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WSOP blog: Merson, Sylvia and Balsiger return today to play for title

Russell Thomas and Jeremy Ausmus go out in succession to end Monday’s round


Steve Marcus

Play begins at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table at the Rio on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012.

Updated Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 | 12:19 a.m.

Final table chip counts

  • Greg Merson — 88,350,000
  • Jesse Sylvia — 62,750,000
  • Jake Balsiger — 46,875,000
  • Russell Thomas — 0
  • Jeremy Ausmus — 0
  • Andras Koroknai — 0
  • Michael Esposito — 0
  • Robert Salaburu — 0
  • Steve Gee — 0

2012 WSOP Main Event Final Table Payouts

  • 1st — $8,531,853
  • 2nd — $5,295,149
  • 3rd — $3,799,073
  • Russell Thomas (4th) — $2,851,537
  • Jeremy Ausmus (5th) — $2,155,313
  • Andras Koroknai (6th) — $1,640,902
  • Michael Esposito (7th) — $1,258,040
  • Robert Salaburu (8th) — $971,360
  • Steve Gee (9th) — $754,798

2012 WSOP Final Table

Greg Merson, right, talks with players during the World Series of Poker Main Event final table at the Rio on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The three emerge

A few hands after Jeremy Ausmus met his demise, Russell Thomas joined him in the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater lobby.

Thomas shoved his stack of 15 million chips into the middle with Ace-9. Jake Balsiger had raised more than Thomas' stack with Ace-King.

The board ran out Queen-8-5-5-7 to give the 45 million chip pot to Balsiger. Play is now halted until Tuesday when the final three will reconvene at the Rio.

Despite the momentous finish for Balsiger, he remains behind Greg Merson and Jesse Sylvia at the top. Merson has nearly 90 million chips, while Jesse Sylvia has assembled a stack of 62 million.

Stay tuned to for full coverage of the World Series of Poker final table, including a live blog of Tuesday's action and this preview story.

Jesse Sylvia takes out Jeremy Ausmus

Jeremy Ausmus earned some $1.4 million more than his starting position at the World Series of Poker final table would have indicated.

Ausmus became the latest casualty at the Rio, exiting in fifth for $2.1 million. The local pro entered as the shortest stack, determined to take home more than the $754,798 he had already received for making it this far.

Mission accomplished. Ausmus gradually built his stack throughout the day, but got to a point where he needed to take a risk. Fate intervened in a hand against Jesse Sylvia.

Ausmus moved all-in on a board of 3-8-9-3. Sylvia immediately called with Ace-9. He was ahead, but not comfortably as Ausmus had 10-7 for an open-ended straight draw.

Sylvia's fans exploded as the river brought a 5 to ensure top pair won the pot. The remaining players are guaranteed $2.8 million.

Greg Merson in control after knocking out Andras Koroknai

Hungarian pro Andras Koroknai just secured a prominent place in the annals of collapses at the World Series of Poker final table.

Koroknai had worked up his chip stack to more than 40 million, but got in a pre-flop raising war with one of only two players who had more than him — Greg Merson. The showdown reached its peak when Koroknai shoved all-in with a sixth bet.

Merson immediately called. The Laurel, Md., native had a much better hand with Ace-King. Koroknai turned around and walked toward the seats in the stands as all he could show was King-Queen.

Merson's advantage held up, as the board ran out nothing to help King-Queen. The player widely considered the best at the final table now has nearly 50 percent of the chips in play. Koroknai earns $1.6 million for the disappointing finish.

Sylvia sailing

Jesse Sylvia is possessive with the chip lead.

Sylvia entered today's World Series of Poker final table with the most chips, but lost his spot at the top of the standings to Greg Merson about an hour ago. Merson's reign didn't last long.

Sylvia rallied and won back his beloved chips and more. He's built his stack up ever since then, using raw aggression to push around some of the other players at the table.

He recently put in a fifth bet before the flop against Andras Koroknai, forcing the Hungarian to fold. The telecast, which is on a 15-minute delay on ESPN2, showed Sylvia only had Queen-Jack, which was behind Koroknai's Ace-4.

