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Updated: Joker's wild, 11-hour World Series of Poker finale

You've already figured it out this morning if you flicked on ESPN expecting to see SportsCenter, but the World Series of Poker final table experienced an epic marathon that makes your home game that lasts until 2 a.m. feel like a sprint.

The final three players sat down at 8:45 EST to vie for the $8.5 milllion first prize. And they played... and played.

It took 11 hours into their battle (including breaks), until one -- Jacob Balsiger -- was eliminated, about 9 a.m. EST, 6 a.m. Las Vegas time. Then 17 hands later, Greg Merson's K-5 held up against Jesse Sylvia's Q-J. That's a long time to concentrate, not make a mistake and just sit.

For those who don't follow poker that much, the World Series of Poker main event -- the big tournament everyone cares about -- started in July and played down to the final nine. Those nine regathered to battle on Monday night, cutting the field down to three, who played in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suites Hotel in Las Vegas, and those three had hardy fans still cheering after every hand (yes, that's what poker has come to) and pulling an all-nighter.  Good thing these guys don't have kids they have to get ready for school.

ESPN showed the action on a 15-minute delay this year, meaning that we saw not only the big hands, but the nuances along the way of hands that could merely involve three people folding.

In the past few years, ESPN has shown the final table on a half-day tape delay, recording all the action, then doing a quick edit. But this format proved so compelling last year -- and TV viewing of poker has changed -- that ESPN just went with the 15-minute "live" show. Now that this epic night has gone on and on -- cutting into morning shows -- I'd bet that they'll be rethinking it again for next year.


 A little more on Merson ... He attended the University of Maryland but did not graduate, and is a professional poker player. He credits the game with saving his life after developing a drug habit while attending college, according to a press release. The Main Event victory was Merson’s second seven-figure prize at this year’s WSOP.  He also won a $10,000 6-handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament this summer that yielded him $1,136,197.

“I’ve played a lot of long cash games in my career, which helps you prepare for something like this, but this whole stage is something you can’t ever really prepare for,”  Merson said shortly after winning the tournament and tearfully placing his gold bracelet on the wrist of his mother. “I couldn’t feel better for everyone who I’m sharing this victory with.”


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