John Phan came into the day as the short stack and complained of being card-dead as his stack was further diminished. Things came to a decidedly anticlimactic end for the Razor as he was forced to ship it with Q♦ 8♦, running into the pocket sixes of Noah Jefferson. Unable to improve, Phan was out in sixth for $135,000.
Although Brandon Cantu finished his Day 1 heat as the undisputed chip leader, Day 2 was all about Michael Baker. Going on a huge run late that day Baker came into the playdown to the final table leading the charge with a stack that dwarfed the closest competition. Brandon Cantu, on a heater of his own, was able to surpass him but Baker still entered the final with more than enough chips to secure him a top-three finish, until he picked up K♦ 3♦ that is, a marginal hand at best.
Even five-handed, Baker somehow blew $1.7 million with it, back when the blinds were a measly $4,000/$8,000. He opened to $30,000 from under the gun, an acceptable play, but was re-raised by the only player who had him covered, Brandon Cantu, who made it $75,000 to go from the button. This is where Baker's play became questionable.
Re-popping to $200,000, perhaps to find out where he was, Baker confidently slid his chips across the line. Cantu, in what can only be interpreted as a show of great strength, raised again and added another $300,000 to the pot. Despite the clear warning signs Baker opted to continue with the hand and smooth-called the raise.
The flop came queen-high with two diamonds and after Baker checked, Cantu moved all-in. Baker still had $1.2 million at this point, more than anyone at the table save the chip leader, but decided to make a stand. "All right buddy, let's gamble," he said as he announced call.
The pocket aces turned over by Cantu were hardly a surprise but Baker's holdings shocked everyone in attendance, perhaps Cantu most of all. At risk of elimination Baker watched the board finish with no improvement to his hand, busting him in fifth for $200,000. All things considered, not a bad result for his first major tournament.
With the second biggest stack added to Cantu's mountain he was now firmly in control with close to two-thirds of the total chips in play.
Once the table became four-handed, action ground to a screeching halt. With four experienced players and relatively minuscule blinds of $4k/$8k it was obvious we could be there for a while. Raise and take it became the mantra of the final four as the chips were shuffled around the table without much change to the overall landscape.
Steve Sung was the short stack at the time and looked like the logical conclusion for the next elimination but was able to chip back up without too much opposition. After almost five grueling hours of relative inactivity Noah Jefferson's stack took some damage.
He got deep in a hand only to be forced out of the pot by a Brandon Cantu all-in on the river, leaving close to a third of his stack in the middle. Not long after that, he came over the top of a Jennifer Harman opening raise, adding another $190,000 to her original $45,000, only to see Cantu move all-in again over the top. Harman surrendered and after some thought Jefferson did the same.
Left with a relatively low number of chips Jefferson found himself all-in with his tournament on the line against the seemingly invincible Brandon Cantu. Jefferson opened from the button and was set all-in by his new nemesis in the big blind. Snap-calling and tabling A♦ K♦, he saw he was racing Cantu's pocket sevens. Continuing to run good, Cantu faded all the outs and broke the stalemate, sending Noah Jefferson home in fourth for $265,000.
As three-handed play got under way it was crowd favorite Jen Harman on life support with just $242,000 of the $7.5 million in play and although she made a valiant effort to get back on her feet, in the end it would be too little too late.
Doubling up once before getting all-in with A♥ K♦ to Brandon Cantu's pocket nines, Harman watched as both a king and a nine hit the flop. Drawing to running straight cards, she saw her tournament end when a rag hit fourth street. Harman shipped the last $5,000 Shooting Star bounty, plus an autographed T-shirt, to Brandon Cantu, earning $330,000 and the crowd's genuine disappointment for her exit.
This was actually Cantu's sixth bounty which, added to the $10,000 bonus for finishing his Day 1 heat with the chip lead, put him $40,000 up regardless of where he would finish in this event.
After the cash had been laid out on the table for all to see, we settled in for what we figured would be a lengthy heads-up match. How wrong we were.
A short time into the match the two got involved in a big hand that went to showdown. By the river the board read 8♣ 7♣ 6♦ A♦ J♠, with Cantu driving the action the whole way. Cantu bet $500,000 and Sung called off close to half his stack only to be shown pocket jacks for the rivered set. Sung merely mucked.
With $7 million in the Cantu's corner versus a paltry $500k for Sung, Cantu's cheering section was on its feet. The money went in on the very next hand with Brandon opening from the button and Sung moving in. Cantu insta-called and tabled pocket fours. Sung shook his head and stood up, his hand still face-down on the felt.
"What would you do if I was slow-rolling?" joked Sung as he finally turned over pocket threes. In keeping with the way Brandon Cantu has been running for the last few days the board brought no bad beats and Cantu was crowned champion.
One million dollars and the title go to Cantu, who is now two-thirds of the way to joining Gavin Griffin as poker's only triple-crown winner. A respectable $585,000 goes to Steve Sung. For the PL.com winner interview conducted by the incomparable Martin Derbyshire click on this word.
This component of PL.com is getting up bright and early to make the short trip to Vegas for the Wynn Classic which begins the day after tomorrow but if your poker itch needs to be scratched before that, make sure to check out Owen Laukkanen's coverage of the EPT Polish Open over there in Warsaw, or Arthur Crowson's vastly more glamorous coverage of the World Series of Poker Circuit event in Atlantic City.
It's like we keep telling you, PokerListings.com straight pwns, from Killafornia to the mean streets of Eastern Europe and everywhere in between.