We've closed another day out at the Borgata Poker Classic and at last we've determined our final six contestants. It was a relatively quick fourth day of competition, and once again the trend was toward mind-boggling calls and tremendous swings in momentum. Some early favorites fell by the wayside, and when the dust had settled it was an interesting and somewhat unexpected combination of players who will be under the TV spotlights tomorrow evening.
David Matthew continued his reign of terror early on, entering the day as chip leader and busting Chip Jett on the first hand of the day. Short-stacked, Jett pushed with two overcards on a raggedy board and Matthew, showing a tendency towards making loose calls that would eventually catch up to him, called with an open-ended straight draw. He'd pair one of his hole cards on the river, and that was enough to send Jett down in flames.
A few hands later, Allan Lubin called all-in with Big Slick on a board showing J♥ 9♣ 6♦ after Matthew bet enough to get him there with middle pair. The board bricked out for Lubin, and Matthew added more chips to his substantial stack, all the while chuckling about how he was "kicking out the donkeys."
Continuing the trend from earlier days in the tournament, Day 4 saw a succession of strange moves and eliminations brought about by overaggressive play, including the bust-out of one of the early chip leaders (and media favorite) Erik Cajelais. Cajelais threw away his $1 million stack trying to bluff Chuck Kelley with nothing but ace-jack high.
The French-Canadian hit the bricks in 20th place, and while he did take home $27,694, it has to be a disappointment for a young man who has been knocking at the door to greatness for months now, steadily cashing but failing to make the big score.
Also eliminated as the hours stretched on were pros like John Phan, Burt Boutin, Bill Edler and Jay Heimowitz, while at the same time David Matthew continued the madness by busting Arthur Azen and Alex Balandin. A few hands later, Matthew would see his million dollar dreams die when he pushed all-in with K-6 on board of 6-5-3-2 and was called by John Gale, who had the missing link in the 4♣ and made the straight to bust the bombastic Canadian.
The case of John Racener is another example of how overeager play pretty much ruined the hopes of some of the better players at the tables. Racener, like Cajelais, is a young pro who has logged some impressive cashes in the past few months, but who has not yet logged that high-profile victory to launch their names into the upper echelon of young stars.
Tonight, Racener made a terrific move to cripple Alex Balandin after spending the better part of the tournament finding himself being bullied around by the older pro. After Balandin re-raised his $100,000 preflop raise while 11-handed, Racener flopped a set of kings and was able to drop the hammer when Balandin immediately shoved with naught but ace-high on the flop. The move crippled Balandin, but unfortunately Racener would fall victim to the same sort of careless play a short while later.
Racener destroyed his chances at glory when he found himself in a bidding war with Joe Simmons, who raised to $250,000 from the button after Racener had raised to $95,000 from second position at a nine-handed table. Racener immediately pushed all-in, and Simmons just as instantly made the call showing queens to Racener's ace-queen. The ladies held, and Racener was crippled and would bust soon after.
While the stocks of Racener, Cajelais, Phan and Co. were all dropping, those of John Gale and John Hennigan were rising rapidly. Gale played super-aggressive poker, playing tons of pots and building his chip stack with a lot of steals mixed with a lot of luck, often eliminating opponents after being caught stealing with garbage hands like T-5 off-suit, but miraculously seeming to have monster hands when his stack was seriously threatened.
If it weren't for John "World" Hennigan, John Gale would probably have run away with this tournament right now. As it was, Hennigan and Gale waged a battle back and forth for hours, with neither man really managing to land a knockout blow and both players augmenting their stacks at the expenses of the other players at the tables.
The chip leader going into the final table is Joseph Simmons, and while the Philadelphia native has certainly shown he has the skills to play at the big table, the focus going into Day 5 has to be the continuing battle between the two biggest names still in contention.
Gale finds himself second in chips and Hennigan third, and with $4,805,000 and $3,255,000 compared to Simmons' $5,500,000. Certainly both men have the ability to take over the final table, and both have to be considered the strongest contenders for the $1.6 million first prize.
The remainder of the table is made up of Chuck Kelley, with $1,610,000, who had an amazing Day 3 at the felt and has seemingly ridden that wave to the mood lighting, as well as Michael Sukonik, the Giant Killer, who appeared to have had a hand in most of the high-profile eliminations from Day 1 onward (including that of Jamie Gold). Sukonik has $1,305,000.
The final member of the table is Jon James Jr., who gets the Brian Sumner award for making it to the final table without any sort of fanfare. James has the short-stack, but if he keeps his head down and lets the big boys duke it out around him, James could find himself seeing the world the same way Sumner did - that is, cash in hand, bracelet on wrist, with Sabina Gadecki handing him a beer.
However it turns out tomorrow, PokerListings.com will be there from start to finish with live updates, photographs, results and an exclusive interview with the new millionaire. We've got your coverage starting at 5 p.m. (EST), so tune in early and check back often. See you tomorrow!