After over 13 hours of play between the “Terrific Three,” Greg Merson survived the onslaught from Jacob Balsiger and Jesse Sylvia to emerge as the champion of the 2012 World Series of Poker Championship Event early Wednesday morning.
The tournament, which resumed on Monday and played down to the final three, brought an electricity to the Penn and Teller Theater on Tuesday night as the threesome sat down to determine a champion at 6PM (Pacific Time) last night. As they started, the men lined up as such:
Greg Merson, 88.425 million
Jesse Sylvia, 62.825 million
Jacob Balsiger, 30.825 million
From the start, it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be a repeat of the actions of the 2011 Championship Event during three handed play. Last year, eventual 2011 WSOP Player of the Year Ben Lamb was out of the tournament within three hands; this time around, however, the players were much more deliberate but were still mixing it up, with Merson the player taking the role of “table sheriff” to heart.
Merson took hand after hand in the early going, pushing his stack over the 100 million mark within a half hour of the start of the proceedings. He maintained this stack as the first true action occurred between Balsiger and Sylvia. After a Sylvia raise, Balsiger three bet the action to 3.5 million and Merson slipped out of the way. Undaunted, Sylvia pushed back with a four bet to 7.2 million and Balsiger felt he found his place. He pushed all in for over 28 million in chips, which was called immediately by Sylvia.
The hands shown brought a crackle through those gathered for the penultimate battle of the WSOP Championship Event. Sylvia’s pocket nines, an excellent hand in three-handed play, were eclipsed by Balsiger’s pocket Jacks. After the board ran ten high with no nine, Balsiger had secured his double up to move into second place and Sylvia dropped under the 40 million chip mark.
This only steeled Sylvia’s resolve as he went on the attack to rebuild his stack. He would take several of the pots over the next hour, most at the expense of Merson, to get back over the 40 million mark. With such deep stacks, the triumvirate preferred to play “small ball” poker, with no one truly putting a huge amount of chips at risk at any time. Two hours into the tournament, all three men were still alive in the tournament, with Merson’s 79.9 million in chips lording over Balsiger (64.675 million) and Sylvia (53.4 million).
Despite the action around him, Merson kept his foot on the gas against his opponents. He would be back over the 100 million mark at the four-hour mark of Tuesday’s play, while Sylvia and Balsiger attempted to keep pace. Sylvia would be the one who did it the best, getting a double up through Merson in a stunning hand which saw the chips hit the center pre-flop. Merson, holding pocket Kings, was primed for the elimination of Sylvia and his Big Slick, but the board didn’t cooperate; coming down 3-5-2-8 on the flop and turn, a four on the river completed the board to give Sylvia a Wheel and shift the chip lead to Sylvia’s hands.
Merson would not back down, grinding his way back into the lead as the midnight hour struck, and it seemed as if no one wanted to leave the Rio on this night. But the fight would continue as Balsiger stunned many in attendance by doubling up to take the lead himself. As the clock approached 4AM, Balsiger had 89.5 million, with Merson (74.6 million) and Sylvia (34.1 million) playing catch up for essentially the first time at the final table.
Eventually, however, one of the men would have to walk away from the tournament, but it came much later than everyone thought. After Sylvia doubled through Balsiger to get back in the game, the chips slowly started to bleed through the fingers of Balsiger. Finally, at almost 5AM this morning, Balsiger responded to a Sylvia bet with an all-in move and was called by Merson, while Sylvia got out of the way. Merson’s K-Q was way ahead of Balsiger’s Q-10, but the flop brought some drama. The “Devil’s Flop” of 6-6-6 hit the table, opening up possibilities for a split pot with another Queen or an outright win for Balsiger with a ten. The turn Jack and the river five weren’t what were needed, however, and Balsiger was eliminated in third place to set the Final Showdown.
Merson was in the lead with his 117.6 million chips, but he had to be wary of Sylvia’s 80.6 million at the start of heads up play. After the grind of a twelve hour three way battle, though, it was over within an hour as Merson didn’t allow Sylvia back into the game.
On the final hand, Merson pushed off the button for four million, only to be met with a three bet to 9.5 million by Sylvia. Merson four bet the action to over 69 million, sending Sylvia deep into thought as it appeared that this would be a big hand. Sylvia called off the remainder of his chip stack and showed a Q-J, a hand full of potential against Merson’s K-5. It wasn’t to be, however, as the board ran out nine high to end the tournament at almost 6AM and crown Greg Merson the newest World Champion.
1. Greg Merson (Laurel, MD), $8,527,982
2. Jesse Sylvia (Las Vegas, NV), $5,295,149
3. Jake Balsiger (Tempe, AZ), $3,799,073
4. Russell Thomas (Hartford, CT), $2,851,537
5. Jeremy Ausmus (Las Vegas, NV), $2,155,313
6. Andras Koroknai (Debrecen, Hungary), $1,640,902
7. Michael Esposito (Seaford, NY), $12,258,040
8. Robert Salaburu (San Antonio, TX), $971,360
9. Steven Gee (Sacramento, CA), $754,798
(Fourth through ninth place eliminated Monday night)
The victory by Merson caps a tremendous run at the 2012 WSOP. By winning the Championship Event, Merson was able to eclipse Phil Hellmuth for the WSOP Player of the Year award and join Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari as the only double bracelet winners at this year’s WSOP. With the big payday, Merson also rockets into the Top 20 for all-time earnings in poker history, sitting just shy of $10 million in career earnings.
For what was expected to be a “dull” final table, the 2012 WSOP Championship Event proved to be an exciting one. All the players handled themselves admirably and the runs of Ausmus and Balsiger to the upper echelons of the leader board – after starting on short stacks – were truly astounding. The play displayed by Sylvia, in his runner up effort, and by Merson in winning will put the 2012 WSOP Championship Event into one of the more memorable tournament finales in WSOP history.