Almost exactly two years ago, the final nine players of the World Series of Poker Main Event celebrated their achievement, earn one of them earning a minimum of $1,000,000 and a place in poker history at the Main Event final table. As they celebrated, one other player quietly left the room – John Cynn had been eliminated in 11th place, just barely missing out on the final table. But tonight, Cynn returned with a vengeance, winning the 2018 WSOP Main Event to etch his own place in poker’s history books as poker’s latest World Champion.
For the achievement, Cynn earned $8,800,000 and the most prestigious trophy in poker: the Main Event bracelet.
Before securing his victory, Cynn and runner-up finisher Tony Miles battled back and forth in an epic heads-up match that lasted over ten hours and 199 hands. It’s the longest heads-up contest on record for the WSOP Main Event.
It’s perhaps an exaggeration to say Cynn returned with a vengeance. In his own mind, no such retribution was necessary. He just wanted to play more poker. “Last time when I got knocked out in 11th I was really happy.” This time around was, in a word, “Different.” He quickly added, “Really, neither is supposed to happen, right? To make 11th is insane on its own. And then to win, that’s literally something that you dream of, but just never expect to happen. Right now, I do feel pretty overwhelmed. All the emotions times 10.”
It’s not surprising that he felt overwhelmed – the final day lasted nearly 11 and half hours, and almost all of it was heads-up poker. And this was at the end of ten days of competition. When the final card was dealt just before 5:00 a.m., the emotions seemed to overpower him. He has holding back tears as he pulled out his phone to give the good news to his sister and his “absolute favorite person in the world,” his nephew.
Cynn had an uphill battle on the final day, as Miles started had built a significant lead the previous day. But Cynn pulled into the lead early on Saturday, and the two traded the lead several times over the next eleven hours. After the event, Cynn offered Miles high praise. “Tony’s an amazing guy,” he said. “We’ve been playing next to each other for quite a while now. He plays really well, I think. He put me in a lot of tough spots. Not just hand wise, with his strategy. I probably had to adjust three, four, five, I don’t know how many times. And it seemed like whenever I would adjust he would adjust right back. It was cool because we had moments where we were really going after each other. And we had moments of dead pots.” As far as finally defeating such a difficult opponent, Cynn said, “I definitely ran amazing against him. You’re just not supposed to make that many hands. I had a couple bluffs, but I just got so fortunate so many times.”
Even before the final table began, this year’s Main Event had a special aura. It just seemed like it would be memorable. It started with amazing turnout – when registration closed late on July 4, the final number of entrants stood at 7,874, the second biggest WSOP Main Event field in history (only 2006 was larger).
Then a week later, the official final table was set in a hand so dramatic it seemed like it was stolen from a poker-scene in a James Bond movie. With 10 players left, Antoine Labat put in a standard raise. Then Yueqi Zhu pushed all in. Nic Manion moved in over the top. Labat had both players covered, and after thinking it over for a couple minutes, he called. Labat and Zhu both held pocket kings, and Manion had aces. The aces held up, catapulted Manion into the chip lead as Zhu was eliminated, Labat was left short-stacked, and the crowd was stunned.
When the dust settled, the spotlight focused on one man. Oddly enough, it was not Manion, the chip leader. It was Joe Cada, who would start the final table sixth in chips. Cada, the 2009 WSOP Main Event champion, became the first previous champion to return to the final table since Dan Harrington. (Harrington won the Main Event in 1995, and made the final table in both 2003 and 2004.) Cada’s return to the final table is perhaps even more impressive, given the field sizes he’s competed against. In 2009, the Main Event had 6,494. That number is already more players than Harrington faced in his three years at the final table. And this year, there were 7,874. In fact, in the post-Moneymaker era, only three other players have even made the final table twice (Mark Newhouse, Antoine Saout, and Ben Lamb). Cada now joins that group, and he’s the only one who of them who earned a victory.
Cada’s achievement was so impressive, he overshadowed the story that would have been the focus of the poker world on virtually any other night – Phil Hellmuth winning his record-extending 15th bracelet. But on this one night, the Poker Brat had to take a backseat to Cada. (Oddly enough, Cada became the youngest player ever to win the Main Event in 2009 when he was 21, and he still holds that record. Hellmuth formerly held that honor, winning it all as a 24-year old in 1989.)
Had Cada won the Main Event bracelet a second time, he would have instantly become a poker legend, joining a truly elite group of players who have won it more than once – Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan. But Cada fell just a little short, finishing in fifth place ($2,100,000) on Friday night.
The final table began at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday , July 12 with 9 players: Miles, Cynn, Michael Dyer, Manion, Cada, Aram Zobian, Alex Lynskey, Artem Metalidi, and Antoine Labat. It was an international field, representing four countries. Lynskey is the first Australian to make the Main Event final table since 2005, when Joe Hachem won it all. Metalidi is the first Ukrainian since Anton Makiievskyi in 2011. And Antoine Labat continues a recent trend of French success, following on the heels of two of his countrymen last year (Benjamin Pollak and Antoine Saout).