He won a couple other big pots immediately before that, including one against Jake Balsiger when he made three of a kind with pocket 5s on the river. Sylvia is currently ahead of Merson, his closest challenger, by 14 million chips.

Bye-bye, Michael Esposito

The latest elimination at the World Series of Poker final table played out completely by the book.

Down to around 5 million chips, Michael Esposito had to go all-in with any decent hand he could find. Ace-Jack was more than suitable, so Esposito shoved all his chips in the middle a few hands after the latest break.

Unlike the first two times he's risked his tournament life, Esposito found a caller. And the news wasn't good. Greg Merson called with Ace-King, a hand that had Esposito's Ace-Jack dominated.

He found no help with the community cards, as they ran out 4-9-7-6-8.

The six players left have adequate stacks to play for a while, but Jeremy Ausmus and Andras Koroknai are the next who will need to look for double-ups.

Queen slays Salaburu

In case anyone forgot how much luck was involved in a tournament like this, the dealer just served a solemn reminder — especially to Robert Salaburu.

The 27-year old from San Antonio became the eighth place finisher in this year's World Series of Poker Main Event when he suffered a bad beat in a hand against Jesse Sylvia. Salaburu raised with pocket 7s and Sylvia, the chip leader, decided to make a move.

Sylvia raised all-in with Queen-5 of clubs. With a short stack, Salaburu decided to call.

He looked safe after the first four cards were two Aces, a Deuce and a 4. But the river worked as a punch in the gut to Salaburu as the dealer peeled off the Queen of hearts.

The seven players remaining are all guaranteed $1.2 million. Salaburu gets $971,360.

Pocket Kings beat pocket Queens

Robert Salaburu has taken his chip stack on a wild ride this evening in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio.

After getting as high as third, he's now fallen to second-to-last. Salaburu just doubled up Jake Balsiger with pocket Queens.

Salaburu re-raised a four-handed pot. When it came back around to Balsiger, the 21-year old announced "all-in." It didn't take Salaburu long to call, but he didn't like what he saw.

Balsiger had pocket Kings, a hand that was far ahead and held up on a board of 10-Ace-7-10-2. Balsiger, who started the day in eighth, now hovers right around average.

Steve Gee out in ninth

It took 30 hands and more than two hours to hear poker's most famous words at the final table.

Steve Gee became the first to put all his chips in the middle and declare "all in" moments ago. Gee shoved on a board that read 7-4-5-Jack-3 with no possible flush.

Russell Thomas sat across the table weighing his options before finally muttering "I call". Gee turned over pocket 8s for only a pair. Thomas tried to fight back the grin as he showed pocket Queens to take the 24 million chip pot.

His rail of fans erupted, while Gee gathered his things and sauntered off of the stage. Gee receives no additional payout to the $754,798 he received for making the final table. Thomas now trails only his former roommate Jesse Sylvia for the chip lead.

The Salaburu Show

With most of the players trying to reacquaint themselves and get comfortable, there's an opportunity to use aggression to pick up an early advantage at the final table.

Robert Salaburu apparently understands this concept best. Salaburu has climbed up the leaderboard, adding more than 8 million chips to his stack in the first two hours at the Rio.

Salaburu is nearing the 25 million chip mark, only slightly behind Andras Koroknai in fourth place. Before a recent 15-minute break, Salaburu took down two of the final four pots with simple pre-flop raises.

Greg Merson won the largest pot in that span when he tangled with Michael Esposito. Merson re-raised an Esposito river bet on a board of Jack of diamonds-King of hearts-7 of hearts-2 of diamonds-Queen of diamonds. Esposito called and Merson flipped over 10-8 of diamonds for a flush.

Merson goes up to second, while Esposito falls to eighth. Esposito and Jeremy Ausmus will both need to pick up some pots to prevent themselves from falling in dangerous territory.

