LAS VEGAS (AP) — Four finalists in the World Series of Poker busted out in quick succession early Tuesday morning, leaving a Las Vegas club promoter and a young pro from Michigan one card session away from poker's richest prize — an $8.4 million crown.
Ryan Riess, 23, eliminated Amir Lehavot in third place early Tuesday in Las Vegas with a pair of 10s, treading past five meaningless community cards to bump his guaranteed payday up by more than $1 million and set the Tuesday night showdown.
His opponent in the no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament: 29-year-old amateur Jay Farber, who promptly rounded up his friends to go to the club.
"I'm out every night. what am I gonna do? Sit at home and dwell on the final table? No, I'm going to enjoy myself," he said.
After several hours of pushing chips around with little excitement, the final table came to a close with a flurry of all-ins, sending four people to the rail in just 15 hands played in less than an hour.
Lehavot won $3.7 million for third place.
JC Tran, who came in as the chip leader, and was the favorite to win the diamond-encrusted bracelet, busted out in fifth place after struggling all night with a string of weak hands.
"I'm not 100 percent happy with the way I played, but when you're put on the tough side of hands, it's tough to overcome it," said Tran, the best known of the nine finalists. He vowed to come back next year and make another run at the prize he hopes will float him into grinder retirement.
Nine players from five countries walked like prizefighters Monday night into the 1,600-seat theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino where magicians Penn and Teller regularly perform, and sat down to play the biggest game of their lives under the heat of blue and red stage lights.
Jay Farber took the lead early, a plush panda mascot cheering him on. His friends wore "combat panda" shirts, and shrieked when the mascot rushed the stage and was escorted out by security.
Ryan Riess, the youngest of the finalists at 23, also maintained a strong position all night. His fans cheered "Riess the beast" as he made daring plays and backed them up with strong cards.
"Everyone was playing really solid and the cards ran my way today," he said. "It worked exactly like I envisioned it. I was kinda thinking it would be me and Farber."
The tournament began in July with 6,352 players and was chopped down to nine through seven sessions spread over 11 days. Play then paused for four months, giving players a chance to recuperate and study each other.
Mark Newhouse was the first to go home Monday. He sat down in eighth place, and busted out after he went up against Riess with a pair of nines. Riess was holding an ace and a king, and caught another king on the flop.
Chips mean everything and nothing in poker tournaments. They have no direct tie to the amount of money won or lost; each player already staked $10,000 to enter the tournament in July.
As the tournament progresses, minimum bets creep higher every two hours, tightening the pressure on players who continually find their chips weren't worth as much as before.
A player must lose all his chips to be eliminated from the tournament, and must win all the chips in play to claim the top prize of $8.4 million and the glory that comes with joining the names of past winners, including Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and Chris Moneymaker.
The finale was broadcast nearly live on ESPN, airing with just enough of a delay to satisfy Nevada gambling regulators that the players don't have any way to tell what their opponents are holding.
Dan Michalski contributed to this report.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.