I stayed up pretty much all night on Tuesday night to watch the final three play for the title in the World Series of Poker main event and it was worth it. Three young guys, all in their 20s, had an amazing match. As I write this — I’ll update it later — they’ve played for 7 hours and no one has been knocked out yet. As of now, they’re in the same order they started in, with Greg Merson the chip leader, Jesse Sylvia in 2nd place and Jake Balsiger in 3rd. But holy cow, has it been a roller coaster ride.
Merson started out on fire and quickly built his chip lead. There are about 198 million chips in play and Merson had over $120 million at one point. Sylvia and Balsiger traded off 2nd and 3rd place a few times until Balsiger went all in with A 10 and ran into Sylvia with AQ. But Balsiger spiked a 10 on the turn for a major suck out to stay alive. Then a little while later, one of the most incredible hands and worst bad beats I’ve ever seen took place between Merson and Sylvia.
Merson had about $116 million and Sylvia had $42 million. Sylvia raises to $2 million on the button, Merson three bets to $4.8 million, Sylvia four bets to $10.2 million. Merson goes into the tank for a minute, then moves all-in and Sylvia insta-calls him. Sylvia turns over AK and Merson has KK, so he’s a huge favorite to win the hand, knock Sylvia out and go to heads up with a 4-1 chip advantage over Balsiger. The flop comes 3-5-2, rainbow. A brick 8 hits the turn and then a magic 4 comes down on the river to give Sylvia a wheel.
I simply can’t imagine taking a beat like that, especially under those circumstances. That hand could have cost him millions of dollars, but Merson didn’t budge. They’ve made a big deal out of the fact that Merson is a recovered drug addict who has been through rehab twice (and he’s only 24). If I was him, I’d want to leave the building and shoot heroin at that point. But he didn’t react at all. He was a stone. And then he just built himself back up step by step, like nothing happened. My heart was pounding just watching it.
Sylvia had Balsiger on the ropes again when Balsiger was down to only about $18 million in chips. Balsiger went all in with KJ and Sylvia called him with A 10, but there was a king on the flop and again on the river. Balsiger seems to have nine lives and keeps sucking out when he’s all in to stay alive.
But despite all those bad beats, the craziest hand of the night came when Merson had about $98 million and Sylvia had about $50 million. Merson limps in the small blind and so does Sylvia in the big blind. The flop was 5-4-2 with two hearts and both checked. The turn was the J of hearts. Merson bets $1 million and Sylvia calls. The river is the 2 of hearts, so now there’s a pair on the board and four hearts. Merson bet $2.6 million and Sylvia went into the tank for about four solid minutes before he folded. Turns out they had both turned a flush, Merson’s was queen high and Sylvia’s was nine high.
That’s just an astonishing hand in almost every way. They both flopped flush draws and checked it. Then they both turn the flush and only $2 million goes into the pot between them. How does Sylvia not reraise on the turn? And then, with almost no betting, Sylvia manages to lay down a 9 high flush to a relatively small bet, less than 5% of his stack. Just an unbelievable lay down by Sylvia, who had to feel like he dodged a huge bullet by only losing less than $2 million in that pot. Clearly Sylvia was thinking he had the best hand on the turn and was hoping to induce another bet from Merson on the river, but the 4th heart may have saved him. I can understand not raising on the river, but I’m stunned that he folded. It was the right fold, but the way that hand played out there’s no way in hell I could lay down that hand in that situation, especially to such a small bet. But Sylvia has made several great lay downs. None as amazing as that one though.
(Writing later, through blurry eyes) Okay, I didn’t make it all the way. I finally had to crash at 7:30 in the morning, but it lasted till like 10 am. In the end, they finished in exactly the same order they started. Merson is the champion, winning more than $8.5 million; Sylvia finished second, winning about $5.3 million; and Balsiger finished third, for $3.8 million. They played a staggering 400 hands, by far the longest final table in history. And I’m going to be handing out candy to the kids while yawning.