LAS VEGAS (AP) — Three card professionals from Germany, the Czech Republic and Las Vegas will finish a marathon battle for $8.72 million after battling through a gauntlet on Sunday at the final table of the World Series of Poker main event.
Matt Giannetti, 26, of Las Vegas, called an all-in bet from 26-year-old poker professional Ben Lamb with pocket jacks, finding himself a 2-1 favorite when Lamb revealed an ace-seven. But Lamb hit a flush on the turn to win the hand and leave Giannetti with fewer than seven minimum bets.
Giannetti doubled to 14.4 million through Martin Staszko, but lost the last of his chips to Lamb after Lamb crushed his ace-high with an unnecessary four of a kind, matching his pocket kings with two on the flop.
"When you get close to something you dreamed about and you don't get it, it sucks," Giannetti said.
Lamb said the final hand played itself.
"There was really no thought there besides, 'I have kings, let's do this,'" Lamb said.
Lamb, Staszko and Pius Heinz are guaranteed $4 million each and will settle the title on Tuesday, with the action playing out nearly live on ESPN, with just enough of a delay to guarantee that the players won't be able to see each other's hands.
Heinz — who started the day seventh in chips and went to the first break in ninth — ended the night with 52.4 percent of the chips in play. He added to his stack during each two hour level, picking off opponents and catching some cards to help his cause.
"At the first hand when I sat down, I was really nervous," said Heinz. But then, he decided he was just going to play as well as he could with the chips he had.
Heinz eliminated two opponents and got Irish player Eoghan O'Dea to ship him most of his chips as he spiraled from a second place final table start to a sixth place finish worth $1.7 million.
"He (Heinz) came in with guns blazing," said Sam Holden, who was eliminated in ninth place.
Heinz and O'Dea tangled during one hand with more than 44 million in chips at stake, with Heinz shoving all-in over O'Dea's river bet of 8.2 million chips. O'Dea folded an ace-high. Heinz won the hand with pocket queens.
"Yeah, it probably killed me a bit," O'Dea said.
Five rapid-fire eliminations — including two players bounced on consecutive hands — brought the World Series of Poker one bust away from the Tuesday night showdown.
O'Dea was followed by 26-year-old Las Vegas professional Phil Collins, who moved in against chip leader Heinz with an ace-seven but found Heinz with pocket nines. Collins won $2.3 million for fifth place.
"I'm happy with the money, but not with the result," said Collins, who started the day fourth in chips.
Badih Bounahra, a 49-year-old grocery wholesaler from Belize, finished seventh after gambling the last of his chips with an ace-five and losing to Staszko. He earned $1.31 million
His ouster came just after Anton Makiievskyi was eliminated in eighth and Holden went out in ninth place, and just before Collins risked his tournament life and doubled his stack through Lamb.
"I don't know what happened," Makiievskyi said. "I don't know how I'll feel like in an hour."
Giannetti, who won a World Poker Tour tournament in Malta, quietly doubled his stack over the first 4½ hours of play, picking off chips from Heinz and pushing into second in chips.
But the cards were cruel to him on several hands, turning around plays where he had the best chance to win into hands that cost him chips.
Giannetti said he wanted to win the title, saying the $3 million for fourth place was no consolation.
"Who won fourth place last year?" Giannetti said, adding nobody remembers.
The nine players from seven countries started play Sunday in Las Vegas before a raucous casino crowd and more watching nearly live on TV.
Machines filled the air with smoke around the massive set. Skimpily-dressed girls fired T-shirts through air launchers into the crowd. Family and friends of the players waved flags, wore wigs and battled with dueling chants.
Makiievskyi said it was distracting.
"I don't think it affected my play but I don't like it," he said. "It sometimes was too loud during the game."
Nobody was eliminated in the first 2 1/2 hours, before a break. Levels went up every two hours, making each players' chips worth a little bit less in the game.
The players returned to the table after 3 1/2 months of reflection and study. They are the top finishers from a field of 6,865 entrants who started in the tournament in July.
Millions are at stake, but the chips in play won't have any direct monetary value. Each player already staked $10,000 to get into the tournament in July. A player must lose all his chips to be eliminated from the tournament, but must win all the chips in play to win.
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Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia