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Sylvia leads the way to WSOP Main Event final table

17 July 2012

LAS VEGAS -- The final table for the World Series of Poker Main event is set, and Jesse Sylvia is the runaway chip leader with 43.875 million. Joining Sylvia at the final table are Andras Koroknai (29.375 million), Greg Merson (28.725 million), Russell Thomas (24.8 million), Steven Gee (16.86 million), Michael Esposito (16.26 million), Robert Salaburu (15.155 million), Jacob Balsiger (13.115 million) and Jeremy Ausmus (9.805 million).

The nine remaining players from the original Main Event field of 6,598 will now go on a three-month break to allow ESPN's tape-delayed coverage to catch up. ESPN will broadcast the final table plausibly-live in late October (on a 15-minute delay per Nevada gaming regulations).

The winner of the Main Event will take home $8,527,982. The Main Event's ninth-place finisher will win $754,798.

The final table at the World Series of Poker Main Event features eight Americans and one Hungarian.

The final table at the World Series of Poker Main Event features eight Americans and one Hungarian. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

The two women vying to reach the final table, France's Gaelle Baumann and Norway's Elisabeth Hille, finished tenth and 11th.

Both players won $590,442 apiece for their efforts.

Baumann and Hille also advanced further at the Main Event than any other women in the modern (post Moneymaker) era of poker.

The best finish by a woman in the modern era prior to Baumann and Hille belonged to Tiffany Michelle, who finished 17th in 2008 and won $334,534.

Barbara Enright finished fifth in 1995 in an era that featured significantly smaller field sizes. She won $114,180 for finishing fifth.

"I always liked the game," Hille said when explaining why she started playing poker. "I didn't know it very well though until my now boyfriend started teaching me about four years ago."

"He just gave me the basics, the really really basics, and got me to play on PokerStars," Hille said. "And I absolutely got bitten by it. I couldn't stop playing. And it's led me here today. So I can't complain."

"The last two or three day have been very tiring," Hille said. "When I come home at night, I'm exhausted. But at the same time, it's so thrilling and so exciting as it goes on . . . time flies even though you're exhausted at the end of the day.

"There's always going to be a tiny bit of me that's going to be a bit disappointed because I have an extreme competitive streak," Hille added. But at the same time, I've got this note that says, 'I placed in 11th place at the Main Event,' and how fucking cool is that?!"

Reaching the Main Event final table is pretty cool for Jake Balsiger as well. The 21-year-old political science student at Arizona State University is on the verge of making more money in one tournament than many of his classmates will make in several years.

"It's unbelievable," Balsiger said after play concluded. "I've wanted to play in the Main Event since I was 13 years old and saw it on TV. Who doesn't want to play in the Main Event? Now final tabling my first one is just surreal."

Balsiger says he first started playing poker seriously when he was 18. "I wasn't any good," Balsiger said recalling his early days in the game. "I wouldn't say I was any good until earlier this year when I made a little bit of money. But this is the first year I've put a lot of effort into it and it's working out well."

Balsiger has no intention of retiring after his Main Event run. "I want to play poker for living," Balsiger said. "The rush I've gotten from this tournament is unbelievable."

The 26-year-old chip leader Sylvia was a little more mellow than Balsiger after play concluded. But his low-key approach didn't mask his joy.

"I feel pretty good," Sylvia said. "I'm not going to lie, this was one of the better days."

Sylvia, who had the loudest cheering section in the tournament, was also pleased he could share the moment with friends and family.

"It feels amazing. I love everyone who came out."

He was also friends with a few players at the table.

"Russell Thomas was my roommate two summers ago when I came out for the World Series and we kept in touch. He visited me last summer. He's a really good friend.

"We ate dinner together every day from Day 2 on. We talked about chip counts, and not really talk poker but get each other pumped up.

"Seeing the two of us go to the final table, I actually feel like I'm dreaming.

"I know Greggy [Merson] pretty well. It's incredible."

