Jesse Sylvia survives poker showdown, plays for title tonight

Jesse Sylvia received congratulations from his family Monday night after winning a big hand in the World Series of Poker. — Photo by Steve Myrick

After more than seven hours of emotional swings, exhausting concentration, and million-dollar pressure, Jesse Sylvia emerged as one of three poker players still standing in the World Series of Poker final table. Along with fellow competitors Greg Merson and Jake Balsiger, Mr. Sylvia will play the final hands this evening.

The final day of the event will be televised on ESPN beginning at 9 pm tonight.

When the field was narrowed to three and play stopped just after 3 am, Mr. Sylvia took a leap into the cheering section where his family spent the entire evening urging him on. He said he was aware of the support as he played.

“It gave me so much more,” Mr. Sylvia said just after play ended for the night.

Even if he were to finish third, he is guaranteed $3,799,073. Second place money is $5,295,249. The winner of the tournament, which began with more than 6,000 players, will take home $8,531,853.

Mr. Sylvia ranks second in chips after the first day of final table play. He came into the final table with a big chip lead, but he did not sit on his lead. He played very aggressively, risking his chips repeatedly, and more often than not, winning the hand.

His cheering section of about 60 friends who traveled from Martha’s Vineyard was the most boisterous group in the stadium, trading cheers and chants across the room with his father, Wayne Sylvia, sisters Randi and Nica, and his mom, Marlene DiStefano, and his girlfriend, Ashley Sleeth, who were seated on the other side of the theater.

At one point, the boisterous crowd offered, though a bit prematurely, a plan to spend some of Mr. Sylvia’s winnings on a well known Martha’s Vineyard establishment.

“Let’s buy the Ritz, let’s buy the Ritz,” they chanted over and over.

The high stakes, high pressure poker tournament brought the crowd to its feet again and again.

About three hours into final table play, Mr. Sylvia was looking at losing a big hand, but drew one of only two cards left in the deck that could win him the hand, and his supporters erupted in the loudest cheer of the night.

On the very next hand, Mr. Sylvia pushed in five million chips on a bluff, and lost a total of 10 million in the hand, and slipped into second place. He kept putting pressure on his opponents, and it resulted in a chance to win poker’s biggest prize this evening.