dea, this time a hefty 8.2 million. Heinz went into the tank for about five minutes, seemingly troubled by this decision. He emerged by announcing he was all-in. O'Dea was now put to the test and after a minute of his own, the Irishman released his hand, plummeting his remaining chip stack down the leaderboard. The ESPN broadcast later revealed that Heinz's pocket queens (Qs-Qc) had O'Dea's Ah-Qd dominated from the beginning. This hand shot Heinz to second in chips and, four hands later, he officially took over the chip lead for the remainder of the night.
Heinz's set denies Makiievskyi (Hand No. 59):
Entering Level 38 (blinds 400,000/800,000 with a 100,000 ante), all nine players remained in the hunt for the coveted bracelet, but five held fewer than 20 big blinds and eliminations were inevitable. History has shown us that once they begin, they usually happen in rapid succession.
As if on cue, Sam Holden was eliminated in the first hand back from break when his As-Js could not catch up to Lamb's Ah-Kc. Just eight hands later, another all-in confrontation occurred when the action was folded around to Anton Makiievskyi in the small blind. The Ukrainian pushed all-in with his short stack, but was insta-called by Heinz, holding pocket nines (9h-9d). Makiievskyi flipped over his Kc-Qh and the race was on. The young Ukrainian looked like he still had the chance to become the youngest WSOP main event champion ever after the dealer flopped Kd-Js-Jh. However, the dealer suddenly dashed those hopes when he cruelly placed the 9c on the turn. The 7h on the river ended Makiievskyi's dream run, eliminating him in eighth place. This hand propelled Heinz further into the chip lead.
Diamonds are Collins' best friend (Hand No. 73):
Collins began the night in fourth and was chosen by many (including myself) as one of the favorites to win it all. However, his unconventional limp strategy was not working well, and with six players remaining, he and O'Dea were at the bottom of the chip counts. With blinds 400,000/800,000 with a 100,000 ante, the action was folded to Collins on the button. He decided to shove all-in and was quickly called by Lamb and his Ac-Qc. As Collins revealed his Qh-Jd, it appeared his night would be over, and the flop of Kd-5d-3s did not offer much encouragement to the Collins contingency. As slightly expected, the turn always adds excitement, and this time, it did not disappoint. The perfect card fell, the 10d, to create more drama to this night. With the entire stage on the edge of its seat, the dealer flipped over one of Collins' desperately needed outs: the Qd. This double-up shot Collins up to 28 million and fourth place in the chip counts, while Lamb dropped to 15.3 million and fifth place.
River 8 saves Benba's tournament (Hand No. 97):
Lamb's final table had been a roller coaster up to this point. In hand No. 51, Lamb eliminated Holden
to increase his chip stack to about 34 million. Lamb then lost the hand above to Collins, which set him back down. With fewer than 20 big blinds left, at 400,000/800,000 with a 100,000 ante, Lamb seemingly made his last stand on the following hand. O'Dea raised from the cutoff with Ac-9d, inciting folds from Collins (button) and Heinz (small blind). Lamb looked down at his hand and pushed all-in, putting O'Dea to the test. After several minutes, O'Dea announced his call and was precariously ahead when Lamb revealed his Qd-8d. The flop (Js-Jd-6d) brought excitement to the crowd, giving Lamb additional diamond flush draw outs. The turn (4c) did not improve Lamb's hand, but he was completely fixated on the board, hoping for a savior card on the river. When the dealer placed the 8d on the felt, Lamb exploded in celebration, running over to his rail in celebration. Unfortunately for O'Dea, he was left with only a few big blinds and was eliminated two hands later in sixth place.
Diamonds can't save Collins versus Heinz (Hand No. 100):
During the first 50 hands, there were no eliminations. During the next 50 hands, five players hit the rail. O'Dea's elimination came in Hand 99, and on the very next hand, Heinz raised to 2.1 million and Collins, sitting in the big blind, moved all-in for about 18 million. After asking for a count, Heinz deliberated and decided to make the call with pocket nines (9h-9c) again. This hand was a clear favorite over Collins' Ad-7d. The flop (6s-5c-4d) brought drama once again, giving Collins additional outs with his straight draw, but for the second time in a row, Heinz spiked a nine on the turn, giving him a set and a massive lead. Collins also picked up a flush draw on the turn, but this time around, the dealer did not deliver the goods for Collins, placing the 7s on the river and eliminating him in fifth place.
