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Budding Russian star wins WSOP $40k title
The $40k No Limit Hold'em Commemorative Event came to a conclusion tonight and it was a fittingly dramatic denouement to one of the 2009 WSOP's showcase events.
The 200 entrants combined to create the biggest World Series of Poker prize pool outside of a Main Event, meaning the winners cheque was a substantial $1,891,012.
Ultimately, it was Russian Vitaly Lunkin who prevailed after an epic heads-up contest against online superstar Isaac Haxton.
"I feel amazing right now," Lunkin told PokerListings.
"It's unbelievable because last year, it was my first time here and I won the bracelet and this year it's the same situation again!"
Lunkin had to conquer a field packed with marquee names to collect his second bracelet, following a win in the $1,500 No Limit Hold'em event at the 2008 WSOP.
The final table was a mix of old school pros and Internet whiz kids providing an intriguing blend of styles to whet the appetite of the enthusiastic and boisterous rail.
It was a legend of the game who succumbed first as Ted Forrest hit the rail in the early levels.
He was quickly joined by young guns Noah Schwartz, Lex Veldhuis and Alec Torelli.
Isaac Haxton came into the final table as the overwhelming chip leader, but once Justin Bonomo was ousted, Haxton found himself short stacked and likely next for the chop.
However, the twists and turns that had characterized the final table were only just beginning.
Within seven hands, Haxton ascended to the chip lead, quickly dispatching Dani Stern and 2004 WSOP Main Event champ Greg Raymer to leave himself heads-up with Lunkin holding a 2-1 chip advantage.
"It was crazy how my fortunes kept changing," Haxton explained.
Play heads-up was brisk, but the lead see-sawed relentlessly.
Eventually, Lunkin slow played aces to trap Haxton and take down the title, leaving Haxton to collect a substantial $1,168,566 for his second place berth.
"I'm disappointed I didn't win heads-up because I consider myself one of the best heads-up players in the world," Haxton revealed.
"I've just won a million dollars though, so really, how bad can I feel?"
Lunkin, on the other hand, was ecstatic with his victory.
Not the first Russian to find success here at the WSOP in recent years, Lunkin said the reasons are quite simple.
"There is no Russian secret," he said. "Just do one thing - play good."