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Team PokerStars Pro Mercier follows Selbst to defend his Mohegan Sun title

napt-thumb.jpgDouble double. Repeat repeat. Double double. Repeat repeat.

If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I would never have believed it. But after Vanessa Selbst successfully defended her NAPT Mohegan Sun title yesterday, her Team PokerStars Pro colleague Jason Mercier has just defended his High Roller Bounty Shootout title too.

According to mathematicians, that's a 27,000 to one shot. Yes, it's rigged. Obviously it's rigged.

However for something stage-managed, this looked remarkably authentic. Mercier came to the final table with the most bounty chips, having eliminated six players from his heat on Tuesday. Today, he won a further three bounties--including the crucial last one of Eugene Katchalov who he defeated heads up--and his winnings totaled $246,600.

This was Mercier's tenth major tournament victory in a career that is still only about three years old. It is, frankly, staggering stuff.

"There is no real secret to it," Mercier said. "I just try to make the right plays and do the best I can."


Jason Mercier hoists the NAPT Bounty Shootout trophy aloft. Again.

The heats on Tuesday had been quick-fire affairs, with a rapidly escalating structure prompting chips to fly into pots and players out the door. The reward for surviving that carnage, however, was a seat at this final table, where every bounty was now worth $10,000 apiece but picking them up was much more difficult.

After five opening levels, all nine players were still in the hunt. Stacks were evenly balanced and it seemed as though it could have gone on all night. Then something suddenly changed.

First, Joe Sweeney shoved his middle pair into Eugene Katchalov's flopped nut flush. Whoops. One down. Then Micah Raskin found tens when Jonathan Jaffe had found queens. Raskin was our second to depart.


Joe Sweeney out first from final table


Micah Raskin out in seventh

The dust had barely settled on those two eliminations when we were looking at two more. Scott Blackman (A♦Q♥) came off third best in a three-way all in coup, also featuring Michael Pesek (A♣K♣) and Jimmie Guinther (Q♣9♠).

Blackman busted then and there, out in seventh, and Guinther was also critically injured. He doubled his micro stack against Mercier, but couldn't continue an improbable resurgence. Instead he was all in again very soon after and Pesek this time finished the job. Pesek managed to get pocket twos to hold against Guinther's king high.

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Scott Blackman out in seventh


Jimmie Guinther eliminated in sixth

At five handed, the action barely slackened. Taylor von Kriegenbergh, who had amassed the loudest rail of supporters, also almost managed to pull off the most unlikely outdraw when he took pocket fives up against Eugene Katchalov's aces.

Von Kriegenbergh turned a set to send his supporters bounding across the tournament floor in delight. But the ace rivered to leave them sprawled on the carpet in despair.

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Eugene Katchalov on a roll to the heads up battle

Katchalov allowed himself a wry chuckle and a thumbs up to family on the rail, while Von Kriegenbergh knew he would have to get his short stack in the middle very quickly. He did, but his K♦J♦ was no match for Pesek's A♦J♣ and out went Von Kriegenbergh, pursued by his cavalry.

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The end of the road for Taylor von Kriegenbergh

At this stage in the proceedings, Mercier was still ahead in the grand bounty race, but only owing to his destruction of the table in his heats, where he knocked out six opponents. He had not eliminated anyone from the final and Pesek in particular, who had slain three, was inching closer.

But cometh the challenge cometh the Mercier. The next player to fall, Jonathan Jaffe, was cut down by the Team PokerStars Pro. Jaffe had led the table for long periods today, but when he shoved for slightly more than 70,000, Mercier had a smidgen more both in terms of cards and chips.

Mercier's A♣Q♠ was never behind Jaffe's A♥9♠ and that was the end of Jaffe's challenge.

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Jonathan Jaffe out in fourth

With seven bounties and only three players left, Mercier was now guaranteed at least a tie of the $20,000 bounty bonus. The only person who could stop him was Katchalov, who would need to bust Pesek and Mercier to draw level.

But as the newest member of Team PokerStars Pro, Katchalov saw a perfect opportunity to prove his mettle. Lo and behold, he seized his chance - although he needed a stroke of good fortune to eliminate Pesek.

Three-handed and folded to Pesek in the small blind, he moved all in for about 70,000 and Katchalov, who had found an ace, called the shove. The problem was that Pesek also had an ace, along with a six, which was one pip better than Katchalov's A♥5♥. But it wouldn't be a major final without an outdraw, and the 5♦ appeared on the flop to vault Katchalov into the lead and send Pesek home.


Michael Pesek and Eugene Katchalov

With Pesek's chances in the bounty race thus extinguished, it was Team Pro v Team Pro not only for the title but for that bounty bonus too. They were pretty even in stacks (Mercier had a slight advantage) and the stage was set for a battle that might have gone on for several hours.

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Eugene Katchalov and Jason Mercier heads up

But there's another way to end heads up battles: Big hand against big hand. They had played less than ten hands when all the money suddenly flew into the middle on a flop of 9♣8♣7♠.

Mercier had 9♠T♦ (ie, top pair, an overcard and a straight draw) while Katchalov had also connected with his 7♥8♠. If there's one thing you can say about Mercier it is that he flips well. And although the 3♠ wasn't an out, the T♥ on the river was.

Katchalov offered his hand, and Mercier shook it warmly. It is hardly a new thing for Mercier to walk off with a major title, but he still seems to enjoy it immensely.

"It's definitely not getting old," Mercier said.


Eugene Katchalov congratulates Jason Mercier

That really is now it from NAPT Mohegan Sun. Vanessa Selbst laid down a gauntlet to Jason Mercier, and Jason Mercier rose to the challenge.

Congratulations to both of them on a remarkable, ridiculous week.


Jason Mercier's bounty chips

All photography © Joe Giron/

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