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Final table at World Series of Poker starts slow, heats up

Jesse Sylvia got a quick lesson on his opponents, and he used it to his advantage Monday evening at the Rio.

Sylvia, 26, who lives in both Las Vegas and Martha’s Vineyard, extended his lead early at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event, hoping to land one of three coveted spots in today’s final table action.

Play in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship resumed after a 103-day layoff when the remaining nine players out of the starting field of 6,598 began a marathon night, with the winner seeking an $8.53 million payout.

Play was slogging along early.

"It’s slower than I expected," Sylvia said during a break in play.

Sylvia did take time to check with his supporters who were monitoring the ESPN broadcast, which showed the action on a 15-minute delay. That allowed Sylvia to realize the competition was bluffing early in the contest.

"I wasn’t expecting some of the players to bluff like that," Sylvia said. "Now I’m ready for it."

The first big bluff after the break cost Steve Gee of Sacramento, Calif., his tournament. Gee was eliminated in ninth place and earned $754,798.

On the 30th hand, Gee, 57, announced all-in after the river card. The board showed seven of clubs, four of hearts, five of diamonds, jack of clubs and three of spades. The wager was more than 11 million in chips.

Russell Thomas of Hartford, Conn., considered his options for about five minutes before calling. He showed a pair of queens to Gee’s pair of eights. The pot pushed Thomas into second place at the time with 39 million in chips.

After an hour of play and 27 hands, Robert Salaburu of San Antonio had the biggest jump, moving from seventh place to third place in the chip count.

But his tournament ended on the 65th hand when he was eliminated in eighth place, earning $971,360. Salaburu had been fading and moved all-in with a pair of sevens. Sylvia called, holding a queen of clubs and a five of clubs.

The flop and turn cards brought neither player any help, but a queen of hearts on the river ended Salaburu’s tournament. The hand gave Sylvia more than 55 million chips and a commanding lead at the time.

Earlier, Jake Balsiger, 21, an Arizona State University student trying to become the event’s youngest-ever winner, doubled up through Salaburu, when his pocket kings held off pocket queens.

Mike Esposito of Seaford, N.Y., was eliminated in seventh place and earned $1,258,040. Esposito was severely short-stacked and pushed all-in several times but was never called.

On the 70th hand, his all-in push with an ace-jack offsuit was called by Greg Merson’s ace-king. The flop, turn and river cards never produced a pair, and Esposito was knocked out.

About 10:40 p.m., Merson, with an ace-king, eliminated Andras Koroknai, who had a king-queen. Koroknai finished sixth and earned $1,640,902.

Merson, of Laurel, Md., had the chip lead with 86.1 million. Sylvia was in second with 51.525 million, while Thomas was in third with 22.9 million. Jeremy Ausmus was in fourth with 19.325 million and Balsiger was fifth with 18.125 million.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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