Matt "mattg1983" Graham won his third and final table in the early hours of Thursday morning to claim his first World Series of Poker bracelet and $278,180 in Event #53 ($1,500 Limit Hold 'em Shootout).
Graham, a poker pro from New Orleans, beat poker pro and "Survivor: China" contestant Jean-Robert Bellande heads-up for the bracelet after a marathon final day which lasted more than 17 hours.
The tournament was scheduled to be a two day event and after playing a long Day 1, the 72 remaining players were sent home to rest for the 2 p.m. start time on Day 2. It took more than eight hours to decide the second round of play on Day 2 and the final table of nine didn't get underway until after 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday night.
All players began with 300,000 chips and action began with Bellande continuing on the hot steak that had brought him to the final table. Bellande came into Day 2 leading his second round table and closed the deal in convincing fashion to secure a shot at a bracelet. At the final table Bellande quickly emerged as the chip leader, a position he would hold all the way until he was heads-up with Graham.
It took more than four hours before Michael Kachan was eliminated in ninth place and at 3:15 a.m., more than 13 hours after Day 2 began, Bellande asked the tournament staff if they could pause for the night and return the next day to play for the bracelet. The WSOP staff, who always do their best to accommodate players, agreed to make special arrangements if everyone at the table could come to a unanimous decision. However, not everyone agreed and the players settled in for what was sure to be a long night.
There was a flurry of quick eliminations after the break discussion as Andrew Prock, John Kranyak and Event #6 runner-up Spencer Lawrence were all eliminated within half an hour. Holding a sizable chip lead, Bellande took the role of table captain and began playing more pots and stepping up his table talk. It didn't hurt that he was being backed by one of the biggest rails of any of the players at the final table, including a rotating cast of pros that featured appearances from Hasan Habib, Nick Schulman, Mark Newhouse and Joe Cassidy.
Bellande then collided with one of the most experienced players at the table, Danny Wong, and after a series of pots Bellande had all of Wong's chips and the Californian poker pro was eliminated in 5th place.
The next to be eliminated was Limit Hold 'em specialist Brandon Wong, who fell at the hands of Graham when his A-2 failed to hold up against Graham's 9-8 suited. After a quick break play resumed and Joe De Niro was eliminated in 3rd place when his top pair was over taken by Bellande's ace-high flush draw. Bellande hit an ace on the river to send De Niro home with $107,845 and set the stage for the heads-up match against Graham.
Despite being disadvantaged more than 2:1 in chips, Graham said he wasn't the least bit nervous going into heads-up play.
"I was really confident," Graham said. "I still had plenty of chips and just played the best I could."
Graham lost a huge pot early on to bring his deficit to a desperate 8:1 and Bellande's rail started getting louder in anticipation of the bracelet celebration.
But Graham fought back and within an hour had brought the chip stacks back to even. Graham later said that he could tell Bellande was getting frustrated.
"He thought it might be slipping away . . . because it was."
The chip lead seesawed for a few hands before Graham took a commanding lead when his 8-6 bested Bellande's A-8 on a 9-9-5-6-8 board.
At 7:20 on Thursday morning, with the Amazon Room empty except for a few cash games and the rail surrounding the final table, Graham eliminated Bellande when his A-J held against 9-7.
Bellande takes $173,564 for second place, but despite the payday and the condolences of his supporters, he was understandably upset after watching slip away what he called a "once in a lifetime opportunity."
Graham, on the other hand, was exhausted yet excited about the $278,180 and a first WSOP bracelet.
"[The bracelet] is really important. It's awesome."
Graham said he only got two hours of sleep between the two long days of play, but thanks to his online experience the fatigue didn't affect his game.
"I really don't have to think that much when I play," Graham said. "Online you become kind of a robot, and I guess being a robot helped today."
A full payout list can be viewed at the WSOP results page.