World Series of Poker 2012

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.

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  • MurOllavan

    <3 reading poker on ftb

  • Artor

    Ed, when did you start posting in Greek?

  • geocatherder

    I’d forgotten it was WSOP season. No wonder you’re sick of Norman Chad.

  • I should write a post about poker lingo and explain what all these terms mean. For the 8 people who care.

  • tfkreference

    Great idea for a post, Ed, I love reading your poker stories–and probably would even more if I didn’t have to figure out the terms from the context.

  • subbie

    Perhaps the most amazing stat for the final table is that Anna Kournikova was 23 for 23, including cracking aces.

  • canuckamuck

    Staying up all night to watch paint dry a card game? To paint play cards, I can see, but…well, to each their own, I suppose.

  • I watched until 1:20 AM Saskatoon time, set the PVR to record the next 3 and a half hours, and that still wasn’t enough to see it all. Yeesh!

    Jake Balsinger’s situation is the kind I tend to end up in playing online tournaments and sit and goes, desparately hanging on for dear life hoping to get lucky against the big stacks, or have one take the others out so I can move up. But Balsinger does it a zillion times better than I do.

    Yeah, the AK thing was bizarre. I think AK is the mostoverrated hand in hold ’em given how poorly it actually does when you play it.

  • subbie

    Well, they don’t call it Anna Kournikova for nothing; looks good but never wins.

  • grumpyoldfart

    How much is 198 million chips in American dollars?

  • About $66 million. There were about 6600 players who paid $10,000 each to get in the tournament, but they each started with $30,000 in chips.

  • The AK thing didn’t really surprise me that much. AK plays very differently in a tournament than in a cash game, especially where there’s a ton of money on the line like last night. Yes, it was 23/23, but I bet there only 18 or 19 flops seen in those hands. The vast majority of the time, the AK won because it’s played aggressively pre-flop and the other players fold. In a cash game, that’s not going to happen.

  • jeffs1125

    Did anyone think merson and sylvia were possibly playing to chop up 1st and 2nd ? There were so many hands were both of them folded middle pair . There was even a hand where merson limped in the SB, sylvia checks the BB and flop was a102 rainbow and merson had like A3 and bets half the pot and syvia folds 10 4. Nobody folds middle pair in that situation. It was kind of like they didnt want each other to be below Basingers stack. They know they are better of the 3 players so lets just make sure we split $7 mil or so , maybe a little extra to first place. Sure they were all in on AK, KK but they had to be. I know they were avoiding each other but just seemed like a lot of no calling vs each other

  • Olav

    Playing with such amounts of money is unethical and wrong.

    There, I said it.

  • The World Series of Poker famously refuses to facilitate final table deals, so it’s pretty difficult for players to make a deal to chop. Because the WSOP won’t facilitate the chop, you have to make a deal “under the table,” but that has some real tax complications. Caesar’s Entertainment will issue IRS forms only in the amount of the promised prizes, regardless of any deal you make. So let’s say they agreed to chop first ($8.5 million) and and second place ($5.3 million) evenly, so they’d end up with $6.9 million each. But they still have to play it out to see who gets the title and the bracelet. So Merson gets the title and an IRS form saying he won $8.5 million and Sylvia gets 2nd place and an IRS form saying they won $5.3 million. If they then chopped the money privately, Merson would get $6.9 million but be taxed on $8.5 million, while Sylvia would only get taxed on $5.3 million. They would have to also have an arrangement to make up the taxes on that $1.6 million. And there are very few breaks in which to make such a deal, and little chance of signing anything binding on it, so there’s no way to enforce any agreement.

    In any sample of 400 hands, you will inevitably find a few hands where a player’s decisions don’t seem optimal, especially with such huge amounts of money on the line and such young players. I have no doubt that Sylvia was at times avoiding Merson, as he should in that situation. That doesn’t mean there was any collusion or any deal made by the two of them.

  • At what point did the SWAT team show up to break up this dangerous crowd?

  • fastlane

    I should write a post about poker lingo and explain what all these terms mean. For both people who care.

    FYP. =P

  • I believe there was collusion between Sylvia and Merson. The two just relentlessly go after Balsiger, and seem to only play very small pots with one another. I know it can be regarded as the way the table dynamic formed, but as a professional poker player, I know collusion when I see it.

  • And that was about as obvious as it could be. I am glad Balsiger sucked out on them as many times as he did just to give them a sweat for whether or not their collusion would be successful. Ultimately it was, but to see it play out, while Jake is making comments about it the whole time is just absurd.

  • And Subbie, Ace King is a monster…It has a 23% win rate just being dealt…..for a hand in Poker, one quarter odds to win regardless is massive!!!!! True it is not a made hand, but the only hand that has you in absolute jail is pocket aces….You can still win against Kings, As Sylvia famously proved all in against Merson’s kings.

    Going to the 2013 final table where McLaughlin shoved with Kings into the obviously represented Aces of Farber. It is opened by McLaughlin and they go back and forth for a while…..ends up five bet by Farber for 18 million. He is essentially telling McLaughlin, I have aces and I am not folding to your shove, being that McLaughlin had a stack of about 28 million behind at that point in the hand.

    Farber was the tightest player at the table….How are you six bet jamming Kings in that spot?I believe Farber would have folded Ace King suited to the four bet. Poker is played recklessly by those who claim “we don’t lay down Ace Queen or better preflop anymore”…I understand the logic that leads them there, but I have success because of laying down big hands preflop, or just calling a three bet and seeing where the flop goes. It does produce more variance, but in that spot variance is unavoidable if you are going to get it in anyway, so you might as well minimalize your potential losses…Yes you minimize your potential gains somewhat, but I don’t think its really a plus EV play long term.

    I think this is why all the young wizards come and go, get hot then cold, and the greats in the game stay steady and consistently win even now (though they all have swings, it is poker). Live Poker imitated online style for a couple of years, but since it was stopped (unfortunately) it is reverting back a little bit and I like where it is. I made it deep in my first large field tournament getting 2nd at Caesar’s Las Vegas Deep stack because I made laydowns where I was crushed or dominated.