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PCA 2016: A big one for Nick Maimone, $25K High Roller champion

After three days of play versus one of the tougher tournament fields you'll encounter, Nick Maimone held the winner's trophy aloft after taking down the coveted 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 High Roller. Following two lengthy days, the last day went quickly, and after a rapid heads-up duel Maimone was still moving fast, readying for a trip to the cashier's desk and his winner photos.

He paused briefly, however. His wife had a Polaroid (not a phone, but the classic camera) and as he posed she snapped a shot, preserving the moment following his biggest live cash for just shy of seven figures -- $996,480, to be precise, following a heads-up deal. Soon after that, they were both posing.

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An early photo following the win

As he explained to us afterwards, three days ago Maimone played a $2,700 satellite on his 29th birthday, winning himself the present of a High Roller seat. Coming in fourth of nine in the counts to start Day 3, he slipped a bit before earning a big three-way pot early on, and things continued to go well for him from there.

"I won some races, won some flips, and had some good spots," said Maimone, additionally noting the toughness of the competition at this stacked final table.

A combination of timely cards and well-chosen moves helped Maimone knock out all but one of his opponents on this fast final day of play, putting the trophy in his hands by mid-evening on a balmy night in the Bahamas. Here's the story of how that moment came to be.

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Maimone is the one

It was a given from a group as talented and decorated as the 225-entry one making up the field for this year's installment of the PCA $25K High Roller that there'd be zero soft spots among those making it to the final day. Regardless of how the tournament turned out, all nine who'd made it through Days 1 and 2 had brought impressive poker résumés to the festival.

The day began with Josh Beckley the chip leader by a narrow margin, and it would take an hour-and-a-half before anyone from the final nine lost his stack. Anton Astapau of Belarus found himself short enough to want to commit his chips with pocket tens, and additionally was uncomfortably sandwiched between the pocket nines of Dario Sammartino and pocket jacks of Maimone.

"I was on the button and I told myself if I have queens, kings, or aces I'm obviously calling, but if I have jacks it's close," said Maimone of the situation. "And I look down at jacks. It's a critical point. It worked out beautifully."

Indeed, the best pocket pair held, and Astapau left in ninth, a finish worth $116,640 and good enough to push his lifetime tournament earnings up over $1.4 million.

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Aston Astapau - 9th place

Maimone used those chips and more won from subsequent pots eventually to wrestle the chip lead from Beckley, then added a few more when his ace-eight outdrew the pocket sevens of the UK's Ben Heath. Both an ace and an eight came among the community cards, meaning Heath was knocked out by the dead man's hand.

A Sunday Million champion, Heath's eighth-place finish helps kick the year off strong following a WSOP final table and EPT11 Malta side event win in 2015.

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Ben Heath - 8th place

As Maimone continued to thrive, Chance Kornuth -- third-place finisher in the PCA Main Event here just a year ago -- found himself the short one and all in versus both Maimone and Brian Yoon. The Colorado player's ace-nine was drawing thin against Yoon's ace-jack and Maimone's pocket fours before the flop, by the turn Yoon had made a straight, and one card later Kornuth was done in sixth.

Kornuth adds nearly another $200K to the $2.5 million in career earnings he had before entering this one, and left with a signature smile after another successful sojourn in the Bahamas.

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Chance Kornuth - 7th place

The Russian Andrey Zaichenko had similarly amassed about $2.35 million in live scores before this week, with a win in the EPT11 Prague High Roller representing his best previous live score. And he's won millions more online, including a WCOOP, a SCOOP, and a Sunday Million on PokerStars as "Kroko-dill."

Zaichenko began Day 3 below the average, and remained short-stacked until shoving with ace-seven and running into Maimone's ace-jack. No help came from the board, and Zaichenko went out in sixth as a third victim in four of Maimone.

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Andrey Zaichenko - 6th place

Maimone would score the next knockout as well, although not before Sean Winter began rising in the counts to take over the top spot. Yoon would be the next to fall in fifth when his pocket fives couldn't hold versus Maimone's king-queen.

