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WSOP12 October Nine
29 October 2012

ESPN got some crowd reaction shots before first deal

Who are these guys, again?

WSOP Main Event final tables have featured big-name players in recent years. Ben Lamb in 2011, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi in 2010, and Phil Ivey in 2009. But not this year. This year's October Nine were relative unknowns even though two of them have won WSOP bracelets (Gee in 2010, Merson in 2012.)

And, unlike last year's multinational final table, there was only one non-American this year. Hungarian Andras Koroknai apparently declined the chance to do interviews for the event, partly because ESPN would have portrayed him as the Euro-Villain of the group. He knocked out both women who had a chance to make history by reaching the final table (Gaelle Baumann in 10th and Elisabeth Hille in 11th.) But the main reason he did little self-promotion is because he speaks little or no English and would have required an interpreter anyway. Props to Koroknai for not being a media-hog at any cost.

Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, and Antonio Esfandiari do an intro for ESPN

Enjoy it while it lasts

Some of the October Niners said that their friends and coaches told them to have fun above all else. To enjoy their time in the spotlight while it lasted. It certainly seemed like the players were relatively relaxed, but you'd expect very tough play from everyone when there's that much money at stake. And yet, there were several inexplicable bustouts.

All things being equal, one would expect bustouts to happen in roughly reverse-chip-order. Not today. Steve Gee, who started 5th in chips, was first out in 9th. He busted with 88 vs. Russell Thomas' QQ, Thomas walking the dog from the button as Gee bet out on each street only to get called by Thomas. By the time the river card was dealt, there was only one overcard on the board to his 88 (a jack) and Gee was more or less pot-committed, so he shoved. Thomas tanked for several minutes, then made the hero call. River card was a blank. If Gee had a better hand than queens, Thomas would have been crippled.

Steve Gee sweats his all-in on the turn. Russell Thomas made a hero call to bust Gee in 9th.

Next out was Rob Salaburu, who had started the day's play in 7th. He had played well, but doubled up Jake Balsiger when he ran his QQ into Balsiger's KK. Now low man in chips, he called all-in preflop with 77 in the big blind when Jesse Sylvia moved in. Sylvia rolled Q5 to reveal a steal attempt, and Salaburu led until the queen on the river. Sylvia's rail erupted in wild cheers, Salaburu grimly shook the remaining seven players' hands, and walked straight out of the building. Didn't even take the time to do an exit interview with the charming Kara Scott.

Rob Salaburu sweats his all-in with 77 vs. Greg Merson's Q5. Queen on the river.

Michael Esposito lost a few hands, then essentially stopped playing when he became short-stacked. He simply shut down and tried to hang on and climb up the money ladder one way or another. There can be no other explanation for his uber-tight play, and it worked. He had been the short stack more or less continuously since Gee's elimination in 9th, yet he hung on until after Salaburu's exit in 8th. This moved him up one payout rank, which must have meant a lot to him.

Michael Esposito hung on as long as he could. He finished 7th.

iPhone 5 panorama from the balcony of the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio

Andras Koroknai played many hands, and was clearly not afraid to move chips around. He took some hits, dropping in chip rank, but built his stack back up to a strong second place during 6-handed play. He and Greg Merson were essentially tied for second place (with roughly 42 million each) on Koroknai's final hand. Sylvia, Merson, and Koroknai ended up in a preflop raising war that resulted in Merson raising Sylvia out, Koroknai shoving, and Merson snap-calling. Merson showed AK, Koroknai showed KQ, the board was all rags, and Merson won the biggest pot of the day.

Merson had more than doubled up, thanks to Sylvia's dead chips in the pot, and had launched himself into the chip lead with 86.6 million. He would stay at 80+ million for the rest of the day's play.

Andras Koroknai inexplicably busted 6th after shoving AIPF with KQ

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the chip counts, Balsiger, Ausmus, and Thomas slugged it out in the 20-million-and-under club. None were in immediate danger, but none were comfortable with the the blinds and antes totaling over 1 million before each hand was dealt. They took turns being low man, but it was Ausmus who busted next. He tried stealing Sylvia's big blind, then flopped an open-ended straight draw with 10-7 vs. Sylvia's A9. Unfortunately for Ausmus, Sylvia flopped a 9 for top pair top kicker. The turn changed nothing, Ausmus shipped and Sylvia insta-called. River card blank, and Ausmus was out in 5th.

Jeremy Ausmus finished 5th after missing an open-ended straight draw

So now Russell Thomas was the short stack. And although he still had roughly 15x the preflop pot, the blinds were orbiting so fast that he was forced to make something happen to survive. That something could have happened when Thomas was dealt A9, which could easily have been the best hand 4-handed. But it wasn't, Jake Balsiger held AK, and he moved in with it. Thomas thought for a long time, made the crying call, and didn't like what he saw. His A9 failed to catch up, Thomas was out in 4th place, and play ended for the day.

Last bustout of the day: Russell Thomas finished 4th

Jake Balsiger dropped his poker face and was clearly thrilled to be in the final three

The final three

Play seemed to end unnaturally early, at just 12:20 am. It could easily have gone on two or three more levels, but for whatever reasons, it didn't. And we could see history being made tomorrow night when the final three battle it out for the bracelet, the $8.5 million, and the Main Event glory. If Jake Balsiger wins, he will break Joe Cada's record as youngest WSOP Main Event winner.

Stay tuned...

Please visit the World Series of Poker site for all the details and ESPN for live streaming of the final three:

The WSOP homeComplete WSOP Main Event final table coverage
Live: ESPN2 or ESPN3.comLive final table action

Next: WSOP12 Main Event Final Three...

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