LAS VEGAS (14 June 2017) – Canada's Pablo Mariz became the latest winner of the World Series of Poker's annual Millionaire Maker event, taking home $1,221,407 and his first WSOP gold bracelet on Wednesday evening.
Mariz, from Montreal, outlasted 7,760 other paid entries in this popular $1,500 no-limit tournament, Event #20 on the WSOP's 2017 slate. The 27-year-old Mariz became the WSOP's newest millionaire by topping Dejuante “D.J.” Alexander in a brief heads-up battle after surrendering an earlier final-table lead.
Mariz survived elimination soon after heads-up play began by flopping a set of threes to top Alexander's pocket aces, with most of the chips in play in the middle before the flop. Though Alexander notched his own double-up just one hand later, Mariz was able to close out the win by spiking a river queen to make a better pair than Alexander's threes in the tourney's final hand. Alexander had moved all in for his remaining chips with , and after a brief pause, Mariz called with . Alexander paired his three on the flop, and stayed ahead when the turn brought th . The river, however, dashed Alexander's hopes.
Alexander, the second-place finisher, just missed adding a bracelet to a WSOP Circuit ring earned at a 2015-16 Harrah's New Orleans stop. This $754,499 payday pushed his career WSOP earnings over the million-dollar mark.
Mariz's victory, added to his second-place showing in Event #10: $1,000 Tag Team No-Limit Hold'em plus two other cashes to date, will vault him into the unofficial lead of the WSOP's Kings Casino Rozvadov Player of the Year race.
Third place went to California's Alex Farahi, who was eliminated by Alexander well into the evening's action. Farahi's effort here was worth $561,000.
For Mariz, whose previous career WSOP winnings were $64,300, not only was it a life-changing win, it altered his immediate plans as well. Mariz booked a room only for the first two weeks of the series, then extended it after his runner-up showing in the $1,000 tag-team event. Now, with a healthy bankroll, Mariz plans to play the entire series, even if a short celebratory break might be next. And then there's that Player of the Year race -- "I've got to check that out," he noted a few times after his win.
Mariz also has a couple of favorite playing cards to add to his memory bank. First, that rivered to seal the win. Said Mariz, "I couldn't believe it," he said. "I had to double check that it was a queen, especially the queen of spades. That [same card] saved me yesterday in an all-in situation against jacks when I was a shorter stack. So [with] the queen of spades on the river, I just won the $1.2 million with the same queen. An unreal feeling."
And yet, that wasn't the only lucky hand. All in an hour earlier with treys against Alexander's aces, fortune struck again when the arrived on the flop. "Also, I have a good place in my heart for that three of clubs. They'll share some space in there, in a good place place in my mind."
Mariz was a short stack earlier in the event, but led for most of the Day 4 finale. Fourteen players from the original field of 7,759 paid entries survived into Day 4, and that number was trimmed to an official final table of nine within the first two levels of play. Among those exiting during a sequence when several short-stacked players doubled up were the day's original leaders, Ralph Perry and Daniel Chan.
A fast pace and frequent exits marked early final-table action as well. Ninth-place finisher Hector Martin nursed the last of his chips to a final-table seat, just outlasting 10th-place Senovio Ramirez III, but Martin could climb no higher. His last chips went in behind a suited A-8, and he was called by Mariz, who showed K-J. Mariz hit a king on the turn on a draw-dry board to seal the knockout. The $110,476 payday was Martin's first-ever WSOP cash.
A few minutes later, Brazil's Thiago Grigoletti followed Martin to the cashier's window. Grigoletti moved the last of his stack in with Q-J, but ran into Bryce Yawkey's waiting pocket aces, which held up with ease. Though Grigoletti's run ended here. his $142,323 cash was still more than four times his previous WSOP career winnings.
Massachusetts' Jonathan Gray exited next in a battle of the short-stacked blinds. Marc MacDonnell moved all in from the small blind with and Gray called from the big blind for less, showing . The flop was , giving MacDonnell two pair while leaving Gray the open-ended straight draw. The turn and river missed that draw, however, trimming the final table to six.
Yuriy Boyko, who placed third in a 2016 WSOP $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em event, made it to fifth here. The deep run by Boyko ended soon after he lost most of his stack to Alexander in an preflop all-in showdown; in that hand, Alexander spiked an ace to top Boyko's pocket jacks. Soon after, Boyko moved all in with A-6 for his last 1,400,000 and Mariz called from the big blind with J-10. Mariz hit the ten on the river for this knockout as well, adding to his growing lead.
Mariz enjoyed a hot run of cards throughout the afternoon and possessed more than half the chips in play at the dinner break, but the battle wasn't done. The two short-stacked players remaining, Alexander and Farahi, both surged, while Ireland's MacDonnell slid lower in the counts.
MacDonnell exited in fourth after calling all-in with pocket jacks against a Farahi shove, but again, the jacks didn't work in this final. Farahi trailed with his , but the board brought for trips and the knockout.
The Millionaire Maker tourney has been a major hit with players since its introduction in 2013. This year, separate Day 1 starting flights ran on Saturday and Sunday, allowing one re-entry per player per flight, with survivors of those flights combined into a single field for Monday's official Day 2.
This year's edition of the Millionaire Maker generated a prize pool of $10,477,350. 1,165 players cashed in the event.
Among those making deep runs and cashing in this year's Millionaire Maker were Farzad Banyadi (15th), Kevin O'Donnell (16th), Kenny Haellert (17th), Bob Bounahra (21st), Lisa Hamilton (26th), Jessica Dawley (30th), Matt Affleck (31st), Arkady Tsinis (35th), Joe Cada (42nd), and Bryan Piccioli (43rd).
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Final Table Payouts (earned POY points in parentheses):
1st: Pablo Mariz, $1,221,407 (315.7)
2nd: D.J. Alexander, $754,499 (268.9)
3rd: Alex Farahi, $561,530 (243.7)
9th: Hector Martin, $110,476 (141.7)