After the final hand the night before – the one that eliminated Yueng Zhu in tenth place and propelled Manion to the top of the leaderboard – Antoine Labat was left short-stacked, and he needed to make up ground when the final table began. Unfortunately for Labat, he never really recovered, and he was the first player eliminated from the official final table. On the 16th final-table hand, he got the last of his chips in the middle holding pocket kings, and he was in good shape against Artem Metalidi’s Ace-Queen. However, the flop came with both an ace and a queen to give Metalidi top two pair. Labat’s kings never improved, and he finished in ninth place for a payout of $1,000,000.
Meanwhile, Nic Manion had lost a few chips, and Dyer had started to accumulate more. Manion was still comfortably in second, but Dyer was starting to put some distance between himself and the rest of the table. By the time another player busted out, Dyer had nearly twice as much as his nearest competitor, with 134 million in chips to Manion’s 73 million.
The next bustout occurred on the 37th hand of the final table, when Artem Metalidi became the eighth-place finisher. He held pocket fives against Aram Zobian’s suited king-queen, and Zobian made a flush to eliminate Metalidi. He earns $1,250,000. Just 10 hands later, Alex Lynskey busted out in seventh place ($1,500,000). Like Metalidi, he held a small pocket pair (this time pocket sixes) against king-queen. Lynskey was up against John Cynn, who made a flush to eliminate the Australian player.
Play continued through the end of Level on Thursday before halting for the night, and Dyer continued to pad his lead, finishing the night with about 156 million. Behind him, Manion had 72 million, Cynn 61 million, and Miles 57 million. Zobian was the shortest stack with 16.7 million.
The six remaining players returned at 5:30 on Friday to continue. On just the fifth hand of the night, Zobian became the night’s first casualty. He was all in with 8-6, and unfortunately for him, he was up against Dyer’s A-8. Dyer’s hand held up, and he extended his lead as Zobian was eliminated in sixth place for $1,800,000.
Another 30 hands later, Joe Cada became the next elimination. Cada had become the favorite for virtually anyone without a specific rooting interest, as fans of the game hoped to see a two-time Main Event champion. But their hopes were dashed when Cada lost a flip against Tony Miles. Miles held Ace-King. Cada had pocket tens, and a king on the board gave the chips to Miles. That hand propelled Miles into second place with about 104 million in chips. Dyer had lost a bit since he’d eliminated Zobian, but he still held the lead with 169 million.
There followed the longest segment of the final table without any eliminations. It took 119 hands before Nicolas Manion exited in fourth place ($2,825,000). He had grown short-stacked, and got the last of his chips in with A-10 against John Cynn’s pocket kings. Cynn won the hand, and with Manion’s elimination, play concluded for the night.
During the 119-hand interim between eliminations, Miles continued his climb up the leaderboard, and Cynn also had accumulated chips. Their success came at the expense of Dyer, who dropped precipitously. He finished the night with only 26.2 million in chips, down from his high point of over 180 million. Miles now held the lead with 238.9 million, and Cynn was in the middle with 128.7 million.
After just 17 hands on Saturday (a little less than an hour in real time), Cynn took the lead from Miles. It happened gradually as Cynn chipped away at his opponent, so to speak, winning several hands small pots. Dyer, meanwhile, was holding steady with his short stack.
Almost immediately after Cynn took over the lead, Dyer was eliminated. He pushed all in preflop with Ace-10, and Tony Miles called with Ace-Jack. The board gave Dyer no help, and he became the first player eliminated on the final night. Dyer earned $3,750,000 for his third-place finish, and Miles jumped back into the lead. The rest is history, as Cynn and Miles battled back and forth, neither giving up an edge, until final hand. On the turn, with the board showing Kh Kd 5h 8d. Miles pushed all in. Cynn thought it through, then called. His Kc Jc gave him three kings. Miles had only Qc 8h for two pair. The river could offer Miles no help, and Cynn collected the last of his opponent’s chips to earn the title of World Champion.
The Main Event began on Tuesday, July 2 with the first of three starting flights. There 925 entries on Day 1A. Then another 2,378 on Day 1B (July 3) and 4,571 on Day 1C (July 4). The Day 1C field is a record for a starting flight of the Main Event, and the total of 7,874 is the second largest field in WSOP Main Event history.
After registration closed on Day 1C, the payouts were announced. The total prizepool is $74,015,600, and the top 1,182 players would make the money. That’s a record high for the number of in-the-money finishers. Each of the final table players – the top 9 – would earn at least $1,000,000, and the winner would earn $8,800,000.
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Final Table Payouts:
1 – John Cynn – $8,800,000
2 – Tony Miles – $5,000,000
3 – Michael Dyer – $3,750,000
4 – Nicolas Manion – $2,825,000
5 – Joe Cada – $2,150,000
6 – Aram Zobian – $1,800,000
7 – Alex Lynskey – $1,500,000
8 – Artem Metalidi – $1,250,000
9 – Antoine Labat – $1,000,000