LAS VEGAS -- Poker professionals Jonathan Duhamel and John Racener have outlasted 7,317 players at the World Series of Poker main event and will play heads-up Monday night to determine the $8.94 million crown.
Duhamel, 23, of Boucherville, Quebec, took an overwhelming chip lead early Sunday after picking off a bluff by 24-year-old Joseph Cheong that tested Duhamel for all his chips.
Duhamel called and immediately flipped pocket queens, while Cheong tabled an ace-seven. Duhamel's hand held and he moved to more than 170 million chips.
"It was the first time I had a real hand," Duhamel said. Cheong was eliminated by Duhamel a few hands later with an ace high, setting up the showdown and giving Duhamel a better than 6-1 chip advantage over Racener.
"He took the easy path," said Racener, a 24-year-old pro from Port Richey, Fla. "I took the sweating route."
Duhamel began the day with the chip lead and ended it with a seemingly insurmountable stack of nearly 189 million in chips compared with less than 31 million for Racener.
Cheong was seemingly the best player throughout the session that started Saturday afternoon and lasted about 14 hours -- including breaks -- beyond a time change early Sunday morning. But his bluff against Duhamel crushed his chip lead and completely reversed his position in the game.
He won $4.13 million for third place.
"It kind of sucks that it didn't turn out better, but I'm very happy with my results, and you know, I can't really complain with $4 million," Cheong said.
The runner-up between Racener and Duhamel will go home with a $5.55 million consolation prize.
Italian poker player Filippo Candio left in fourth place shortly after the tournament's most famous finalist, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, asserted his way to chip leader then fizzled to a short stack and a fifth-place finish.
Candio gambled with a suited king-queen but lost to Cheong's suited ace-three.
Mizrachi lost the last of his chips after calling an all-in with a pair of queens, but finding himself unable to improve against Jonathan Duhamel's aces.
"Fifth is OK, I'm happy with it," Mizrachi said. "If I don't win, there's a great group of guys left and I'm hoping -- I'm rooting for Racener."
The chips don't have any monetary value, but are required to remain in the running for the $8.94 million top prize. Racener will need to lose all his chips to be eliminated from the tournament that started with 7,319 entrants paying $10,000 each to buy in.
Candio won $3.09 million. Mizrachi won $2.33 million but fell short of the $8.94 million title he sought to cap off a special summer. A win in the main event would have given the Florida pro his second win at the series this year. Mizrachi won the series' first of 57 open poker tournaments, a $50,000 buy-in mixed game championship considered the series' second toughest tournament.
After losing, Mizrachi greeted relatives and friends who sat behind him for nearly eight hours of cards, excluding breaks. He took pictures with his mom, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as dozens of fans wondered what happened after several questionable plays with mediocre hands.
"I took a shot to bring up chips," Mizrachi said of one hand in which he doubled Racener's stack by calling with an ace-eight against Racener's ace-king. "I wanted to give him some action, I wanted to give him a chance if I was wrong."
Candio relished the chance to play at Mizrachi, twice showing him his cards after convincing the professional to fold.
"If you want to win the main event, you must play, you must fight with the best player. Always," Candio said.
Earlier in the session, Jason Senti was eliminated in seventh place and Florida poker professional John Dolan quickly followed him out the door despite starting the day second in chips.
Dolan, who said he never really got anything going in the session, gambled with a queen and a five and was eliminated by Duhamel holding pocket fours. Dolan won $1.77 million.
Senti, a 26-year-old poker professional from St. Louis Park, Minn., lost the last of his chips with an ace-king despite catching two kings on the flop to move squarely ahead of his opponent. Cheong caught running straight cards to save him from losing the vast majority of chips. Senti won $1.36 million.
The hand was the second to eliminate a player by giving him the lead from behind, then taking it away on the last card.
Mizrachi was one card from doubling up Canadian pro Matthew Jarvis earlier in the session and being left with close to nothing. But Jarvis was eliminated in eighth place after Mizrachi found a better full house on the river.
Cuong "Soi" Nguyen, the oldest finalist at 37 and the table's only amateur, was the first eliminated after gambling with an ace-king combination just before minimum bets were set to rise. He lost against Senti's pocket queens.
Nguyen said he wasn't afraid to bust first because getting any further would have been "gravy."
"I wasn't afraid, because nobody expected me to get this far anyways," he said. "Hey, I lost a race, and I'm OK with that."
Nguyen won nearly $812,000 for his finish, but did not add to his winnings as each player was paid the ninth-place jackpot back in July. The tournament resumed 111 days after the nine finalists last played together.