Lamb four-bet bluffs with 4c-2c (Hand No. 118):
As the night began, many people were surprised that Lamb was playing so passively. In the first 26 hands, he got involved only once. As player after player were eliminated, Lamb's aggression began to ramp up with consistent three-betting based on his reads. This strategy was made clearly evident with the following hand that occurred during Level 39 (blinds 500,000/1 million with a 150,000 ante): Staszko limped from under-the-gun, prompting Matt Giannetti (on the button) and Heinz (in the small blind) to fold. Lamb chose to check his option. The two players saw a flop of Ks-8d-8c, which set off the fireworks. Lamb initially checked to Staszko, who bet out 1.2 million. Lamb check-raised his counterpart to 2.6 million. In disbelief of Lamb's strength, Staszko three-bet to 5.2 million and Lamb four-bet Staszko to 8 million, which resulted in an almost insta-muck by Staszko. The television coverage revealed that not only did Staszko have just 6d-5c, but Lamb had a mere 4c-2c!
Heinz's lady steals pot on turn (Hand No. 158):
Giannetti had been playing solidly all night long. He had won almost 70 percent of the hands he played and quietly doubled his initial chip stack. Coming back from a break, the blinds were just increased to 600,000/1.2 million with a 200,000 ante, and Giannetti was sitting on the button. Upon looking down at 8s-8d, he raised to $2.6 million. With a massive chip lead at this point, Heinz pushed back by three-betting to 7.1 million. After some deliberation, Giannetti decided to call. The dealer delivered a flop of Kd-Kc-7h, prompting a 6.9 million continuation bet by Heinz and a call by Giannetti. With a pot already at about 30 million, the Qd on the turn slowed both players down with consecutive checks. The river brought the 9h and Heinz went deep into the think tank. Eventually, Heinz checked, as did Giannetti. The former Texas Longhorn was disgusted when Heinz revealed Qc-8c, enough to beat his 8s-8d. Had Giannetti won this hand, he would have overtaken Heinz for the chip lead.
Lamb is all heart versus Giannetti (Hand No. 174):
With four players left, the two remaining young American players, Giannetti and Lamb, were approximately even in chips. Many spectators were friends of both men and were rooting for both to make the final three. With blinds 600,000/1.2 million with a 200,000 ante, the action became much more active as both of these players began three-betting with regularity. In this hand, Giannetti bet 2.6 million on the button and Lamb quickly three-bet him all-in from the big blind. Giannetti snap-called with his pocket jacks (Jd-Jc) and Lamb showed his Ah-7h, realizing he would once again need some help. The flop (Kh-9d-5h) brought excitement to the crowd as the flush draw gave Lamb more hope and the 4h on the turn kept his WSOP main event dream alive. After the inconsequential 9s fell on the river, Lamb had doubled up to 55 million and moved into second place in chips. Giannetti's stack was decimated to only a few big blinds.
Quads makes Lamb one of the remaining kings at end of the night (Hand No. 178):
With Lamb's incredible 2011 summer and amazing comeback at the final table, it seemed only fitting that he would participate in the final hand of the night. With blinds at 600,000/1.2 million with a 200,000 ante, Giannetti had just doubled back up to about 13 million and could get back into the match with another double-up. From the button, he looked down at Ad-3s and decided to push all-in. He was instantly called by Lamb from the big blind, who held cowboys (Ks-Kd). With many hands throughout the night providing drama on the flop, the dealer decided to end the night with an exclamation point with a flop of Kh-Kc-Qd, giving Lamb the unbeatable quads. Giannetti was eliminated in fourth place and the night came to an end with three competitors left fighting to be the main event king.
Day 1 of the main event final table was extremely memorable. I'm positive that there will be more incredible hands during the conclusion on Tuesday night. Don't forget to watch all the action on ESPN on Tuesday night.