While Sylvia was happy to be playing with friends, Gee was looking for respect as the only player left in the field who had already won a WSOP gold bracelet.

"I'm probably the most overlooked bracelet winner in the tournament," Gee said. "Every day you read the updates, so and so got knocked out and there's three bracelet winners left in the field, there's two bracelet winners left in the field. I'm a bracelet winner and there's no mention of me.

"In 2010 when I won my bracelet, that was like the brightest moment of my life," Gee said. "Poker-wise, I didn't think I would ever top that. Winning a gold bracelet is the best you can do. But guess what? In 2012, this moment is better than 2010."

For Thomas, the toughest part of his Main Event was making it to the starting gate.

"I went to a pool party at Encore's beach club the day before the Main Event and I got pretty wasted. I almost didn't even go (to the Main Event) because I was so hung over that day. It was just brutal. But I stuck it out and managed to survive the day and six more."

The final table features eight Americans and one Hungarian. The lone European, Koroknai, was involved in the most controversial hand in the tournament.

On Saturday night, Baumann raised to 60,000. The remaining players folded around to the small blind, Koroknai. Koroknai moved all in for around 2 million. The big blind, Gavin Smith, then folded. Then came the unthinkable. Koroknai, thinking that everyone had already folded, mucked his hand. But Baumann hadn't had a chance to act on Koroknai's all-in bet. Theoretically, whenever a player mucks cards, the hand is dead. And if Koroknai's hand was dead, he was going to lose all of chips to Baumann, who easily had him covered.

But tournament officials ruled that Koroknai would only lose the 60,000 chips Baumann had bet initially.

Monday's Day 7 action began with 27 players vying for the final table. What followed was a drama William Shakespeare would have been proud of.

I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on th'other. -- Macbeth

Daniel Strelitz began the day second in chips with 12.79 million. Only four players trailing him were within 4 million chips of his lead. But the 22-year-old couldn't parlay his chip advantage into a strong finish.

In two hands early Monday, Strelitz went from big stack to fighting for his tournament life. First, Strelitz bet pre-flop and post-flop on a board reading Jh 6c 4d, and Thomas called his bet each time. Then Strelitz check-raised Thomas on the river after the three of hearts appeared on the board. With about 5 million in the pot, Thomas called and discovered Strelitz was bluffing with 9d-7d. Thomas showed Kc-Kh to win the pot.

Shortly after his bluff failed, Strelitz and Esposito engaged in a pre-flop raising war that ended with Strelitz pushing Esposito all in for close to 6 million.

Strelitz had Ac-Kd and Esposito had pocket 10s. The 10s held, and Strelitz had gone from 12.79 million to 3.1 million over the course of a few hands. Meanwhile, Esposito enjoyed his newfound wealth, with just over 12 million in chips.

Strelitz tried to get back into the tournament. And he managed to get back up to 6 million in chips. But his tournament ended when he found himself all in against Scott Abrams after another pre-flop raising war. Unfortunately for Strelitz, his pocket fours couldn't crack Abrams's pocket kings, and he was out of the tournament.

After his elimination, Strelitz acknowledged he had a good time at the tournament, but his failed bluff was still on his mind.

"I made a really questionable bluff," Strelitz said. "Then I lost that really big flip to get me back into it.

"The whole tournament way exceeded my expectations," Strelitz added. "Today was a bit of a disappointment. I really wanted to make the final table. But other than that it's been amazing."

Strelitz won $294,601 for finishing 24th.

Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge. -- Antonio in The Tempest

Shortly after Strelitz's early demise, Jamie Robbins exited the tournament. Robbins began the day seventh in chips with 8.75 million and having already experienced a deep Main Event run.

In 2009, Robbins finished 11th in the WSOP Main Event and won $896,730. This year, Robbins was hoping to use his experience and big stack to help him reach the final table.

