LAS VEGAS -- A weary group of card sharks, exhausted by a no-limit Texas Hold 'em session that ended nearly 18 hours after its first hand, scored nearly at least $812,000 each at the World Series of Poker on Sunday and a ticket for a November finale worth $8.94 million to the winner.
"My brain is barely functioning -- it's hard for me to even form sentences right now," said Joseph Cheong, 24, of La Mirada, Calif., after the showdown to make the final table morphed from a chaotic free-for-all to a 10-man game of chicken.
Cheong and eight others, including two Canadians, three Floridians, and an Italian, now have 111 days before meeting again at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to play for additional prize money held in an interest-bearing account.
"I tried to be the best," said Filippo Candio, 26, of Cagliari, Italy, who doubled his chips with pocket aces shortly before the session ended and took a big bite from Cheong earlier Saturday.
"I tried to use all my skill with the best players in the world," he said.
Poker fate finally gave way after more than 12 hours at the tables when Kansas auto dealer Brandon Steven was eliminated with an ace-king against 25-year-old Matthew Jarvis' pocket queens. Steven didn't improve his hand and Jarvis, a business student from Surrey, British Columbia, took the rest of his chips.
Steven, 36, of Wichita, won $635,011 for 10th place.
The elimination after sunrise burst a bubble worth far more than the nearly $177,000 difference in pay between 10th and ninth place. It cemented the latest final table for poker's richest tournament -- a new group in a new scenario for poker fans to dissect, follow and analyze before they return Nov. 6 for a ninth session.
They emerged from a field of 7,319 players that plunked down $10,000 to enter, the first wave starting July 5.
Cheong said he bought in despite not having a large enough bankroll to warrant it.
"There's no other tournament that's worth this much, with a field this soft and a structure this good," Cheong said. "It just gives good players an edge over the rest of the field."
But this final table has weeded out the one-in-a-million dreamers, leaving nine skilled players who battled against bad beats, roller-coaster chip swings and each other.
"I've never folded so many hands in my life," said Michael "Grinder" Mizrachi, a 29-year-old poker professional from Miami who finished the session sixth in chips.
"It felt like a satellite," he said, referring to a type of tournament used to award a seat in a larger event.
Mizrachi is the most well-known player left, finishing a summer where he seemed unstoppable at the series. He won the series' first open event, a $50,000 buy-in mixed game championship entered only by poker's biggest heavyweights and wealthy -- very wealthy -- hopefuls.
"I feel like Phil Ivey last year," said Mizrachi, referring to poker's most famous player who made the main event final table last year and finished seventh.
Mizrachi was among those who stayed patient with 10 players left, during a run where aggression was sparse and some players simply refused to gamble.
Others, like 24-year-old John Dolan of Bonita Springs, Fla., took advantage to pick up chips without a fight.
"Honestly, when I got to the final table, I picked up some pretty awesome hands," Dolan said.
Dolan began 10-handed play with 24.55 million chips, and less than two hours later had the second-biggest stack at the table with 46.3 million chips.
Chips have no actual monetary value. Each player must lose all his chips to be eliminated.
Cheong started session Saturday with the chip lead among 27 players, but took a big hit early after Candio called an all-in bet with about a 13 percent chance to win.
Candio's two pair, fives and sixes, were behind Cheong's aces and sixes. But running cards saved Candio's tournament with a straight and sent the Italian into a frenzy as he scurried around tableside press and kneeled and pointed upward in celebration.
Cheong, who has two degrees from the University of California, San Diego, shook his head and shrugged at the result, which dropped him from the chip lead to the middle of the hunt.
"It was a bummer," Cheong said. "But that's why you build up a big stack early -- so you can take these beats later on and still survive. So I felt fine. I was just going to work my way back up."
Matt Affleck, a 23-year-old poker professional from Mill Creek, Wash., didn't get a second chance after going from fifth in chips to busting in 15th place, winning $500,165.
Jonathan Duhamel, who had the second biggest stack in the tournament at the time, called an all-in bet from Affleck with pocket jacks and the board showing a 10, nine, seven and queen. Affleck turned up pocket aces, but an eight on the river gave Duhamel a queen-high straight and a commanding 51 million chip lead.
"Don't have any words to explain what just happened," Affleck wrote on Twitter after being eliminated. "Eighty percent favorite on turn to be chip leader at final table of ... main event."
Duhamel, 22, of Boucherville, Quebec, finished the night with the chip lead with nearly 66 million chips.
When asked whether he was aware he made a grown man cry because of poker, Duhamel said: "I am. It's part of the game."
The remaining finalists were Cuong "Soi" Nguyen, 37, of Santa Ana, Calif.; John Racener, 24, of Port Richey, Fla.; and Jason Senti, 25, of St. Louis Park, Minn.