Vitaly Lunkin, won Event #27 ($1,500 No Limit Hold 'em) early Tuesday morning, picking up a huge $628,417 paycheck and his first World Series of Poker bracelet.
The 37-year-old Muscovite is a former World Champion in Renju, a complex Japanese board game, and has been coming to the WSOP for seven years, though Event #27 was his first crack at a final table.
Due to the overwhelming size of the field, 2,706 players, the final table was still undecided coming into the third and final day. Seventeen players returned to the Amazon Room on Day 3 and it took more than four hours of play to reach the final nine. When play commenced at the final table Sweden's Philip Yeh was quickly eliminated when his A-9 failed to overtake the Lunkin's A-J.
Next to hit the rail was Robert Brown, running his Q-J into Trevor Donaldson's A-Q, followed shortly after by Barry Schultz, who got unlucky with pocket fours against Bobby Firestone's A-2 when the dealer laid an ace on the turn after the two got all-in before the flop.
After an hour long dinner break play resumed with six players but was quickly reduced to five when Los Angeles resident Richard Alm shoved from the button with A-8 and lost a race to Firestone's pocket sevens. Firestone claimed another scalp shortly after when he picked up pocket kings behind an open shove from Donaldson. Donaldson held A-K and the board brought no help, sending him to the cage to collect his $190,225 fifth place prize. Kenneth Terrell was the next to put his tournament life on the line, moving all-in from the small blind with A-J after Lunkin had raised from the button. Lunkin wasted no time calling with pocket jacks and the tournament was down to three-handed when the board offered no improvement to Terrell's hole cards.
Lunkin, holding 3.5 million, had the chip lead after eliminating Terrell, with Firestone right behind him at 3.1 million and San Antonio's Brett Kimes trailing on the leaderboard with 1.5 million. The three battled for more than an hour without any major changes until Kimes won a huge pot from Firestone when his A-10 beat Firestone's pocket threes in a pre-flop race. The pot put Kimes into the lead and left Firestone as the short stack, a position from which he would never recover. Not long after losing the crucial race to Kimes, Firestone called an all-in raise from Lunkin on a flop of 6-10-9. Firestone tabled 10-3 and was up against an open-ended straight draw in Lunkin's J-8. The turn was a 5, creating even more outs for Lunkin, and the river was a 7, completing the straight and busting out Firestone in 3rd place for $277,026.
The heads-up match began with Kimes enjoying a slight lead and after a few back and forth swings the two players were involved in a huge pot. With blinds at 60,000/120,000, Lunkin called from the button and Kimes raised to 620,000. Lunkin matched it and the flop was 5-6-9, all diamonds. Kimes bet 1.1 million and Lunkin quickly moved in for 1.8 million more. Kimes had him covered, but deliberated for several minutes before finally announcing a call. Lunkin immediately tabled 7-8 of hearts for a flopped straight. The look on Kimes' face when he saw Lunkin's hand was one of a man who just lost a tournament, and it became obvious why when Kimes turned over A-6 with no diamond, needing some kind of runner-runner situation to chop or win the pot. The turn was the three of diamonds, giving Kimes hope for a chopped pot and bringing calls for a diamond from his supporters on the rail. The river was the queen of diamonds and Kimes jumped out of his chair, celebrating with friends as Lunkin sat stone-faced in his chair.
Lunkin recovered remarkably well from the devastating chopped pot, continuing to chip away at Kimes' stack until he had a lead. The final hand came well after 1AM and more than 11 hours after the day had begun. Lunkin, holding A-J, cagily checked a flop of J-2-4 and when an 8 came on the turn, he bet 1 million. Kimes quickly raised all-in and Lunkin snapped called. Kimes immediately suspected he had been trapped and asked Lunkin if he had a Jack. Lunkin nodded affirmatively and Kimes cursed, turning over 10-8 for second pair. The river was a King, changing nothing, and after it was confirmed that Lunkin had the bigger stack, the Russian raised his arms in the air and joined his supporters on the rail.
Vitaly Lunkin earned $628,417 and his first WSOP gold bracelet. He also becomes only the second Russian national in WSOP history to win a bracelet, after Alex Kravchenko, who won his in 2007. Interestingly, Lunkin says he came to the WSOP to play cash games and Omaha but it was Kravchenko who encouraged him to enter Event #27.
For complete payouts see the Event #27 WSOP Results page.