Slow start to a long night

An hour has passed since cards got in the air for the World Series of Poker Main Event final table. Not much has changed.

Robert Salaburu and Jake Balsiger have been the most active building their chip stacks. They remain in seventh and eighth place, respectively, but are now nipping at the heels of Russell Thomas and Michael Esposito.

Thomas has endured the worst start to the final table, dropping a spot in the chip standings after losing several notable pots. Jake Balsiger put in a third bet before the flop on one hand to force Thomas to fold. The telecast, which is on a 15-minute delay on ESPN2, revealed they both had the same hand — Ace-Jack.

Thomas also lost nearly 3 million chips on the first hand of the night, calling Gee's bets down on every street until folding on the river.


They’ve spent the last three months obsessing over this moment.

Since securing their spot at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table in July, the nine players have thought about today endlessly.

They’ve studied everyone else at the table, watched ESPN footage of the earlier stages of the tournament and dreamt about winning the $8.5 million first-place prize.

The time for looking ahead has mercifully come to an end for those vying to become poker’s new world champion. The cards will get in the air 30 minutes from now in front of a packed Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio.

ESPN2 will start to air its coverage shortly after. A number of questions that the poker world has scrutinized since this summer will start to find answers.

At the top of the list is, will a professional win the tournament for the fourth year in a row? Six of the nine players taking their seats were full-time players before the tournament began this summer. Jake Balsiger, a student at Arizona State, Michael Esposito, a commodity broker from New York, and Russell Thomas, an actuary from Connecticut, were the only exceptions.

Can an American reclaim the title? That’s another pressing question, albeit one that seems to have a likely answer. After international competitors prevailed in 2011 and 2012, eight of the nine players at the final table this year are Americans.

Andras Korknai, second in chips, hails from Hungary.

Koroknai and the rest of the table are chasing Jesse Sylvia, who surged in the last day of the summer to build a chip stack of 43.8 million.

Heaters have cooled off at the final table the last couple years, but someone at the table must combat Sylvia’s aggressiveness to make that happen.

Two of the best candidates are Greg Merson and Russell Thomas, second and fourth in chips respectively. Ask any poker pro who the best player at the table is and they’re bound to answer Merson.

The Laurel, Md., native won a WSOP bracelet in a $25,000 buy-in event earlier this summer. A win in the Main Event would give him Player of the Year honors.

Thomas has something even more dangerous — an intimate knowledge of Sylvia’s game. The two buddies were roommates two years ago and Sylvia credits Thomas’ direction for helping his game.

Although the four players not yet mentioned — Steven Gee, Michael Esposito, Robert Salaburu and Jeremy Ausmus — each have less than 20 million chips, all of them are a double-up away from getting right near the top of the leaderboard.

Stay tuned all night for a live blog that will be updated at least every time someone is eliminated until three players emerge from the nine. Look below for the Sun’s official stab-in-the dark predictions, guessing the order of finish.

9. Jake Balsiger: The least experienced player at the table fails in his bid to become the youngest ever champion.

8. Steven Gee: The former software engineer currently sits in fifth, but only seven million chips separate him from last.

7. Andras Koroknai: This is admittedly a reach with Koroknai’s stack, but he’s lucky to have made it this far already after a controversial ruling spared him from possible elimination late in the summer.

6. Jeremy Ausmus: The eight-year pro has the chops to double-up and hang around for a while, but his chip disadvantage is just a tad too much to overcome.

5. Michael Esposito: The patient Esposito will pick his spots and move a few slots up in the payout list.

4. Russell Thomas: The conservative but talented Thomas just misses Tuesday’s final round of play.

3. Jesse Sylvia: For the fourth time since the Main Event went to its current format, the chip leader fails to win the crown.

2. Robert Salaburu: Someone from the bottom of the chip standings will make a run at the title. It happens every year, so why not Salaburu?

Champion: Greg Merson: When the best player at the table is only 15 million chips behind the leader, it’s hard not to back him. A lot can happen in poker, so Merson could exit early. But he’s got the best chance to prevail.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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