TWO POKER PROFESSIONALS and a college student have topped nearly 6,600 competitors at the World Series of Poker and are one card session away from poker’s richest prize — an $8.53 million crown.
Arizona State senior Jake Balsiger eliminated Russell Thomas in fourth place early on Tuesday morning in Las Vegas with an ace-king, treading past five meaningless community cards to bump his guaranteed payday up nearly $1 million and setting up tonight’s showdown.
His opponents in the no-limit Texas Hold ‘em tournament: 24-year-old poker pros Greg Merson and Jesse Sylvia.
“I can’t wait to get back up here and play. I wish we could play it out right now,” said Sylvia, who started the session of more than seven hours with the chip lead but was overtaken by Merson.
“We have a long battle tomorrow,” he said.
Thomas won $2.85 million for fourth place, then said after being eliminated that he planned to quit his job as an insurance actuary for Aetna to follow his dream of playing cards.
“Made my company a little mad because I quit my job in a newspaper article, and now I’m doing it in a press conference,” he said.
Balsiger, Merson and Sylvia have their sights set on higher scores — guaranteed at least $3.8 million each as the top three finishers.
The tournament began in July with 6,598 players and was chopped down to nine through seven sessions spread over 11 days. Play stopped after nearly 67 hours logged at the tables for each player, with minimum bets going up every two hours.
The finalists played last night until only three players remained, leaving the top three to settle the title tonight.