Outchipped 5:1 by the chipleader at the start of the day, Ciarin O'Leary played a game of patience and timely aggression to take the WSOP $1.5k NLH Event #3. It was O'Leary's first WSOP bracelet in an event that had the largest field of any live poker tournament excluding World Series Main Events.
Play began with all eyes on Alex Jacob. The Yale graduate had a 3.1m pile of chips in front of him and head of hair reminiscent of Julius Erving in his ABA days. Paul Evans led a pack more than halfway back (1.69m) including Jeff Yoak (965k) and Matt Vengrin (930k).
With blinds at 30k/60k, it was Vengrin who took a one-two punch to lie on the canvas first. Andreas Krause moved all-in for his last 390k in chips holding A-Qo, and Vengrin shoved to isolate him with pocket 9's. It was a particularly dreadful way to double someone up as the gave Krause the wheel. On the next hand, Jacob raised to 150k and Vengrin moved all-in for his now 680k total in chips. Jacob thought hard about the decision and called with to Vengrin's . When Jacob spiked the queen on the flop, Andreas Krause headed out the door (9th, $43,378). For those left, the hand left them feeling like a freight train was running over them.
Two others left in the next round of hands. First, Krause used pocket queens for a full house to knock out Bart Hanson (8th, $55,246). Then Craig Crivello flopped a full house with pocket fives to end Thad Smith's dreams (7th, $73,661). Three players in the first sixteen hands looked more like a $1 SNG than a final table at the WSOP, but this tourney had been filled by shoves for three days.
When the blinds went up to 40k/80k with a 10k ante, the chip counts stood as follows:
Alex Jacob: 4.23m
Paul Evans: 1.53m
Jeff Yoak: 1.485m
Andreas Krause: 855k
Craig Crivello: 700k
Ciarin O'Leary: 235k
O'Leary had played two hands in the first twenty-seven hands: once he moved all-in to take the blinds and once he limped from the small blind only to muck to a big blind raise. It looked like he'd only be good for three hands when Paul Evans raised from the button and O'Leary called all his chips with pocket 9's to the pocket kings of Evans. A on the turn sent a lifeline to O'Leary, and his friends roared as he stacked his new chips.
A flurry of fireworks shifted the playing field dramatically. O'Leary picked up pocket kings to double through Evans who called with . Jeff Yoak then doubled through Jacob when he called Jacob's over-the-top all-in with to Jacob's . O'Leary then took more chips from Jacob has he again doubled up, this time with queens to Jacob's 9's. O'Leary had squeaked by Jacob into the chip lead, 2.66m to 2.3m, but it lasted one hand as O'Leary doubled up Paul Evans who spiked an ace to chase down O'Leary's 6's.
Evans continued the action as he doubled through Crivello. Crivello raised to 250k, and Evans moved all-in for a total of 820k. Crivello called with , but Evans had which stayed ahead. Players notoriously complain about the blind structure of the WPT, but here the high blinds put pressure on several of the players.
Andreas Krause shoved his last 610k in chips into the blinds and antes from the button, and Evans called him with . Krause turned over . The board of meant the end of the day for the top German pro (6th, $94,122). He'd won almost the same number of Euros by taking the Vienna Spring Poker Festival in March, but with the exchange rate turning that into $126k, Krause probably wished the money he won was multicolored rather than the greenbacks.
Blinds moved up to 60k/120k with a 15k ante, and the chip counts looked as follows:
Alex Jacob: 2.4m
Paul Evans: 2.3m
Ciarin O'Leary: 1.8m
Jeff Yoak: 1.4m
Craig Crivello: 1.1m
On the first hand of the level, O'Leary raised to 410k from the small blind, and Crivello moved all-in from the big blind. O'Leary called with and Crivello was behind by the slightest with . Crivello hoped to chop the pot and remain friends, but on the flop sealed his fate. Craig Crivello had his best finish from his five WSOP cashes, good for 5th ($128,907).
Six hands later, O'Leary busted another player. O'Leary limped from the small blind and Jeff Yoak moved all-in for his last 695k. O'Leary called with another baby ace, this time . Yoak flipped over , and the flop of put him further behind. The finished him off, and Jeff Yoak made his first WSOP cash count (4th, $184,152).
O'Leary had run his stack up to 3.67m for the chip lead, with Alex Jacob (2.69m) and Paul Evans (2.65m) close behind. O'Leary had transformed from the tight player with no chips to an aggressive warrior when he held a stack. Jacob raised to 300k from the button, then Evans made it 1m from the small blind. O'Leary moved all-in from the big blind, ready to end the day. Both players mucked, and the huge pot only added fuel to his fire.
A hand that will be studied and talked about knocked out the favorite on the next hand. O'Leary limped from the small blind and Jacob checked. O'Leary checked in the dark, and the flop came . Jacob bet 150k, and O'Leary raised another 450k more. Jacob took his time as he knew this was a key hand. He ultimately called. The turn brought , and O'Leary moved all-in. He left the table, and Jacob worked through everything he had in his brain: every hand he'd seen O'Leary play, every situation he'd been in like this, his remaining stack, everything. Jacob then called and showed for a pair of fours, but O'Leary turned over pocket 7's. Jacob got no help, and the tough call ended his day in 3rd ($282,367).
The end was a bit anticlimactic in some ways. A few hands later, Evans limped from the button and O'Leary checked. The flop came , and O'Leary checked. Evans bet his small pair for 500k (), and O'Leary moved all-in. Evans quickly called knowing he was ahead, but O'Leary's was in fact well ahead. brought Evans more outs with a flush draw, but sealed his fate. Paul Evans was out in 2nd ($450,150), his second runner-up finish in an WSOP NLH event.
For Ciarin O'Leary (1st, $727,012), it was a great way to cash for the first time. The Irishman best the massive field of 2,998 players, and the long registration lines and Poker Peek cards were a distant memory as he celebrated with his friends in front of the ESPN cameras.