The 2021 World Series of Poker is primed for its second weekend of action, but not without awarding a couple of bracelets on Thursday. In one event, poker pro Ari Engel was able to prevent Phil Hellmuth from earning his record 16th bracelet in Omaha Hi/Lo, while Jason Koon captured the crown in the $25,000 Heads-Up event. It was but the preliminaries for what should be another big weekend of action around the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino.

Ari Engel Earns Second Bracelet in Event #9, Hellmuth Fifth

Five men came back on Thursday afternoon to decide the championship of Event #9, the $10,000 Omaha Hi/Lo 8 or Better Championship. The tournament had started with 134 players but only five men – chip leader Ari Engel (3.485 million), Zachary Milchman (1.66 million), Eddie Blumenthal (1.405 million), Andrew Yeh (1.105 million) and Phil Hellmuth (390K) – had the opportunity to take home the bracelet.

Coming in as the short stack, Hellmuth had the deck stacked against him if he were to win his record-extending 16th bracelet. As it was, Hellmuth could not find that miracle recovery in the split-pot format, falling to Blumenthal when Blumenthal turned a Jack-high straight in a three-way hand with Engel. It is the second final table trip this WSOP for Hellmuth, who seems to be just on the verge of capturing another piece of jewelry for his collection.

Engel then set about getting those chips lost to Blumenthal back into his stack. The duo clashed on a couple of occasions following Hellmuth’s departure, with Blumenthal eventually coming out on the losing end and out of the tournament in fourth place. Once Engel eliminated Yeh in third place, scooping with an A 10 6♠ 4 on a Jx 8 Qx 3 2 board (nut flush and the low), it seemed only a matter of time until Engel completed his work.

That “matter of time” turned out to take longer than expected. Despite the fact that Engel started heads up with more than a 4:1 lead, Milchman turned out to be a tenacious opponent, pulling into the lead roughly 30 minutes into the battle. After that, the lead went back and forth as both men vied for the championship. Over a six hour heads up match, neither man could seize control until just after midnight in the Rio.

Getting Milchman all in after a 10-6-J rainbow flop that almost certainly eliminated any chances at a low, Engel took the edge with his A-10-4-3 for the middle pair over Milchman’s 8-8-4-2. A Queen on the turn eliminated any chance at the low, but Milchman still had a chance to pull the high with a third eight to improve his hand. Alas, the river Queen only made Engel’s hand better, earning the Canadian pro his second WSOP bracelet of his career.

1. Ari Engel, $317,076
2. Zachary Milchman, $195,968
3. Andrew Yeh, $143,988
4. Eddie Blumenthal, $107,204
5. Phil Hellmuth, $80,894
6. George Wolff, $61,877*
7. Robert Mizrachi, $47,987*
8. Ben Landowski, $37,738*
9. Khamar Xaythavone, $30,102*

(* – part of official final table, eliminated on Wednesday)

Jason Koon Earns First Bracelet in Heads Up

Having to run the gauntlet through all five rounds of the $25,000 Heads Up Championship, Jason Koon earned his first bracelet by defeating Gabor Szabo just after midnight on the Amazon Room Main Stage.

With 57 people in the event, that meant that there were some players who were able to take advantage of a “bye” in the First Round of the tournament. Szabo was one of those who was fortunate enough to earn a pass, but Koon had to step to the fore. He had to face one of the top “High Roller” players in the game today, Chris Brewer, but Koon was able to overcome that obstacle and was on his way.

Koon would eliminate Nicolai Morris, Johannes Becker, Jake Daniels and Henri Puustinen on his way to the title match. Szabo, after enjoying that First Round bye, had his own difficult tasks, however. He had to go through Johan Guilbert, David Peters, Mikita Badziakouski, and Dan Zack to be able to sit in the seat opposite of Koon.

The duo would play for over three hours, swapping the lead between each other, before one hand shifted the entire dynamic of the match. After a Szabo min-raise, Koon decided it was time to dance and pushed his entire stack to the center. Szabo did not hesitate in making the call and was a bit dismayed to see the result. Szabo’s A♠ J♠ was a great hand in a heads-up situation, but Koon’s was a pip better, A-Q, as the flop came down.

The rags of 7-5-2 did not help either man, although the solo spade gave Szabo a chance at a backdoor flush, but those disappeared on the nine turn. Needing to see a Jack come on the river, Szabo instead saw Koon improve with a Queen. Once the chips were counted, Koon had been the player all in on the hand and he scooped the nine million plus pot to leave Szabo with scraps. Although Szabo would double on the next hand, Koon put him out of his misery moments later to capture the title.

1. Jason Koon, $243,981
2. Gabor Szabo, $150,790
3. Henri Puustinen, $89,787
(tie) Daniel Zack, $89,787
5. Mikita Badziakouski, $36,280
(tie) Bin Weng, $36,280
(tie) Benjamin Reason, $36,280
(tie) Jake Daniels, $36,280

MILLIONAIRE MAKER Takes Center Stage

Arguably the first test of the 2021 WSOP, from a players’ numbers standpoint, will be the $1500 MILLIONAIRE MAKER. The tournament, Event $17 on the 2021 WSOP schedule, has two Day Ones, but it has also been one of the most popular events since its inception in 2013. The last live version in 2019 brought in 8809 entries and it will be a challenge for those numbers to be duplicated in 2021. Still, today’s Day 1A and Saturday’s Day 1B will try to challenge that number, with the eventual champion of the event taking home at least $1 million.

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