Germany's Arne Kern earns $1,173,223 and first WSOP bracelet in massive 7,361-entry event

13 June 2018 (Las Vegas) – Germany's Arne Kern has taken down the largest payday of the 2018 World Series of Poker to date, earning $1,173,223 and his first WSOP gold bracelet in Event #21: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Millionaire Maker.

Kern claimed the win by coming from behind during three-handed play against UK/Philippines pro Samad Hazavi and 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen. The 26-year-old from Kilvery, Germany, had only two cashes at the WSOP before this win, the first coming in this same event one year ago. His $1.17 million triumph here was more than 20 times his previous global career tournament earnings.

Kern's run to become the latest Millionaire Maker millionaire came in the third-largest edition event, which debuted in 2013. This year's edition drew 7,361 entries and generated a massive $9,937,350 prize pool.

Kern's final foe was United Kingdom citizen and current Philippines resident Samad Razavi. Razavi, 37, who was trained as a professionally trained actor before becoming a poker pro, earned second-place money of $724,756. This was the fifth cash of Kern's WSOP career and easily exceeded his previous lifetime tourney winnings around the globe.

Two-time bracelet winner McKeehen finished third, earning $538,276. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania's McKeehen, who also owns two WSOP Circuit rngs, boosted his lifetime WSOP earnings to over $10.8 million with this result.

Portuguese native and San Diego, CA resident Michael Souza finished fourth, earning a career-best $402,614. Baltimore's Justin Liberto took fifth for $303,294.

Kern steadily ground his way to this Millionaire Maker title, especially during his final battle against runner-up Razavi. Kern moved out to an early lead, but Razavi notched a huge double-through that seemed to herald the event's end. In that hand, Kern tried to push Razavi off his hand while holding    on an       board. Razavi gave it a pained moment of thought, then called all-in and showed    for trips. Kern missed his open-ender on the   river, giving Razavi 80% of the chips in play.

Then Kern found his own double, on a hand where his all-in A-8 stayed ahead of Razavi's A-4, to virtually square the battle again. And this time, Kern continued to apply pressure that eventually wore down Razavi's stack. Razavi was down to his last 11 million when he jammed before the flop with   . Kern checked his cards, decided    was good enough, and called. It was indeed good enough; the board finished        , with Kern's made flush on the turn sealing the win and the $1.17 million payday.

Kern describes himself as a student at university, but also said he was “in between” as to whether he was more student or more poker pro. “I've been playing for about five years,” he told the WSOP, “and this might change my decision.”

Kern acknowledged his hard grind to the win. “At first I was short-stacking, playing pretty tight. I picked my spots. I waited until other players busted."

Kern himself looked to end it earlier, once he'd doubled through McKeehen, only to find McKeehen wielding his own short stack hard in return. “I knew that he was a very good player, and I was hoping that he would be the one... heading backwards, not having a lot of chips. I tried to keep him down, yes, but he played a lot of pots with me as well.”

As for the failed semi-bluff against Razavi that ended up extending their duel, “I check-raised the flop. I didn't think he would have much. And then I had the straight [draw] going on. I was hoping for the best, I guess.”

Hiccup aside, in the end it didn't matter. Kern continued to apply pressure with a run of post-flop bets, and in the end, took down the win.

Seventeen players survived through to Wednesday's Day 3 in the Millionaire Maker, with that $1,173,223 payday awaiting the winner. Those 17 were quickly trimmed to an official final table of nine, with 10th-place finisher Chad Hahn ($82,018) bubbling the final this day.

Burlingame, CA's Sean Marshall was the first player bounced from the official final, just seven hands after it formed. Marshall moved his last 2.77 million in chips with   , but Barny Boatman called from the big blind with   . Boatman's lead was never seriously threatened as the board brought        . The hand sent Marshall, a former Circuit ring winner, off to collect a WSOP-best $104,987 payday.

Chicago's Ralph Massey exited next, when he pushed the last of his stack in with    but ran into the pocket aces of a waiting Michael Souza. Massey picked up some outs on the turn of a       board, but a   river was a near miss to a runner-runner Broadway straight. Massey collected $135,383 for eighth, and in the process became the first player to make final tables in both Millionaire Maker and Colossus tourneys.

Boatman fell some 30 hands later in a huge hand against Germany's Kern. Boatman had the best of it when the chip went in pre-flop, with    to Kern's   . Kern spiked a jack, though, on the     flop, and finished off the knockout with the   turn and   river. Two-time bracelet winner Boatman, one of the UK's most famous players (though he currently resides in Madrid, Spain), collected $175,865 for the seventh-place effort.

Boatman's exit triggered a flurry of eliminations that trimmed the field to three and saw Razavi surge to a huge lead. Just two hands later, Portugal's Manuel Ruivo moved all in for for his last 3.1 million with   , and Razavi quickly called with   . The        board changed nothing, sending Ruivo off in sixth for $230,120.

Justin Liberto fell next. Baltimore, Maryland's Liberto was at or near the top of the board for much of the day until running into Souza in another large pot. Liberto moved all in with    over Souza's initial raise, and Souza called with   . The     flop moved Souza farther ahead but gave Liberto outs to the straight, but that went unfilled on the   turn and   river. Liberto finished fourth in the 2013 Millionaire Maker and nearly matched that here, though he still added $303,294 to a WSOP career resume that also includes one bracelet and three Circuit ring wins.

Souza and Razavi then tangled in the largest pot of the event to that point. The two had a pre-flop raising war until Souza was all in for roughly 14 million in chips with   , while Razavi was in for most of his own stack with   . Souza couldn't connect with the         board, leaving the Potuguese native and San Diego resident to collect a WSOP career best $402,614 for fourth.

The knockout moved Razavi to about 35 million, or about 60% of the chips in play, but he could not hold that lead, eventually sliding to third behind both Kern and McKeehen. Then Razavi moved the last of his chips, about 14 million, into a pre-flop pot with   . McKeehen quickly called with   , but Razavi found his ace on the     flop, and stayed ahead through the   turn and   river.

McKeehen was down to two million in chips and was out soon after when his Q-3 couldn't outrun Kern's J-9, a nine on the flop deciding the matter. The $538,276 payday marked his second third-place showing of this year's WSOP.

McKeehen's departure also brought on the heads-up duel between Kern and Razavi, with Razavi holding a narrow edge as that duel began.

Event #21, $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Millionaire Maker, drew 7,361 total entries and created a prize pool of $9,937,350. 1,105 players cashed, with each of those players guaranteed a minimum $2,249 payday.

Other Notables:
Among the those cashing in the Millionaire Maker were Manig Loeser (17th, $51,188), James Mackey (18th, $51,188), Joseph Cheong (23rd, $40,898), JC Tran (42nd, $26,713), Eddy Sabat (49th, $21,839), Steve Sung (59th, $17,995), Jason Strasser (63rd, $17,995), Wendy Freedman (71st, $14,944), James Dempsey (78th, $12,508), Elio Fox (92nd, $8,976), and Greg Merson (94th, $8,976).

Click here for Full Results.
Click here for live updates from Event #21.

Final Table Payouts (Approx. POY points in parentheses):

1st: Arne Kern, $1,173,223 (1,332)
2nd: Samad Razavi, $724,756 (666)
3rd: Joe McKeehen, $538,276 (600)
4th: Michael Souza, $402,614 (533)
5th: Justin Liberto, $303,294 (500)
6th: Manuel Ruivo, $230,120 (466)
7th: Barny Boatman, $175,865 (400)
8th: Ralph Massey, $135,383 (366)
9th: Sean Marshall, $104,987 (333)