LAS VEGAS – Poker's top players and unknowns wrapped up a grueling high-stakes showdown, completing the nine-person final table at the World Series of Poker's main event and securing a chance to win $7.5 million.
Eighteen of the 27 players who started Thursday were eliminated. Last year's champ, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, popular pro Phil Ivey and amateur Tiffany Williamson, the only woman left, didn't make the toughest cut in gambling.
When play finally ended early Friday morning after a nearly 12-hour poker marathon, Aaron Kanter (search) of Lodi, Calif., led with $10.7 million, followed by Tex Barch (search) with $9.3 million and Andrew Black (search) with $8.1 million.
Also making it to the final table were Mike "The Mouth" Matusow ($7.4 million), Steven Dannenmann ($5.4 million), Joseph Hachem ($5.4 million), Daniel Bergsdorf ($5.2 million), Scott Lazar ($3.3 million) and Brad Kondracki ($1.1 million).
Everybody in the last group will walk away with at least $1 million. The no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament will conclude Friday afternoon at the legendary Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, where the World Series began 36 years ago.
The most dramatic hand of the round took place in the early hours of the morning — Barch calling all-in against Black with his spot at the final table on the line. Barch showed two jacks and Black held king-jack before the flop. The community cards didn't improve Black's hand, and the fearless Barch took down the $10 million pot.
The room erupted after the last card was turned over. Barch took the chip lead temporarily with the bold move.
Raymer, a crowd favorite, had to settle for 25th place after his luck vanished, leaving the onlookers disappointed that he wouldn't get a chance to defend his 2004 title.
He came into round six Thursday holding the fifth spot with $3.8 million. But he suffered some crippling losses, leaving him in serious trouble with about $415,000 late in the afternoon.
Raymer lost about $2 million when he called Aaron Kanter, who had gone all-in. Raymer's two kings fell short when Kanter hit a flush on the river, or final card.
Minutes later, Raymer went all-in with an ace-nine and lost to pocket 5s, sending him home without another title.
"If you make it this deep and don't win, you're disappointed," Raymer said.
Ivey and Kanter went all-in before the flop. Ivey had pocket jacks against Kanter's pocket kings. Kanter made three kings on the flop and Ivey couldn't catch up.
"I guess I'll just have to wait until next year," Ivey said moments after busting out of the World Series. He ended in 20th place.
Williamson, an American attorney living in London, was the last woman from an overall field of 5,619 players who began play at the Rio hotel-casino. She lasted about five hours before bowing out, finishing 15th.
Williamson's night essentially ended when she went all-in with ace-three against Kondracki's ace-king. The flop brought a king, nine and two. The turn revealed another nine and the river was meaningless. Kondracki won the pot with aces and 9s.
She was left with about $300,000, doubled up later but was knocked out after going all-in against Barch, who plays professionally.
She was composed walking away from the table but soon began sobbing.
"I wanted the final table so bad," Williamson said. "It has been a great run."
With her departure, it stands that no woman has ever won poker's richest and largest event, and only one has made it to the final table.