One of the most stacked final tables in history, including 6 former WSOP bracelet winners, prepared to do battle as ESPN presented its coverage of the Main Event of the World Series of Poker Europe. Jason Mercier held a dominating chip lead over the other eight players as the final table began. Let’s see how it played out:
Barry Shulman had been playing the same very tight style that his son Jeff had used to make the November Nine in Las Vegas, but the very first hand of the night showed that he was not afraid to mix it up. After Praz Bansi raised to 56,000 with A-6, Shulman called in the big blind with pocket deuces. After a flop of 10-7-6, Shulman checked, and Bansi bet 60,000 with bottom pair. Shulman then raised to 200,000, and Bansi folded.
Much of the first hour of coverage was devoted to the remarkable rise of Daniel Negreanu. Starting off as the smallest stack, Negreanu first took down a couple of pots with small-ball raises pre-flop and accurate post-flop play, and then found pocket nines, with which he raised to 48,000 (about 2 ½ times the big blind). Antoine Saout called with , as did Mercier with pocket threes. The flop of A-9-2 gave Negreanu his set, and with 191,000 in the pot, Mercier bet 64,000. Negreanu smooth-called and Saout folded. The turn card was a disaster for Mercier, as the gave him a set as well. It was also the third heart to fall, so there was a flush draw on the table. Mercier led out once more, this time for 129,000, and Negreanu, after some thought, went all-in, which Mercier called. A blank on the river meant that Negreanu now had 1,323,000 chips and had moved from 9th to 3rd place.
Next, Negreanu limped with A-10 for 24,000, which Matt Hawrilenko called with pocket fives. Bansi then raised to 160,000 with A-Q on the button, but Negreanu, feeling the rush, re-raised to 408,000, and got both Hawrilenko and Bansi to fold.
With the blinds now at 15,000-30,000-4,000, Negreanu limped with pocket queens. Mercier, who had been struggling thus far, found aces, and raised to 162,000. Negreanu just called, and both players then checked the flop of 4-9-7. When a king came on the turn, Negreanu checked and Mercier bet 211,000, which Negreanu called. A nine was the river card, and Negreanu check-called Mercier’s bet of 383,000. Although he lost 40% of his chips, Negreanu was happy not to have busted with his queens.
The first player to exit the table was November Niner James Akenhead, who had been card dead at the beginning of the session. After Chris Bjorin raised to 85,000 with A-J, Akenhead shoved for 417,000 with A-Q, only to have Negreanu go over the top of him with pocket kings. No ace or other help came, and Akenhead left in 9th place.
Soon after, Hawrilenko, who had been the chip leader with 36 players to go, was busted, when he tried to pick up the blinds and antes with an all-in push with J-7. Shulman picked him off with A-Q, and the board fired out a harmless 3-10-3-6-8 to eliminate Hawrilenko in 8th place.
The other November Niner, Antoine Saout, went out in 7th place when he re-raised Negreanu’s raise to 95,000 (Negreanu had ) with pocket fives. The flop of 8-10-4, with two spades, gave Negreanu additional outs, and although the turn was a harmless , Negreanu hit his flush when the came on the river, and Saout was gone.
Negreanu took over the chip lead when Bansi doubled up through Mercier, as his pocket jacks beat Mercier’s tens, and then extended his lead when his A-Q knocked out Chris Bjorin’s A-J. Bjorin’s 50th World Series cash and 22nd final table ended in 6th place.
Negreanu made a rare error when, after he raised to 95,000 with A-J, Bansi pushed all-in for 1,160,000 with pocket queens. Negreanu decided to make a very thin call, and when Bansi turned a third queen, he had doubled into the chip lead, with Bansi, Negreanu, Shulman and Mercier all within 100,000 chips of one another.
Negreanu then took the lead back when, after he raised to 95,000 with , Markus Ristola, the short stack, pushed all-in for his last 745,000 with . Negreanu made the call. The flop was a harmless 8-Q-6, but Ristola hit a king on the turn, and seemed poised to double up. However, Negreanu then caught his ace on the river, and Ristola was gone in 5th place.
