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Looking to make her breakthrough into the major tournament Winner’s Circle, Loni Harwood will lead the final seven competitors when they reconvene for the World Series of Poker National Championship final table at Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina this afternoon. Also at the final table will be a man who, coming off perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of his career, seems to be driven for his seventh WSOP bracelet in Daniel Negreanu.

Two days ago, the National Championship began with the Top 100 players and champions on the WSOP Circuit meeting in North Carolina for the traditional season ending $1 million freeroll. This tournament wasn’t limited to those players, however, as the Top 100 players from last year’s WSOP Player of the Year race were eligible to play, although they had to pony up $10,000 to do so. Players such as defending champion Dominik Nitsche, Phil Hellmuth and Negreanu were among the 22 players who did just this, bringing the final tournament numbers up to 122 players and a $1,220,000 prize pool.

When Day Two opened for play on Thursday, 49 players were still in contention for the 15 cash spots and the $341,599 first place prize that also earns a WSOP bracelet. Brad St. Vincent held the pole position with his 178,800 in chips as David Peters (168,400) and WSOP-C veteran Charles “Woody” Moore (159,900) looked to take him down. Harwood was in fifth place at the start of the day while Negreanu, who registered for the tournament on the dinner break of Day One, sat back in the pack.

The early eliminations took down such names as Tristan Wade, Jesse Capps, John Monnette, Jake Schindler and Scott Clements, with all hitting the rail within the first two levels of Day Two play. By this point, St. Vincent had pulled out to a healthy lead with his 406,000 in chips; Woods, his next closest competitor, only had 240,000 as the tournament reached the final three tables.

St. Vincent would add onto that lead in what was a peculiar hand, at least from the aspect of St. Vincent’s opponent. On a Q-4-2-A-9 board that presented no shot at a flush, eight-time WSOP-C ring winner Ari Engel faced a river bet of 58K from St. Vincent and went into a diatribe at the table. “I’ve folded to you every time so far,” Engel grumped to St. Vincent. “Should I continue (to fold)? Or should I call one time to stand up for all the guys you’ve run over so far?”

Engel continued the verbal tirade, eventually apologizing to his fellow tablemates for his “nitroll.” “I have the stone nuts, I don’t think this is foldable,” Engel continued, an obvious lie as if he had the stone nuts his raise would have been in the center way before this point. After several more minutes of deliberation, Engel called to see St. Vincent put up an A-2 for Aces up; after all the histrionics, Engel simply mucked his cards as St. Vincent rocketed to 580K in chips.

By the time the tournament worked down to two tables – with only one more elimination to go before the 15 paying spots would be determined – St. Vincent had company at the top of the leaderboard. Darryll Fish had taken over the lead with 520K in chips as St. Vincent (495K) and Robert Hankins (385K) held the next two slots. Both Harwood (215K) and Negreanu (141K) were still alive and lurking in the pack.

Harwood started to make some moves at this point and many of them were through the defending champion Nitsche. Harwood would river a full house against Nitsche to get to 290K in chips and then decimated his stack in rivering a Wheel straight. As play entered the hand-for-hand phase, Harwood sat on 385K and was in the Top Five in the tournament.

Looking to defend his title, Nitsche would eliminate Lance Jones prior to the money bubble popping with St. Vincent’s elimination of Juan Mendoza in 16th place, but would then immediately lose all but 10K in chips to Hankins as the money players celebrated. Engel would finish off the dreams of the 2014 WSOP National Champion only moments after the bubble popping.

Now it was Hankins’ turn to surge as he dumped Engel in 13th place ($20,594) and cut some chips from Fish’s stack to head to the dinner break with the lead (and 755K in chips). That lead barely lasted through dinner as, within minutes after returning from dinner, Hankins and Harwood hooked into a battle that was won when Harwood rivered a fourth diamond for the nut flush against Hankins. The twosome, now virtually even in chips, would continue to fight and it would result in one of them not coming out of the fray still in the tournament.

After a raise from Hankins and a call from Harwood, Gevork Kasabyan moved all in for his remaining 170K in chips. Hankins decided to make his stand there, moving all in “over the top” of Kasabyan’s bet and putting Harwood to a decision for virtually her entire stack. Barely blinking, Harwood called and the three put their cards on the felt:

Harwood:  pocket Kings
Hankins:  A-K off suit
Kasabyan:  pocket tens

A Queen high flop didn’t help Harwood’s competitors at all and a deuce on the turn kept her firmly in the lead. Once a second deuce fell on the river, Harwood’s Kings were good and the resulting double elimination (Hankins in tenth, Kasabyan in eleventh) pushed her chip stack well over the million chip mark. Using those newfound chips, Harwood would knock out Seth Berger in eighth place to set up today’s final table lineup:

1. Loni Harwood, 1.34 million
2. Darryll Fish, 648,000
3. Daniel Negreanu, 543,000
4. Vincent Moscati, 463,000
5. Brad St. Vincent, 410,000
6. Paul Mattioda, 167,000
7. Alexandru Masek, 100,000

Holding more than a third of the chips in play, Harwood is obviously the prohibitive favorite at this final table. Fish has a lengthy resume that includes a WSOP-C championship and, well, there is Negreanu to contend with on the table. The seven players will come together this afternoon at 1PM (Eastern Time) in front of the WSOP cameras to determine the champion and, if you’re one of those who prefers their information immediately, will provide live updates of the final table action.

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