Graham bests Lunkin in PLO marathon

Matt Graham
Matt Graham drew support from a rowdy entourage throughout his marathon victory.

Matt Graham plays online as MattG1983, but "Comeback Kid" might be a more fitting nickname.

The New Orleans native overcame a 13:1 chip disadvantage to win his second World Series of Poker bracelet a little less than a year after mounting an 8:1 comeback to win his first.

Last year, Jean-Robert Bellande was the victim and the $1,500 Limit Hold'em Shootout was the game.

This time it was $40,000 NLHE event winner Vitaly Lunkin at the $10,000 World Championship Pot Limit Omaha tournament.

"It was fun and stressful, exciting and draining at the same time," Graham said of the marathon, fifteen-hour final table.

"I'm more excited about this [bracelet] than the first one. It's really weird, but it's just the fact that it's a $10k event and PLO and a lot more money."

Graham banks $679,379 for a victory that didn't come easy.

Heads-Up
A heads-up match for the ages.

To get to heads-up play with Lunkin, the MTT specialist had to overcome a final table that included the likes of Barry Greenstein and Josh Arieh, as well as $5k PLO champ Richard Austin and finalist Van Marcus.

"My strategy was to wait until we were short-handed and then pick up the pace a little bit," he said.

"I lost one pot that brought me to 1.1 million and right then I was a little worried because we were seven left and I thought, 'Wow, I'd hate to go out in seventh here.'"

Graham would rebuild, outlasting his rivals as the night wore on and drawing strength from a loud contingent of supporters that included poker pros Ryan Daut, Adam Levy and Scott Seiver.

"That was awesome," Graham said. "Four-thirty in the morning and fifteen people are all full of energy and behind you."

Heads-up play began at 2:30 a.m. with both players about even in chips and after ninety minutes of small ball, Lunkin all but clinched the bracelet in a monster pot.

It was an all-in preflop confrontation between Graham's Q Q 8 7 and Lunkin's A K 5 3 and the flop was disastrous for Graham, coming A 4 2 to give the Russian the wheel and the nut flush draw.

Vitaly Lunkin
Let it slip away!

The board would brick and Graham found himself staring down a seemingly insurmountable disadvantage.

"I was just thinking I was going to continue to play my best," Graham said.

"No matter how you play it's a long shot in that situation, so I was just going to do all I could to come back and the cards cooperated."

Graham doubled twice in rapid succession as Lunkin, perhaps blinded by his massive advantage, continued to make calls with marginal hands.

Then the American hit a lucky turn with 9 8 7 5 to crack Lunkin's aces and regain the chip lead.

A few hands later - and less than thirty minutes after taking that devastating blow - Graham had clinched the bracelet, his top set of tens holding against Lunkin's gutshot straight and flush draws to end the match and secure the victory.

"[Lunkin] didn't play too badly," Graham said. "I think the one hand with AK53 was a mistake, but overall he was tough to play against."

For second place, Lunkin earns $419,832.

Check out the PokerListings.com 2009 WSOP section for more coverage from Las Vegas.

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