It’s finally here, the conclusion of one of the largest events in World Poker Tour history. On Monday, December 19 the final six players in the massive WPT Prime Championship will reconvene after a week off to crown a champion and determine who will walk away with the $712,650 first-place prize.
Looking back, perhaps everyone should have anticipated the ultimate success of this event. However, the $1,100 buy-in defied original expectations as 5,430 entries piled into the Encore Ballroom at the Wynn, shattering the $2 million guarantee to push the prize pool to $5,276,100. The tournament not only set a new record for a WPT Prime Event but essentially doubled the largest WPT event at this buy-in level under any name.
But now there are just six players remaining, all of whom have locked up $153,000.
Leading the final table is Lara Eisenberg. Eisenberg is no stranger to coming up big in critical spots. Case in point, she won the 2021 WSOP Ladies Championship for $115,694 and has cashed in five WPT events prior to this.
“It’s awesome,” she said mere moments after securing her spot at the final table. “One of my big dreams was to final table a major, so this is just a huge bucket list item.”
According to Hendon Mob, Eisenberg has more than $500,000 in live tournament earnings, and no matter where she finishes in the WPT Prime Championship, she’ll have locked up a new career-high score. Even though she’s the chip leader headed into play with 65 big blinds, her reputation is such that she’s never afraid to make the right move.
“I think I just try to make the best play in the moment. I’m not afraid to pull the trigger in spots where you need to take a risk.”
Just one big blind behind Eisenberg sits well-known tournament grinder Stephen Song. With more than $4.4 million in live earnings, Song is the All-Time Money List leader for the state of Connecticut (no small feat).
“Honestly, everyone is pretty good,” Song said of the final six. “So I’ve just gotta run good and see if I get chosen. That’s how poker is.”
With more than 50 live results in 2022, Song has also put himself in a position to hit a new career-high score and that’s saying something considering the major accomplishments he’s turned in this year. Early in the year, he finished in 6th place at WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown $25K for $130,600 and nearly captured his second WSOP gold bracelet with a runner-up finish in the notoriously tough $5K six-max for $476,990.
Song comes in second in chips with 64 big blinds and would need to finish second or higher to surpass his previous best result. But no matter where Song finishes, it’s clear that it’s been a career year for the pro.
Albert Nguyen should be feeling pretty good as well headed into the final table. Nguyen has a history of success at the Wynn, including a 2nd place finish in the 2021 Wynn Fall Classic in which he took home a career-high $550,959.
While witnessing the play down to the final six, it seemed as if these mid-stakes buy-in events are where Nguyen feels comfortable. When play got nine-handed, Nguyen’s demeanor seemed loose, his play aggressive. Perhaps his confidence has been boosted with a string of healthy five-figure scores throughout 2022. Nguyen, third in chips, will start with 54 big blinds.
It’s a virtual tie for fourth on the chip counts as Young Eum and Giorgii Skhulukhiia both have 33 big blinds and a difference of less and one-half a small blind. That’s not the only thing these players have in common, they both have a wealth of experience in large field events, and both of them have recently secured a major title.
Eum topped the 5,832 entries of the 2022 WSOP Mini Main to capture the $594,189 first-place prize. That cash is a large part of his nearly $1.5 million in live tournament earnings.
“More people, more money – that’s the way I like it,” Eum said about the WPT Prime Championship. “I knew it was going to be a big series so I couldn’t pass it by.”
Eastern European pro Skhulukhiia has an intimidating presence on the felt and career results to back it up. While he only has one previous WPT result, he’s accumulated more than $2.3 million in live earnings with wins in EPT side events, Merit Poker tournaments, and, most notably, a victory in the 2021 partypoker LIVE MILLIONS in North Cyprus for over $683,000.
Both Eum and Skhulukhiia have been here before and with more than 30 bigs each, both may be on the lower half of the chip counts but are still plenty in contention for the title.
Rounding out the final six is Canadian Alon Messica, the short stack sitting with 23 big blinds. While Messica has been in the game a long time, with live results dating back to 2008, this is clearly the biggest spot he’s ever been in.
The guaranteed $153,000 payday is more than 10x his next largest cash, which came in a deep run in the 2022 WSOP $777 Lucky 7’s for $12,670. That’s not to say that Messica is going to play scared. With seven players left, Messica was involved in some big all-ins, including the second to last hand where he doubled through Mark Tornai.
If you are looking for an underdog to root for, perhaps throw your support behind Messica.
The WPT Prime Championship final table will be livestreamed on WPT’s YouTube and Twitch channels and Live Updates can be found right here.