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Final Table Takedown: Mark Davis Outlasts Four-Time WPT Champ Darren Elias For Million Dollar Payday

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Jun 29, 2022

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Mark Davis is a health club owner, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but he has spent the last 18 years living in Birmingham, Alabama. Although he originally started playing poker back in 2003 after college, it wasn’t until this year that he turned pro.

The decision has proven to be a great one, with Davis rattling off a string of big scores to kickstart his professional career. After a runner-up finish at the Pearl River Poker Open at Choctaw in Oklahoma this January, Davis earned his first WSOP Circuit ring in February by taking down the main event at Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina for a whopping $334,678.

In March he picked up a small win, once again at Choctaw, before heading to the Seminole Hard Rock in Florida for the $3,500 buy-in World Poker Tour Hard Rock Poker Showdown main event. It was there that Davis made the final table from the field of 2,010. The tournament wouldn’t conclude until several weeks later in Las Vegas at the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor.

In front of his poker coach, Chance Kornuth, who would go on to win his own WPT title the next night, Davis outlasted a tough final table, and the most prolific player in WPT history in Darren Elias, to earn the title and the $1,000,300 first-place prize.

Card Player caught up with Davis shortly after his life-changing win to talk about some key hands that led to his victory.

Event: 2022 WPT SHR Poker Showdown
Buy-In: $3,500
Entrants: 2,010
Prize Pool: $6,432,0000
First-Place Prize: $1,000,300

Stacks: Mark Davis – 25,000,000 (100 BB) Darren Elias – 26,000,000 (104 BB)
Blinds: 125,000-250,000 with a 250,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 9

Craig Tapscott: You’re at the table with one of the most successful players in poker over the last few years. And of course, he’s gunning for his fifth WPT title. Did you approach your hands versus Darren Elias any differently than the others at the table?

MD: The only reason I would play my hand differently against Darren would be because he’s the only player that could bust me. He and I were far and away the chip leaders at the table. I had position in this hand, and I understood the ICM implications that were in play at this point. That’s the only reason I would play the hand differently with Darren in this spot.

Elias raised from UTG to 500,000. Davis reraises to 1,700,000 holding pocket queens from middle position.

MD: My three-bet is obviously standard, and my sizing was correct, a little over 3x Darren’s open. But then…

Elias reraised to 4,200,000.

CT: Had Elias been aggressive at the table so far?

MD: No, Darren hadn’t been overly aggressive up to this point. I had noticed that he was letting the table play out slowly. He was also sitting on a great final table stack. I knew I had to be strong in this particular spot, so I proceeded accordingly.

CT: What were the best options for you after his four-bet?

MD: I figured I had three options. I could five-bet, which is unnecessarily putting more chips in while I still have over a 20 million stack. I could just muck, but I have a premium top three hand. And I could call and literally make up my mind on the flop. I have to flop a queen here or if Darren slows down, I could have the best hand. I elected to call and see a flop in position.

Davis called.
Flop: 8Spade Suit 5Heart Suit 4Club Suit (pot: 9,025,000)

CT: Pretty safe flop. But you were still beat by a few hands.

MD: Yes. We’re now down to option three since we called and got a safe board. But no queen. We had to wait and see how Darren proceeded.

Elias bet 3,200,000.

CT: What now? He could be doing that with several hands that you beat. But he could also have had you drawing thin.

MD: Well now my three preflop options were back in play. We could call the 3.2 million bet, but I was aware that the next bet would probably have been seven to eight million. Or I could have shoved. I was really back to when I called preflop and thought I needed to flop a set. In poker you have to be disciplined enough to let a hand go if you come to the conclusion that you’re beat. My gut told me I was beat, so…

Davis folded. Elias won the pot of 9,025,000.

MD: Darren told me that I was beat in this hand after the tournament was over. That fold may have won me the event.

Stacks: Mark Davis – 77,200,000 (48 BB) Darren Elias – 23,300,000 (14.5 BB)
Blinds: 800,000-1,600,000 with a 1,600,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 2

CT: This event played down to the final six in April and completed in Las Vegas on May 25 for a televised broadcast. How did you prepare for this final table?

MD: I prepared my ass off. I worked with Chance Kornuth, who is the founder of the site Chip Leader Coaching. We spent time each day preparing for every possible spot that could come up.

I also watched every WPT final table, all 18 plus seasons. And I watched Darren’s $25,000 heads-up event that he had just played where he finished second. This was the biggest poker spot in my life, so I left no stone unturned in my preparation.

Elias completed in the small blind on the button. Davis checked his option holding KHeart Suit QHeart Suit.

CT: So why did you check your option with a pretty big hand in the big blind?

MD: I had all the momentum here so when Darren limped and completed the small blind, I just checked. I know KHeart Suit QHeart Suit heads-up is a great hand. However, we’re getting to the time in the tourney where Darren will start shoving, and I don’t want to have to call 22 million more with king high if I open the raising back up. Also, by checking back it really disguises the strength of my hand. My hand plays phenomenal post-flop, so I decided to see a cheap flop.

Flop: JSpade Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Heart Suit (pot: 4,800,000)

MD: I have a back door straight draw, back door flush draw, and two overs. So, I made the decision to still disguise my hand. Darren elected to bet the minimum.

Davis checked. Elias bets 1,600,000, and Davis called.

CT: What were you thinking when you made this call?

MD: I figured I’m just going to see what develops.

Turn: 8Heart Suit (pot: 8,000,000)

Davis checked, and Elias checked behind.

CT: Were you surprised he checked back the turn?

MD: After he checked that turn, I started to deduce his possible holdings. At this point I think a jack is unlikely. An eight is also unlikely. We’re looking at a deuce in his hand or some kind of missed straight draw.

River: JDiamond Suit (pot: 8,000,000)

MD: Now the river double paired the board with another jack. And Darren…

Elias bet 6,000,000.

CT: Big bet.

MD: Yes. Darren had tanked and bet full pot for the first time all match.

CT: That’s quite the polarizing bet. A monster or nothing.

MD: I started to go over all my options. A deuce is counterfeited. All straight draws missed. I am sure he would gladly check down ace high and win the pot with that. He either has a monster like a full house, which is very unlikely how the hand played out, or he has [a bluff]. 

After I’d narrowed that down, I believed I was good here. But thinking that and calling six million when playing for a million-dollar first prize this late in a heads-up match are two totally different things.

CT: Clearly, you had been making the right decisions all along to have a chance at the title and a million dollars. So, what now?

MD: I went with my read and my heart and made the call. Darren said great call and open mucked. I felt great in that moment that I had taken the time to put the pieces together and had the heart to pull the trigger.

Davis called, and Elias mucked. Davis won the pot of 22,000,000.

CT: I followed the live updates on this event online and on social media, because Chance was there posting every few minutes. He was definitely rooting hard for you during the final table.

MD: He told me from the start what he expected of me if I was going to go on this journey with him. I’m confident I gave him all I had and more. Chance is a great player but an even better person. I was lucky to have him in my corner. I must add that Darren Elias is also a phenomenal champion and an extraordinary person as well.

CT: What a great experience for you during your first year as a pro. Good luck at the WSOP. ♠