Chance Kornuth Comes from Middle of Pack to Take $25,000 Challenge as Aussie Millions Main Event Prepares to Take Center Stage

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In what was a frantic Day Two, Chance Kornuth came from the middle of the pack to take down the championship of the $25,000 Challenge at the Aussie Millions as the Main Event prepares to take center stage at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia.

Kornuth was smack in the middle of the 26 players who returned on Saturday to contend for the title. Of the 100 unique players who started the event (and generated 122 entries), 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $50,000 High Roller Champion Steve O’Dwyer was looking for his second big score of 2016 as he sat on a 519,000 chip stack. There were plenty of challenges looming down the board, however, including Jason Les (406K), Eugene Katchalov (399K), Michael Egan (326K) and Oliver Price (318K).

Things didn’t start out so well for Kornuth. After starting the day with a respectable 204,000 in chips, Kornuth’s stack plummeted to 97,000 by the end of the first level of play for the day. He would let it get as low as 67K before he showed any signs of life, doubling up through Katchalov when his K-Q flopped well against Katchalov’s pocket sevens on a Q-Q-2 flop. A couple of hands later, Kornuth would pull another “rabbit out of the hat” when his A 5 miraculously hit a runner-runner flush on the river against Igor Kurganov’s turned Queen high straight. By the time Kornuth eliminated Sam Greenwood from the tournament in 13th place, Kornuth had put himself in contention for the title with 655,000 in chips.

Following the redraw with 12 players remaining, it was still O’Dwyer atop the leaderboard, however. His stack had grown to 800,000 and a new challenger, Ben Tollerene, had emerged alongside Kornuth. Price, Egan and Kurganov were also still viable on the closely packed leaderboard.

Kurganov got a measure of revenge on Kornuth, turning a flush against a bluffing Kornuth to take down a fairly large pot to once again send Kornuth in the wrong direction on the elevator. Egan, however, assumed the lead when he was able to force O’Dwyer to fold on a four-heart board after making a massive river bet. Egan also became the first man to crack the million chip mark when he bested Benny Spindler in a pot to push his count to 1.26 million. That lead would be short-lived, however, in a clash between two power players.

Katchalov was on the button when he opened the betting and Kurganov, in the small blind, three bet the action with some trepidation. Dominik Nitsche got out of the way in the big blind almost as soon as Kurganov placed his bet, sensing something was brewing, and it indeed was; Katchalov moved all in, bringing an immediate call out of Kurganov. Whatever it was Kurganov thought it was he saw, he was on the right track. Katchalov’s pocket sevens were dominated by Kurganov’s pocket Jacks and, once the flop brought a Jack, Katchalov was virtually eliminated. When then turn came with the 4♠, Katchalov’s elimination in 10th place was complete and Kurganov took over the lead with 1.33 million chips.

Kornuth would actually be the man who brought the players to the final table. After Spindler lost a big hand in a bad beat, Kornuth pushed his approximately 200K into the center from under the gun and nobody looked him up save for Spindler in the big blind and with less chips. Spindler had a hand again, pocket Jacks, and Kornuth’s A♠ 10 looked very slim against the pair, but the 10♠ Q♠ 5♠ 6 9♠ board had other ideas, giving Kornuth the hand and sending him to the final table as the short stack but with a seat.

After a break for dinner, the final seven men reconvened to decide the champion. Kornuth would more than double his stack to over a million chips to get into contention over the next level, but it was Kurganov who would make the biggest leap. Battling against Egan, the Russian and the Aussie flipped chips through the air to the point that Kurganov was all in after the board finished off Q-9-Q-2-4. Even though he had called Egan, an unusually excited Kurganov quickly showed his Q-9 for the flopped full house that had led the entire way; a reluctant Egan wanted to muck, but the dealer displayed that he had played a 9-4 that left him with only 450K in chips. Egan would depart the tournament soon afterwards in seventh place.

Kurganov, now sitting on 2.36 million in chips, ruled over the field at this point. Kornuth had surprisingly moved into second with 990K in chips while Les and O’Dwyer joined him over the 900K mark. Price and Phanlert Sukonthachartnant rounded out the table after Egan’s elimination and seemed to be looking for a moment to make their move. Instead, they would make their way to the exit of the Crown Casino.

First was Sukonthachartnant, who fell to O’Dwyer when his 10-9 failed to connect against O’Dwyer’s A-J on a J-K-5-10-K board to finish in sixth place. On the next hand, Price rammed his Q-7 into Kornuth’s pocket Aces after an 8-4-Q-6 flop and turn when Price called a Kornuth all in to finish his stay in fourth place. Kornuth and O’Dwyer, both now with healthier stacks, would soon put it on the line for a shot at the Challenge title.

After an O’Dwyer bet, Kornuth and Les made the call to see a 10-K-10 flop. Kornuth led out and, after Les laid his hand down, O’Dwyer called to take in a five on the turn. Kornuth issued a second bullet, this time for 225K, and O’Dwyer once again made the call. When a Jack came on the river, a perplexed Kornuth checked his option and O’Dwyer came to life with a bet of 430K. After some deliberation, Kornuth made the call and it was the right one; O’Dwyer had been bluffing with his A-6, while Kornuth’s A-10 was the winner all along.

This put Kornuth up to 2.813 million and, after Kurganov took care of O’Dwyer in fourth place and Kornuth eliminated Les in third, the duo went to heads up play virtually even in chips. Kurganov had a slight edge, his 3.197 million over Kornuth’s 2.903 million, but that edge disappeared on the first hand that Kornuth won. Kurganov would take it back on the next hand, but the fight was on.

On the final hand of the level, Kurganov would pull out to a huge lead when he was able to force Kornuth to fold to his all-in bet on a K-J-6-3-9 board, racking up a 5 million to 1.1 million lead. Over the next hour, however, Kornuth fought back to the point that he was the one with the dominant lead, 5.18 million to Kurganov’s 920K, when the final hand came down. After raising to 100K, Kurganov saw Kornuth make the call to see a 6-5-7 flop. Kornuth would check raise all in Kurganov’s 170K bet and Kurganov made the call, showing his A-6 for a pair of sixes. Kornuth had a 7-3 for a better pair of sevens and an inside straight draw, which didn’t come with the nine on the turn but did hit with the four on the river.

1. Chance Kornuth, $790,560
2. Igor Kurganov, $541,680
3. Jason Les, $351,360
4. Steve O’Dwyer, $263,520
5. Oliver Price, $190,320
6. Phanlert Sukonthachartnant, $131,760
7. Michael Egan, $109,800

Sunday in Australia marks the start of the $10,000 Main Event for the Aussie Millions as well as the $100,000 Challenge event. Both of these tournaments will last throughout the week, bringing a great deal of action to poker fans not only in Australia but also around the world as the Aussie Millions rolls along.

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