The Californian already won one title at this year's PCA in Event #32, a $2,200 NLHE 8-handed "Win the Button" Turbo, another piece of hardware to go along with his two WSOP bracelets. And with today's cash he adds nearly $350K to his career total, now up around $2.75M.

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Brian Yoon - 5th place

The final four played a short while longer, then went for an early dinner break with Winter leading, Maimone not far behind, and Sammartino and Beckley the short stacks. On their first hand back came a stunner of a hand in which Maimone rivered a straight flush to best Beckley's turned ace-high flush, and when Beckley shoved the river Maimone called to collect more chips and another knockout.

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Josh Beckley - 4th place

Before the tournament, Beckley -- runner-up in the 2015 WSOP Main Event for a cool $4.47M -- had tweeted this would be his first-ever high roller event after winning a seat in a satellite, and he did quite fine for himself cashing for nearly $440K.

That made Sammertino the short stack, and with his friend and fellow high roller Mustapha Kanit railing him he battled gamely before falling in a hand to Maimone. The Italian's king-ten couldn't outdraw Maimone's pocket sevens, and he was out in third.

After final-tabling both the EPT11 Grand Final €100,000 Super High Roller and the EPT11 Grand Final €25K High Roller, Sammertino adds another deep HR run to carry his career earnings up over $3 million.

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Dario Sammartino - 3rd place

That set up heads-up between two worthy adversaries, with Maimone owning the edge with 6.495 million to Winter's 4.855 million to start their duel.

Winter, a Floridian, has been on something of a high rolling hot streak of late, finishing third in a $25K event at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open in August, winning a $25K event at the ARIA in October, then taking fourth in the $100K WPT Alpha8 Las Vegas last month, all helping boost his career tourney winnings over $2.4 million.

Maimone is also from the eastern U.S., hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina. He has less in live earnings that Winter -- the bulk of which came from a 15th-place finish in the 2009 WSOP Main Event -- but has won millions online including on PokerStars where as "FU_15" (standing for Furman University, not whatever else you were thinking) he regularly goes deep in Super Tuesdays, Sunday majors, and other big events.

Before beginning, they left for some deal talk, and after a lengthy discussion agreed to terms leaving $30K and the trophy to play for while guaranteeing $966,480 for Maimone and $914,580 for Winter.

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Deal talk

The pace of play was lightning quick between the pair, with a decision made early on to reduce the levels to a half-hour, although as it happened that decision didn't matter too much. Soon after they began, Maimone won a series of pots to knock Winter down under 3 million, and when he committed it all with king-ten versus Maimone's ace-king, the latter hand held and it was all over in a flash.

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Sean Winter - 2nd place

Maimone more than doubles his live tourney totals. And with many more pictures taken, he's got plenty of photos chronicling the moments following his biggest live win.

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Nick Maimone - 2016 PCA $25K High Roller Champion

2016 PCA $25,000 High Roller final table results
Entries: 225
Places paid: 31
Prize pool: $5,400,000

1. Nick Maimone (USA) $996,480*
2. Sean Winter (USA) $914,580*
3. Dario Sammertino (Italy) $542,160
4. Josh Beckley (USA) $439,560
5. Brian Yoon (USA) $347,760
6. Andrey Zaichenko (Russia) $264,060
7. Chance Kornuth (USA) $192,780
8. Ben Heath (UK) $140,940
* = denotes a two-way deal leaving $30,000 for the winner

* Click here for the live updates archive from Day 3 of the $25K High Roller
* Click here for a complete list of $25,000 High Roller payouts

Thanks to Carlos Monti and Joe Giron for their excellent photos from the $25K High Roller. And thanks as well to you for following our coverage of the $25K High Roller and the rest of this year's 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. It's not over yet! The Main Event is still ongoing -- head over to the Main Event live updates page to follow that one to its exciting finish.

Want to be here next year? Sign up for PokerStars and start your journey. Click here to get an account.

Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.

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