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WSOP12 Main Event - Final Three
30 October 2012


Marathon Men

Three young multi-millionaires sat down just before 6 PM on a Tuesday evening to play cards, and the game didn't end until just before 6 AM the next day. Greg Merson, Jesse Sylvia, and Jacob Balsiger had already earned the third place prize of $3.8 million. But there was still plenty to fight for: second place would pay $5.3 million and first place would pay $8.5 million.

And, of course, the winner would become the WSOP's de facto poker ambassador for a year, he would forever be known as a WSOP Main Event Champion, and he would receive the biggest, heaviest, most diamond-encrusted WSOP bracelet ever created. These three guys played like they wanted it all.

Jake Balsiger, Greg Merson, and Jesse Sylvia just before first deal

Jesse's fans were the loudest and most colorful. Most of them had flown in from Martha's Vineyard.

Good luck all-in

Jesse had started 9-handed play as chip leader, but Greg had taken the lead as they played down to the final three. Still, Greg's stack was only about 2 times Jake's third place stack, and Jesse's second place stack was right between them. It was anybody's game. The blinds were still relatively low, we expected a swingy high-variance game, and boy did we get it.

Three-handed play lasted an unprecedented 247 hands over 11 hours, with each player taking turns leading, trailing, doubling-up, getting crippled, and generally riding the no-limit hold'em roller coaster. You've heard players say "Good luck, all-in" a million times, whether they meant it or not. But it certainly seemed like there was some kind of lucky magical aura around the short stacks at this particular table. Over and over, the short stack would move in and double up to become chip leader again.

There were plenty of short stack double-ups. Here's Jake celebrating one of his.

Kings cracked

Jesse had the freakiest double-up of the night. He and Greg got into a pre-flop raising war that ended with Greg five-bet shoving and Jesse snap-calling all-in. It looked pretty grim for Jesse and his rail when he rolled AK and Greg showed KK. Flop came 352, giving Jesse a wheel draw in addition to the three ace outs. Turn 8 changed nothing, but the 4 on the river gave Jesse the wheel and the Penn & Teller theater was instantly filled with ear-shattering screams from Jesse's friends and family.

Jesse's rail celebrating his "kings cracked" double-up. (That's his coach, Vanessa Selbst, grabbing his shoulder.)

Shaun The Dealer

Nobody ran away with an unbeatable lead. Nobody seemed to have much of a card rush. Everybody expected three-handed play to continue until at least sunrise, and it almost did. It took two things to deliver the final two knockouts of the 2012 World Series of Poker: the ever-increasing blinds and Shaun The Dealer.

You've seen him deal WSOP featured tables on ESPN, you've heard the crowd cheering him on dealer pushes if you've ever seen any WSOP events in person, and you've read his tweets. He's Shaun Harris, and he would end up dealing the bustout hands of five of the October Niners. The crowd loved him. He even ran across the stage yelling and whipping the crowd into a frenzy at one point.

Shaun "The Dealer" Harris congratulates Jake after dealing his 3rd place bustout hand

Jesse and Greg wish each other luck before heads-up play

View from the grandstands

Sprint to the finish

Greg and Jesse started heads-up play with 117.6 million and 80.6 million chips, respectively. Advantage Greg, though it was still anybody's game. The specter of last year's grueling 6-hour heads-up duel loomed over the proceedings. If that happened this year, we'd be walking out of the Penn & Teller theater just before lunch time. Fortunately for us, it didn't.

Jesse Sylvia during heads-up play

Greg Merson during heads-up play

Hand records broken

Three-handed play had lasted well beyond the previous WSOP Main Event final table record of 364 hands. Jake didn't bust until hand 382, after 11 hours.

Oddly, considering that they were both fairly deep in relation to the blinds, heads-up play between Greg and Jesse lasted barely an hour. The audience had thinned out drastically, the mezzanine had been closed, and some of Jesse's fans (still on East Coast time) were nodding off. But the inevitable happened on hand 399. Shaun The Dealer dealt Jesse a QJ, Greg a K5, and there was a raising war. Greg ended up putting Jesse all-in, Jesse tank-called, and once again he would need to catch up.

He didn't. The board ran all rags and missed both players' hole cards. Greg Merson became this year's Main Event Champion.

This is what $8,531,853 looks like, more or less.

The real hug

Greg immediately stood up, walked over to Jesse, and gave him an awkward, perfunctory bro-hug. It was as though he and Jesse were doing a dress rehearsal, like they were saving their energy. Then, spontaneously, the two did another longer, more meaningful hug. The "real hug." It truly felt like the two had become lifetime friends. No longer trying to take each other's chips, no more cutthroat competition. Just two guys who had shared a life-changing experience that would bond them forever.

Jesse and Greg's second hug. The real one.

Greg's second WSOP bracelet: 160 grams of 14 karat white gold with over 35 karats of diamonds and rubies.

Please visit these official World Series of Poker pages for all the details and a great recap of The 2012 WSOP Main Event:

The Main Event summaryNolan Dalla's event summary
The WSOP update pageFinal day hand-for-hand action

Next: WSOP13 One Drop High Rollers

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