LAS VEGAS (AP) -Two eliminations early Sunday at the World Series of Poker after roughly eight hours at the table left three players in their early-20s in the running for $8.94 million.
Italian poker player Filippo Candio left in fourth place shortly after the tournament's most famous finalist, Michael ``The Grinder'' Mizrachi, asserted his way to chip leader then fizzled to a short stack and a fifth-place finish.
Candio gambled with a suited king-queen but lost to 24-year-old Joseph Cheong's suited ace-three. Cheong caught an ace for a pair and held on to extend his lead to 97.6 million in chips.
Mizrachi lost the last of his chips after calling an all-in with a pair of queens, but finding himself unable to improve against Jonathan Duhamel's aces.
The eliminations pushed the three remaining players to a guaranteed payday of $4.13 million each and brings the tournament one bustout away from setting up a heads-up finale.
Still in the running for the title besides Cheong and Duhamel was 24-year-old John Racener.
``Fifth is OK, I'm happy with it,'' Mizrachi said. ``If I don't win, there's a great group of guys left and I'm hoping - I'm rooting for Racener.''
Cheong surged to more than 108 million chips after the hand, 24 million ahead of Duhamel.
The chips don't have any monetary value, but are required to remain in the running for the $8.94 million top prize. Each player needs to lose all his chips to be eliminated from the tournament that started with 7,319 entrants paying $10,000 each to buy in.
Candio won $3.09 million. Mizrachi won $2.33 million but fell short of the $8.94 million title he sought to cap off a special summer. A win in the main event would have given the Florida pro his second win at the series this year. Mizrachi won the series' first of 57 open poker tournaments, a $50,000 buy-in mixed game championship considered the series' second toughest tournament.
A total of 7,319 players entered the main event in July.
After losing, Mizrachi greeted relatives and friends who sat behind him for nearly eight hours of cards, excluding breaks. He took pictures with his mom, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as dozens of fans wondered what happened after several questionable plays with mediocre hands.
``I took a shot to bring up chips,'' Mizrachi said of one hand in which he doubled Racener's stack by calling with an ace-eight against Racener's ace-king. ``I wanted to give him some action, I wanted to give him a chance if I was wrong.''
Candio relished the chance to play at Mizrachi, twice showing him his cards after convincing the professional to fold.
``If you want to win the main event, you must play, you must fight with the best player. Always,'' Candio said.
Earlier in the session, Jason Senti was eliminated in seventh place and Florida poker professional John Dolan quickly followed him out the door despite starting the day second in chips.
Dolan, who said he never really got anything going in the session, gambled with a queen and a five and was eliminated by Duhamel holding pocket fours. Dolan won $1.77 million.
Senti, a 26-year-old poker professional from St. Louis Park, Minn., lost the last of his chips with an ace-king despite catching two kings on the flop to move squarely ahead of his opponent. Cheong caught running straight cards to save him from losing the vast majority of chips. Senti won $1.36 million.
The hand was the second to eliminate a player by giving him the lead from behind, then taking it away on the last card.
Mizrachi was one card from doubling up Canadian pro Matthew Jarvis earlier in the session and being left with close to nothing. But Jarvis was eliminated in eighth place after Mizrachi found a better full house on the river.
Cuong ``Soi'' Nguyen, the oldest finalist at 37 and the table's only amateur, was the first eliminated after gambling with an ace-king combination just before minimum bets were set to rise. He lost against Senti's pocket queens.
Mizrachi's win over Jarvis, Senti's aggressiveness throughout the first three hours and Cheong's consistent play early altered the dynamics of a game where community cards make all the difference.
Short on chips, Jarvis moved all-in with a pocket pair of nines, and Mizrachi called with an ace and a queen. The first three community cards brought two queens, giving Mizrachi a three-of-a-kind and leaving Jarvis few options to win the hand.
A nine on the turn turned the tables, giving Jarvis a full house and putting the table's most famous professional on the ropes, with less than a one-in-five chance of winning the hand.
A river ace gave the 29-year-old Mizrachi a better full house, sending his onstage supporters into a frenzy at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
``As soon as I got short, I realized that I'm the guy that everyone's coming after,'' Jarvis said afterward, tearing up in front of reporters. ``I've got to put the pressure back on the big stack. You've got to play for the win - you can't put scared chips in there.''
Jarvis won $1.05 million for placing eighth.
The gamble - Jarvis and Mizrachi were about even to win before the community cards were dealt - was Mizrachi's attempt to put himself in good position for a deep run.
Senti trounced Nguyen in ninth in an about-even scenario. Senti hit a queen on the flop for a three-of-a-kind, protecting his hand, when Nguyen, a medical supply company manager, hit a king on the river to make a pair.
Nguyen said he wasn't afraid to bust first because getting any further would have been ``gravy.''
``I wasn't afraid, because nobody expected me to get this far anyways,'' he said. ``Hey, I lost for a raise, and I'm OK with that.''
Nguyen won nearly $812,000 for his finish, but did not add to his winnings as each player was paid the ninth-place jackpot back in July. The tournament resumed 111 days after the nine finalists last played together.