But a tough hand against Thomas did him in. Robbins lost about 4 million to Thomas when his Kh-Jc was no good against Thomas's Kc-Qc on a board reading 4c-7d-5c-Qs-7h. Robbins bet on every street. Thomas called on every street. And the loss of those chips put Robbins in a tough spot with about 5 million chips remaining.

Robbins exited the tournament when he pushed all in with Kd-Jd on a board reading 9s-5c-4d-10d. Unfortunately for Robbins, Balsiger had pocket nines, and Robbins missed on his flush and straight draws.

Robbins acknowledged the pain he was feeling for the ESPN cameras before escaping to soothe his sorrows. Robbins won $294,601 for finishing 19th.

Yuval Bronshtein also had a disappointing exit Monday. Bronshtein has a wealth of WSOP experience, including a 21st-place finish in the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event in 2011 and sixth-place finish earlier this Series in the $3,000 PLO8 tournament. He was also sixth in chips entering play.

But when his pocket nines couldn't crack Danny Wong's pocket 10s, Bronshtein lost 4 million and was in trouble. Bronshtein went out in 23rd place when his As-Qd couldn't crack Jeremy Ausmus's pocket jacks. Bronshtein won $294,601.

Two other players with disappointing finishes relative to their starting chip stacks were Robert Corcione and Cylus Watson. Corcione and Watson began the day eighth and ninth in chips. But they finished 21st and 22nd and each won $294,601.

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? Thou know'st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft; And wit depends on dilatory time. -- Iago in Othello

After exiting the Main Event, several players cited patience and consistency -- on and off the felt -- as their keys to success.

"Patience and concentration [are key]," said David Balkin, after he finished 18th and won $369,026. "If you play an event like this, you have to understand how important it is when you're in pots -- it's the most dangerous place to be. So you have to control the pot size, you have to know why you're in there and what you're trying to achieve and you have to make sure you don't bust out because 10k is a lot of money."

Bob Buckenmayer, who at 67 was the oldest player remaining in the tournament, thought his patience and consistency off the felt helped as well.

"The hardest thing [about the tournament] is you get in back to the room at 1:30 in the morning," Buckenmayer said. "You've got Facebook and e-mail and everybody trying to get ahold of you. And you try to take care of some of them. You can't get to sleep right away. But you've got 12:00 cards in the air the next day. So it really becomes day after day after day of nothing but poker and maybe just touching base with a few friends. What I'm happy with is I knew it would be that way. And I got 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night, which I don't know if every player does. I've seen one or two players fall asleep at the table."

Buckenmayer finished 17th and won $369,026.

Percy Mahatan admitted after he finished 16th and won $369,026 that he didn't expect to make it as far as he did. But patience on the felt and a routine off of it helped his quest.

"The hardest part for me was picking my spots in the early rounds of the tournament. There are moments when you just get card dead, and you have to make a play, and I was able to do that. I established a pretty tight image and consequently I was able to steal a couple of blinds with very modest hands at best.

"I tried to stick to a regimen each day," Mahatan said as he explained how he handled the grind of the Main Event. "I ate at the same place, drank the same coffee, ate the same dinner every single day and it helped me settle in and be able to handle all the tough aspects of the game."

Danny Wong, who finished 14th and won $465,159, notes that although he was happy with his play, he knows he'll have to go through this again to reach the Main Event final table, and that's not a pleasant thought at the moment.

"It's tough. It's mentally draining," Wong said after his elimination.

"One thing I am disappointed in is that I have to play six or seven days all over again like this some time in the future," Wong added. "It's really draining to play all of these hours and not truly feel like you're getting fully rewarded. At the same time I respect all of these players. They got here for a reason."
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the former managing editor at Casino City and has been involved in the gaming industry for over a decade Vin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he runs his own consultant group and works as head of gaming and public relations for Mega Digital
Entertainment Group.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the former managing editor at Casino City and has been involved in the gaming industry for over a decade Vin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he runs his own consultant group and works as head of gaming and public relations for Mega Digital
Entertainment Group.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for, USA WEEKEND and CNN.