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Jayr Fregona was short-stacked on Day 1. He was short-stacked on Day 2. He started Day 3 in 21st chip position of 25 players. And he started Day 4 as 8th of 8.
Despite being that perpetual short stack, Fregona kept surviving. Sometimes, in players' efforts to get all the chips and win the tournament, they forget that tournament poker is as much about survival as it is about accumulating all the chips. Fregona survived to get heads up. Then he needed to accumulate all the chips.
He had work to do, starting as a slight chip underdog. But on the first hand of heads-up play, he moved all in on the turn after he and Robbie Renehan had each already put a million chips in the pot. When Renehan folded, someone other than Fregona was the short stack for the first time in days. Better yet, Fregona had the chip lead.
It didn't last though. The two traded pots back and forth until Renehan restored his chip position. Then he took another leg out from under Fregona, pushing Fregona down to 1.5 million in chips. With time running down on Level 29, Renehan opened for 250,000, his standard open. Fregona squeezed out A♥8♠, enough for him to shove all in for 1.5 million. Renehan snap-called with pocket queens.
Early in the day, we saw medium and weak aces go up against pocket pairs and come out smelling clean by spiking an ace. That was what Fregona needed here if he was going to keep surviving, as he had done for most of four days.
Three babies on the flop didn't make strong case for Fregona: 4♦2♥7♣. He was in trouble, in need of some of that Irish luck that Renehan was hoarding since late yesterday. The turn? The T♦. No help there. Down to one last chance to find an ace, any ace.
Instead, Renehan made a set of queens with the Q♠ river, eliminating Fregona and wrapping up his first live tournament win and his first live tournament score of five figures or more. Fregona had nothing to be ashamed of. He started the day with 9.5 big blinds and somehow found himself with the chip lead with only two players left.
He just couldn't quite get all the way home.