Bansi next raised to 130,000 (blinds were 25,000-50,000-5,000) with pocket kings, which Shulman called in the small blind with and Mercier also called in the big blind with . The flop brought 6-8-4 with two spades, and Shulman went all-in. Mercier folded, but Bansi called. Shulman spiked the on the turn, and the on the river left Shulman with a huge double up at a critical point in the tournament.
After Negreanu raised to 115,000 with pocket nines, Shulman called with . Mercier then pushed for his last 1.66 million with a pair of sevens, and Negreanu called. Shulman chose to get out of the way, and the board of J-K-3-Q-3 brought Mercier no help, as the former chip leader was eliminated in a disappointing 4th place.
In what turned out to be a critical hand, one of Negreanu’s two cards, the , was exposed, and the dealer replaced it with another card. When Shulman pushed with J-10 on the button and Bansi folded, Negreanu found that the deuce had been replaced with an ace, and he called with A-Q. However, Shulman hit a ten on a flop of 6-10-4, another ten on the turn, and a jack on the river for good measure, and he survived once again.
Bansi next called in the small blind with , only to have Negreanu raise to 210,000 with A-J, which Bansi called. On a flop of A-9-3, Bansi checked, and Negreanu bet 235,000, which Bansi called once again. The on the turn gave Negreanu three-of-a-kind, but Bansi now had an inside straight-flush draw to go with his straight draw. After Bansi checked, Negreanu made a curiously small bet of 180,000. Bansi, who certainly had the odds to call, decided to raise to 450,000 instead, which Negreanu called. The on the river was no help to Bansi, but he followed through with a bluff of 1.1 million chips! Negreanu made the call, and took back the chip lead.
Bansi’s bad fortune continued when he raised to 150,000 with K-8, which Shulman called with . When a king came on the flop, Shulman check-raised all-in, which Bansi insta-called. The turn and river didn’t bring Bansi any help, and he was crippled with less than 1 million chips left. He then exited in 3rd place when his was dominated by Negreanu’s A-Q, and the board played out 4-8-4-J-6 without making Bansi’s flush.
Negreanu started heads-up play with a 3:2 chip lead. After a series of smaller hands, Negreanu min-raised to 160,000 with pocket fours, which Shulman re-raised to 410,000 with A-5. Negreanu called, and the flop brought 8-3-6. Negreanu called Shulman’s bet of 350,000. When another 6 fell on the turn, Shulman checked and Negreanu bet 425,000, expecting to take the pot down right then. However, Shulman had other ideas, and pushed all-in! Negreanu agonized over the decision, and finally laid down the best hand!
Next, Negreanu min-raised to 160,000 with pocket aces, and Shulman re-raised to 460,000 with . Negreanu, trying to set a trap, smooth-called. When the flop came 6-8-K with two hearts, Shulman led out for 500,000, Negreanu went all-in and Shulman called. The turn of the gave Shulman his flush and ¾ of the chips in play.
After Negreanu fought back to retake the chip lead, the two played what was to be the most dramatic hand of the tournament, one that will no doubt be replayed over and over through the years. Shulman raised to 250,000 with pocket aces, and Negreanu called with Q-J. The flop of 5-8-J had Negreanu in trouble. After he checked and Shulman bet 300,000, Negreanu raised to 900,000, only to have Shulman push all-in. Negreanu wound up making the call, and saw just how desperate his situation was. However, he hit a third jack on the turn, leaving him one card away from the bracelet. But Shulman then hit his two-out ace on the river, and now had a more than 4:1 chip lead!
The end came soon after, when the two got all the money in pre-flop, with Shulman holding pocket tens and Negreanu having a pair of fours. Shulman flopped his set, and it was all over. Barry Shulman, out-doing his son’s performance in the WSOP Main Event, was the champion of the World Series of Poker Europe!