2016 WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Day 4: Rafael Yaraliyev Heads Final Table, World Champion Joe McKeehen, WPT Champ Yevgeniy Timoshenko in Pursuit

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After a protracted twelve-hour battle, the final table has been set for the World Poker Tour’s Borgata Winter Poker Open in Atlantic City, NJ. Heading that final table will be relative newcomer Rafael Yaraliyev, who will sit at the start of the day on Friday with 9.945 million in chips. There are two wolves beating down his door, however, in the forms of former WPT champion Yevgeniy Timoshenko (second, 6.555 million chips) and defending World Champion Joe McKeehen (fifth, 4.825 million).

At the start of action on Thursday, 34 players still had dreams of holding the WPT Champions’ Cup over their heads as well as the $816,246 in their bank account. Kane Kalas was in the best position to achieve this goal, sitting on top of the leaderboard, while David Paredes sat in second place. Yaraliyev started the day’s action in the third place spot, giving him a prime spot to watch as the action raged around him for most of the day.

WPT Champions’ Club member Amir Babakhani picked on the short-stacked Ruslan Dykshteyn in the first few hands of the day, eventually making Dykshteyn the first elimination of the day. Another contender, Brian Altman, used a cooler against Adam Benowitz, his pocket Kings against Benowitz’s pocket Queens, to knock him out in 33rd place and jump over the two million chip mark. Hye Park, another member of the Top Ten, would join Altman in the two million chip club by eliminating Jeffrey Chang in 31st place…and this was all within the first hour of play for Thursday!

Timoshenko, who started the day as one of the shorter stacks in the room, got a key double up against Keith Morrow. Pushing all in with his pocket tens, Timoshenko was relieved when they stood tall over Morrow’s 8-4 off suit and he would continue to climb upwards throughout the remainder of the afternoon and the evening. As Timoshenko rose up the ladder, however, other notables exited the Borgata.

Cate Hall’s run at the Borgata championship ended in 27th place at the hands of Altman, but the points she earned for the finish pushed her into the overall lead for the WPT Player of the Year championship. Despite not winning an event (she does have two final tables and five consecutive cashes for Season XIV), Hall’s 1550 points eclipse Kevin Eyster’s 1525 points at this point in the season. Joining Hall on the sidelines was Pahuja (at the hands of Babakhani) in 24th place, Paredes (after seeing most of his stack go to Chris Leong when Leong was able to run down Paredes’ pocket Aces with a flopped set of Queens, Leong cleaned up the scraps on the next hand) in 20th place, and Aaron Mermelstein (eliminated by Seth Davies) in 19th place by the time the dinner break came.

After the break, there was still a great deal of work to be done in trimming the remaining 18 men down to the six who would come back on Friday for the WPT final table. Yaraliyev had quietly worked his way to the front of the pack at this point as Morrow and Leong looked to catch up. After a flurry of double ups, however, a big hand emerged that brought a new name to the top of the charts.

Kalas had sat back for much of the early action, but came to life in late position with a bet. Liam He on the button decided to three bet the action and, after Babakhani made a call from the big blind, Kalas tossed in a four-bet. He pushed an all-in five bet out and, after Babakhani decided to get out of the way Kalas, with barely enough chips to cover He, made the call and turned up Jacks. He tossed up his pocket Aces and led after a K-3-2 flop. Looking for a Jack to take the lead, Kalas instead saw the exact opposite; the turn brought an Ace that left Kalas drawing dead and with only 50K in chips (he would depart moments later in 17th place). He, meanwhile, sat on a 4.65 million stack and was in contention.

As play entered the later evening, it was time for McKeehen to wake up. Despite narrowly avoiding elimination – McKeehen was in a pot and all in with Morrow and James Hughes holding A-Q off suit against Morrow’s pocket Jacks and Hughes’ pocket tens when the board rolled out with a seven high straight – McKeehen would eliminate Bradley St. Vincent in 14th place to crack the 3.5 million chip mark. He then would take down Hughes in 13th to move over four million, setting himself up for a run that would take him to Friday’s action.

Once Babakhani knocked off Aaron Overton in 11th place, the final 10 men came to the table to work their way to the official six-handed WPT final table. Yaraliyev held a nice lead at this point over He (5.25 million) and Timoshenko (5.1 million) and maintained it as he saw Babakhani, Michael Judge and Jeffrey Yanchek eliminated in tenth through eighth places, respectively. By the time Matthew Wantman knocked off Morrow in seventh place, the final table was sealed for the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open.

1. Rafael Yaraliyev, 9.945 million
2. Yevgeniy Timoshenko, 6.555 million
3. Matthew Wantman, 5.545 million
4. Liam He, 4.91 million
5. Joe McKeehen, 4.825 million
6. Chris Leong, 4.23 million

Yaralieyev definitely has the hounds at his door when it comes to winning this tournament. Yaralieyev only has three cashes on his tournament resume (all at the Borgata in 2015 in minor tournaments) while Timoshenko, the former WPT World Champion, has been one of the most solid tournament performers in the game since his debut in 2007 (his $32,142 in tournament cashes in 2015 was the worst season Timoshenko has ever had). Then there’s McKeehen, who has shown that, if he can get ahold of some chips, he can do some damage; a double up through one of the leaders would put him in the mix and the men at the top do not want that to happen.

The final table will begin at noon (Eastern Time) from the Borgata in Atlantic City. There will be multiple ways to view the proceedings:  either through WPT.com, Twitch.tv, YouTube or PlutoTV. All of these platforms will begin on a 30-minute delay with WPT Raw Deal host Tony Dunst and a plethora of top tournament professionals commentating on the action.

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