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Sunday, January 16, 2011
Galen Hall crowned 2011 PCA champion

If you were to tell me a couple of days ago that I would be wrapping up coverage of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event at 5 a.m., I probably would've been a little tilted. Fast-forward a bit: It's 5 a.m., the final table has been completed and I'm still writing, but I'm not bothered in the least. This final table offered poker fans one of the unique experiences in the industry, and history was made. Although the stories may highlight Galen Hall's becoming the 2011 PCA main event champion, the real excitement of the night was that for the first time on ESPN, we broadcast the final table, unedited and with hole cards.

Galen Hall
Galen Hall earned $2.3 million for his victory in the 2011 PCA main event.

As Gary Wise wrote on Saturday, this innovative way to broadcast the final table was indeed an industry changer. We witnessed the action of the final table from the first hand and were part of the highs and lows for all the players as they battled for final-table glory. It was as though we were watching a movie in which we could yell at the character and tell him not to go into the water … but then he jumped right in. We were at the felt. We were part of the action, and for the first time on ESPN, we saw exactly what it takes to battle through more than 200 hands to become the champion.

Hall earned this title, but he didn't come out firing. He entered the final table ranked second in chips and patiently waited to strike. He watched Philippe Plouffe vanish in eighth place and witnessed Max Weinberg make a five-bet in a great spot, then take an absolutely brutal beating to Mike Sowers before getting eliminated in seventh. Bolivar Palacios stayed relatively quiet and seemed to just want to move up the pay scale with his tentative play. Hall knocked him out in sixth place. Once five-handed play began, Chris Oliver took control.

Oliver's range seemed to be any two cards at any given moment, and that style seemed to work out well for most of the final table. He was playing nearly 50 percent of the hands at the final table before he reached heads-up action. Oliver knocked out Sowers holding the all-powerful 8-2 and flopping two pair on an 8-3-2 board when Sowers held 4-4. Sam Stein also fell to Oliver, making a questionable call holding A-9 and facing an Oliver all-in five-bet. Oliver's A-Q held on, and Stein, who made his second North American Poker Tour final table, finished fourth to earn $1 million.

Anton Ionel finished third after playing fewer than 10 hands during the entire final table. His elimination left Oliver and Hall to battle heads-up with Hall in a 3-to-1 deficit. Three hands into heads-up play, Hall made one of the most impressive folds we've seen in a very long time, especially given the situation.

Hall opened the pot to 450,000 chips with 8-4, and heads-up was a standard play. Oliver, holding A-2, called, and the two saw a flop of 5-3-2. Oliver checked his bottom pair, Hall made a continuation bet of 575,000, and Oliver called. The turn brought another 2, and both players checked. The river was an ace, giving a straight to Hall and a full house to Oliver. Let the metagame begin.

Oliver checked, which in itself was impressive. He knew that Hall would fire out at this pot no matter what. Hall made a nearly pot-sized bet of 2 million, and Oliver moved all-in for 10 million. Hall rationalized that Oliver would make some sort of play like this only with a full house or potentially a better straight, and after minutes of contemplation, Hall folded to the amazement of everyone in attendance and watching below. (Check out Sunday's Poker Edge podcast for Hall's full analysis of the hand and how he came to the conclusion that he was beaten.)

From that point on, Oliver had the dominating stack and kept the pressure on, but Hall slowly chipped away. After nearly three hours, the heads-up battle came down to two key hands and the ultimate cooler for Oliver. Both players flopped two pair on a board of A-2-4, with Hall having A-2 and Oliver having 2-4. The chips went in and Hall's hand held, and for the first time he had more than $20 million in chips. On the very next hand, Hall picked up K-K and Oliver moved all-in with A-9. No ace surfaced, and Hall was the overwhelming chip leader for the first time in the tournament.

Oliver picked up Q-Q a couple of hands later and was all-in and well ahead against Hall's A-8, but a flop of A-K-8 ended most of Oliver's dreams. After no improvement on the turn or river, he finished and earned $1.8 million.

It was an incredible final table and, thankfully, one you can watch again on demand. As we watched Hall's final-table journey, he gained a tremendous amount of respect from poker enthusiasts, and with this win, he has become a rising star in the game.

1. Galen Hall ($2,300,000)
2. Chris Oliver ($1,800,000)
3. Anton Ionel ($1,350,000)
4. Sam Stein ($1,000,000)
5. Mike Sowers ($700,000)
6. Bolivar Palacios ($450,000)
7. Max Weinberg ($300,000)
8. Philippe Plouffe ($202,000)

$25,000 High Roller

As the final table played out, the $25,000 High Roller event at PCA played down to the final 12 players from the starting 151 who began on Friday. Leading the final dozen is Jason Mercier, but the remaining field is packed with stars including Erik Seidel, 2010 CardPlayer Player of the Year Tom Marchese and David "Bakes" Baker. First place in the event will pay $1 million, and the final table will play out on Sunday.