Published Saturday, July 22, 2017 | 12:20 a.m.
Updated Sunday, July 23, 2017 | 2:59 a.m.
Scott Blumstein swiveled his seat towards his cheering section before pumping his fist and yelling in celebration after the 11th hand in the last night of the World Series of Poker Main Event final table.
The 25-year-old poker professional from Morristown, N.J., probably should have concealed the fact that he pulled off a massive bluff against Dan Ott, but his emotions wouldn’t allow it. After not winning any of the first 10 pots in three-handed play Saturday night at the Rio and seeing his lead dwindle, Blumstein reasserted himself by putting Ott to a decision for all of his chips.
Blumstein held only King-high after the reveal of all the community cards, but his aggression forced Ott to surrender a pair of 8s.
“Before today started, (Ott’s coach) Doug Polk came up to me and was ribbing me saying he wasn’t seeing much bluffing going on, so I had to put that to rest pretty fast,” Blumstein said. “I told him, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’”
And that was only the start to a night full of Blumstein tormenting fellow finalists Ott and Benjamin Pollak. The bluff for the ages set him off on a path of dominance that lasted the entire seven-hour duration in the 10th session of the $10,000 buy-in event that started with 7,221 players.
It ended with Blumstein claiming the $8.15 million first-place prize and world championship bracelet.
But some made the case on Thursday and Friday that the biggest factor in Blumstein’s success was good fortune at the right time. On Saturday, he showed he could play cards as well as he could catch them.
“I’m really happy with how I played tonight,” Blumstein said. “With only 24 hours of turnaround time for preparation, it wasn’t easy.”
Blumstein defeated Ott heads-up for the title. Ott started their one-on-one battle at a large but not insurmountable disadvantage, 232 million chips to 128 million, until Blumstein quickly picked up five pots in a row and kept the pressure on high.
After a couple hours, Ott was down to a miniscule 32 million chips. He then came from behind to win an all-in encounter with King-9 against Blumstein’s pocket 6s.
But Blumstein returned the favor the next hand. Holding Ace-2 offsuit, he forced the still short-stacked Ott all-in with Ace-8 suited.
Ott had better than a 93 percent chance to win the hand when the first four community cards came out Jack-6-5-7, but one of three remaining 2s in the deck spiked on the river to give Blumstein a pair and the win. Blumstein collapsed by the rail in front of his friends and family.
“A normally inconsequential deuce just changed my life,” he said.
Ott, who earned $4.7 million for second place, took the beat in stride.
“I didn’t expect to lose,” Ott said. “The run-out was pretty good for me. I always know there was a small chance, though. I was winning all-ins before that, though, so I can’t really complain about any river.”
Ott had survived three all-ins during three-handed play — including two where he had the worse starting hand — but appeared outmatched when taking on Blumstein heads-up. Blumstein attributed his success to a late-night training session with some of his poker-playing friends on Friday and years of honing his craft through online poker.
He went professional in the game after graduating with an accounting degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, a decision his parents predictably weren’t sold on.
“There obviously were a couple times where they wanted me to do something else and I understood,” Blumstein said. “And they understood that I didn’t want to listen to them.”
His parents eventually came around, and were on hand to support Blumstein in the stands throughout the final table.
His first breakthrough came last summer when he skipped the Main Event to play in a tournament more suited to his bankroll, a $560 buy-in at the Borgota in Atlantic City. He took first for $199,854, a score that allowed him to fulfill a dream to play at the WSOP this year.
“The world is a funny place and funny things happen here, and my story is a pretty interesting one I think,” Blumstein said. “For it to end and climax in this fashion is something I never thought possible.”
Despite the victory, Blumstein doesn’t expect his life to change too much. Unlike a few past winners, he’s not eager to pursue higher buy-in tournaments or move up to larger cash games — even though his play to clinch the Main Event showed he was capable.
“This is the Holy Grail for me, and somehow my first time, I captured it and I’m pretty content with that honestly,” Blumstein said. “But I love the game and it’s always going to be a part of me no matter what.”