We started with 6,598 players, in for ten grand apiece. They came from 82 different countries, aged from 21 to 92. And after a wild week-and-a-half just nine remain with chips and hopes of becoming the next world champion of poker.
There's no other tournament like it... the World Series of Poker Main Event.
From that huge field just 27 remained to start today, led by Marc Ladouceur of Quebec, Canada who had already improved on his 63rd-place finish in the WSOP Main Event a year ago. The plan was to play down to a final nine who will return October 28-30 to find the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion.
The first level saw just a couple of eliminations — Nicco Maag (27th) and Jan Heitmann (26th) — two of the three Germans left in the field. Meanwhile, Robert Salaburu spent that first level playing frequently and aggressively, and found himself at the top of the counts going into the first break.
The next two-hour level saw an increase in the blinds and frequent all-in shoves by short stacks at all three of the remaining tables. Roland Israelashvili (25th), Daniel Strelitz (24th), and Yuval Bronshtein (23rd) hit the rail early in Level 31, with Strelitz having tumbled quickly from having started the day in second position. Cylus Watson (22nd) and Robert Corcione (21st) would also exit before the level concluded. Meanwhile, Russell Thomas won the race to become the first to cross the 20 million-chip mark, and when the next level began Salaburu, Scott Abrams, and Jacob Balsiger would join him in moving past the milestone.
They'd play one more hour before breaking for dinner, during which five players hit the rail. Once Paul Volpe (20th) and Jamie Robbins (19th) fell, they'd redraw for the final two tables, and on the first hand after that the Australian David Balkin would go out in 18th in a hand which saw his pocket aces cracked by Michael Esposito.
The 67-year-old Robert Buckenmayer would follow in 17th when his failed to improve against Wilfried Harig's . Then Salaburu took care of Percy Mahatan in 16th after turning two pair against the latter's queens.
The break arrived, with Balsiger, Salaburu, and Abrams in front. But also among the final 15 were two of the 211 women who'd entered the Main Event — Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann. It has been 17 years since Barbara Enright made a WSOP Main Event final table, the only time in the 43-year history of the Series it has ever happened. Thus was the possibility of one or perhaps both of the remaining women making it through on everyone's minds as play resumed.
Soon the field would shrink further. Like Balkin before him, Wilfried Harig would also see pocket aces fail him against Greg Merson. All in before the flop with against Harig's , the last remaining German would see Merson turn two pair, and one card later Harig was out in 15th.
The next hour was punctuated by dramatic double-ups for Koroknai (twice), Baumann, and Jesse Sylvia, with Sylvia riding the momentum of his all of the way to the chip lead at the next mid-level break.
Soon after players returned, Danny Wong — crippled earlier versus Koroknai — was knocked out in 14th after committing his short stack with against Greg Merson's and failing to improve.
Next it would be start-of-day leader Marc Ladouceur seeing his run end in 13th place. All in with against Greg Merson's pocket fours, Ladouceur would see two sevens flop, but a four as well, and two cards later they were down to a dozen.
Later it would be Scott Abrams falling in 12th after getting his big stack in with top pair and a flush draw versus chip leader Jesse Sylvia's set of sevens then failing to get there. Just 11 were left, including both Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann, although both were on short stacks and occupying the last two spots in the counts.
Soon Hille would be all in with hers and hoping her would improve versus Andras Koroknai's pocket sevens. But the board brought no help and Hille left us in 11th.
They redrew for the 10-handed not-quite-final final table, which would ultimately last an orbit-and-a-half. Baumann would score a timely double-up once after waking up with pocket kings in the big blind. She'd shove a second time and get no callers. Soon she'd be all in again with against Andras Koroknai's , and despite the roars of encouragement from the crowd, no card came to improve Baumann's hand, and she was out in 10th, making the two women the final eliminations of the summer.
What an incredible conclusion to the summer! And there's still more to come!
Jesse Sylvia will be carrying the WSOP Main Event chip lead over the next three-plus months. And by making it this far, Greg Merson is now guaranteed at least 100 WSOP Player of the Year points, meaning even if he finishes in ninth in October, he'll have 581.13 points which will push him past current leader Phil Ivey (with WSOP Europe still in play as well).
Here is how that final table will look when players return in October:
Thanks to everyone for following our coverage all summer long here at PokerNews. It's been another amazing seven-and-a-half weeks in Vegas. See you in October!