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A Statistical Look At The World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table

Ausmus and Balsiger Make the Most of Their Short Stacks


Those who viewed ESPN’s coverage of the 2012 WSOP main event were treated to some of the most aggressive play in televised poker history. The fact that millions of dollars and a seat at the final table were at stake rarely caused those deep in the tournament to become gun shy or alter their game plan. In the end, many members of the October Nine acquired their chips with fearless play and a willingness to put it all on the line.

Here, we take a closer look at the hands played at the final table to gauge which players ramped up the aggression and which players kicked back and moved their way up the money ladder.

Robert Salaburu Was Unlucky At Final TableGee, Salaburu and Esposito Exit Early

Steven Gee came into the final table in fifth place overall, but was the first to bust thanks to an ill-timed bluff attempt. Gee was only dealt 30 hands and won three with a simple preflop raise. Only two other times did he voluntarily put chips into the pot. The first was a simple defense of his blind and the other was his elimination hand.

Robert Salaburu, who started the final table in seventh chip position, was a victim of bad luck to exit in 8th place. Salaburu did well to improve his stack early on, winning 6 of the first 7 hands he played. It wasn’t until a cooler occurred, running his queens into kings, that he began to get desperate for chips. Finally, 65 hands into the contest, Salaburu’s run ended when he called all in against Jesse Sylvia’s shove from the blinds and couldn’t beat Q-5 suited with his pocket sevens.

With an additional $500,000 locked up, it was now safe for Michael Esposito to come out of his shell. The New York native was by far the most conservative player at the final table, winning a three-bet pot early on before tightening up considerably. Esposito tended to be super cautious when he entered a hand. Of the first 8 pots he played, Esposito either limped in or defended from the blinds 7 times.

It wasn’t until Salaburu’s elimination that Esposito began to open up his game. On his final four hands, Esposito moved all in all four times before finally being looked up and eliminated by Greg Merson.

Andras Koroknai Blows Big OpportunityKoroknai Blows Up A Big Stack

Perhaps the most confusing play at the final table came from the lone non-American, Hungary’s Andras Koroknai. The man portrayed as the villain in early ESPN broadcasts for staving off elimination with obscure rulings and knocking out both Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann on the final table bubble played a conservative game to start.

Koroknai only played 2 of the first 39 hands he was dealt, failing to win both. Finally, on the 40th hand of the day, he won his first pot with a simple preflop raise. He stayed quiet for another two orbits before unleashing a string of three-bets and four-bets that moved him into third place overall with over 40 million chips, more than 80 big blinds.

In what can only be described as a blow up, Koroknai decided to get into a preflop raising war with one of the only players who could bust him in Merson. Merson had no problem calling off most of his stack with A-K and found himself in dominant position against Koroknai’s K-Q. The board ran out clean and the Hungarian pro was eliminated in a situation where he could have easily moved up a few spots, doubled his payout and still contended for the title.

Jeremy Ausmus Makes The Most Of A Short StackAusmus and Thomas Wrap Up First Night Of Play

Jeremy Ausmus came into the final table in last chip position, so anything better than ninth place would be considered a good showing. Instead, he blew away all of his doubters by methodically mixing in well-timed aggression with some blind defenses to keep his head above water.

Of the 129 hands Ausmus was dealt, he voluntarily played 29 of them, winning 18. Perhaps even more impressively, he only went to show down twice, keeping his opponents in the dark for most of the night. He finally busted when his open-ended straight draw failed to catch up with Sylvia’s top pair, top kicker, but not until he had earned $1.4 million more than 9th place had received.

Russell Thomas entered play in third place overall and quickly sent a message to his opponent that he had come to play. Despite losing a few quick pots to some three-bets, Thomas kept pounding away, opening pot after pot. In fact, Thomas was involved in 5 of the first 7 hands dealt at the final table.

Overall, Thomas played 32 of the 135 hands he was dealt. The problem for Thomas is that he only won 18 of them and the pots he lost were much bigger on average than the pots he won. Still, he remained active just enough to relatively coast to a fourth-place finish. Had a hand or two gone differently for him, he would’ve been a bigger threat to win the title.

Jacob Balsiger Puts Himself Into ContentionThe Three-Handed Marathon

Going into three-handed play, only 135 hands had been dealt. It would take 11 hours and another 247 hands before the next player would be eliminated.

Jacob Balsiger, the youngest and least experienced player at the final table, arguably put in the best performance outside of Merson, the eventual winner. The 21-year-old started the final table in eighth place, but worked his way to a third-place finish and more importantly, gave himself a shot at the win by being patient and varied in his play.

Unlike some of the other players, who either limped in, defended from the blinds or showed relentless preflop aggression, Balsiger managed to mix it all together, and at a rate that kept him far ahead of the mounting blinds and antes. There was some luck on his side, to be sure, but the Arizona State University student made the most of it and at one point, even held the chip lead before finally succumbing to Merson.

Greg Merson Outduels Jesse SylviaThough it wasn’t easy, it was Merson who made the most of the three-handed marathon, increasing his chip lead and moving into heads-up play with a 3-2 chip advantage.

Heads-Up Head Scratcher

The blinds were still relatively low, but heads-up play moved at a lightening fast pace. There were only 17 hands dealt during the match, with Sylvia winning 9 for a slight advantage. However, he didn’t win the most important one, a 120 million chip encounter that saw his Q-J suited go down in curious fashion to Merson’s K-5 suited.

Hands Dealt VPIP Hands Won (Showdowns Won) First Preflop Raise Preflop Reraises
Greg Merson 399 158 (39.5%) 124 (15) 67 27
Jesse Sylvia 399 172 (43.1%) 116 (15) 73 26
Jacob Balsiger 382 131 (34.2%) 91 (11) 59 29
Russell Thomas 135 32 (23.7%) 18 (1) 25 2
Jeremy Ausmus 129 28 (21.7%) 18 (2) 19 4
Andras Koroknai 109 19 (17.4%) 11 (2) 10 8
Michael Esposito 70 14 (20%) 6 (0) 5 3
Robert Salaburu 65 13 (20%) 7 (3) 8 2
Steven Gee 30 5 (16.6%) 3 (0) 4 0

Note: Merson, Sylvia and Balsiger’s numbers are heavily skewed by the duration of three-handed play.