A 22-year-old German poker professional won the World Series of Poker main event and $8.72 million early Wednesday, capturing the title with an ace high after using the same hand to boost himself from a nearly insurmountable disadvantage.
Pius Heinz of Germany wagered the last of his chips against 35-year-old Martin Staszko of the Czech Republic with an ace-king. Staszko held a seven-10 of clubs.
The board was a five of clubs, deuce of diamonds, nine of spades, jack of hearts and four of diamonds, helping neither player but cementing Heinz's win in the no-limit Texas Hold' em tournament.
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Staskzo won $5.43 million for second place.
"Have you ever worn it?" Heinz asked 2010 title winner Jonathan Duhamel as Duhamel handed him the gold winner's bracelet.
"It's got to be the happiest day of my life," Heinz said. "But I can't believe what happened — it's unreal."
Staszko, a chess whiz who once worked for three years at an auto paint shop, said he thought his finish would help poker in his native country.
"I'm never happy if I don't win," Staszko said. "But it's not too bad. Second place is OK."
Asked before the final table began whether they'd accept second place money right then and forgo a shot at the title, Heinz said yes; Staszko said no.
Now, Heinz is happy they played the game.
"Honestly I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the money," he said. "Probably my family is going to get a couple gifts."
Heinz emerged the victor after a prolonged heads-up battle. It lasted 119 hands and saw big swings — including nine lead changes and a moment when Staszko had a nearly 4-1 chip edge on Heinz.
But Heinz, who started the day with just over half the chips in play, convinced Staszko to gamble with less-than-ideal hands in an attempt to put the no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament away.
"I tried not to lose my nerve," Heinz said. "At some point I was not making a hand. I was getting frustrated, honestly. I just tried to play my game."
Las Vegas poker professional Ben Lamb was eliminated early Tuesday night in four hands. He pushed all-in on the first hand of play with a king-jack, hoping to induce Staszko to fold pocket sevens.
But Staszko called and kept his marginal advantage as the five community cards were dealt.
"I got the sense he wasn't like super strong, but he actually was stronger than I thought he was," Lamb said.
That left Lamb very short on chips, and he pushed all-in again three hands later with a queen-six. This time, Staszko had pocket jacks and eliminated Lamb.
"I wanted to come in aggressive, and I did," Lamb said.
"Every poker player dreams of having the year I had, so I don't want to sit here and have people like cry for me," he said. "I'll be OK."
The 26-year-old Lamb won $4 million for finishing in third place. The hands pushed Staszko to a chip lead over Heinz.
Each player must lose all his chips to be eliminated from the $10,000 buy-in tournament, and win all the chips in play to take the crown.
Heinz, who said he had a rough six-month run in poker before the series and was thinking about whether to go back to college, aggressively stormed from seventh in chips to first at the nine-hand final table on Sunday.
He went from 16.4 million in chips to 107.8 million in just more than 7½ hours of play, propelling to a higher finish than at least six of his competitors.
Lamb, an experienced professional who made his mark at the 58-tournament series this year by winning Player of the Year honors, had a large contingent of rowdy supporters and a smaller group of friends and poker experts feeding him information about his play and his opponents.
He didn't last long Tuesday night.
For the first time, every hand at the final table was playing out nearly live on ESPN, including tense stretches of several minutes during which players mulled difficult decisions.
The play was being aired on a 15-minute delay with hole cards revealed once hands ended — enough time to ensure gambling regulators that players couldn't cheat.
Staszko said it was an element that wouldn't affect play too much — the game had already changed with three players left compared with nine, he said.
The game was played in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino near the Las Vegas Strip, in the same theater where magicians Penn & Teller regularly perform.
"It was just awesome to have so many of your friends and family following you, cheering you," Heinz said.