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Amateur Anthony Merulla wins WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open

After a shaky start and one cancelled tournament, the Borgata Winter Poker Open festival finished in style, crowning a new World Poker Tour (WPT) champion.

It wasn’t about 2013 WPT Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble champ, Jarred Jaffee, who had the opportunity to become only the sixth player ever to win twice in the same season. It wasn’t even about chip leader David Paredes, who thought that the third time’s the charm after cashing in twice this season. It was all about an amateur who emerged victorious after starting the final day at the bottom of the chip lead.

Anthony Merulla had the fifth stack when six-handed play started and came out on top in the end proving once again that in poker everything is possible. The amateur didn’t waste any time in building his stack and on the 11th hand of the day, he won his first big pot. Although he had a big hand – pocket Queens – Merulla was severely dominated in a three-way battle against Jared Jaffee and Columbian Farid Jattin. Both Merulla and Jattin moved all their chips in the middle pre-flop calling big stack Jaffee. Jaffee had only pocket tens with the Columbian being the big dog, holding pocket Kings. The flop was safe and changed nothing, but the turn and the river were a real emotional rollercoaster. The turn gave Jaffee a set and the big chance to eliminate two players in one shot. The river, however, reshaped the odds once again and gave Merulla the flush and the best hand.

He was the one who eventually eliminated the WPT Jacksonville champ just four hands later. Jaffee moved all-in pre-flop holding King-Jack with his last 14 big blinds and was called by Merulla, who had the slight lead with his Ace-Eight suited. The Ace turn wrapped things up for Jaffee, who finished fourth for $258,590.

After that, the action slowed down and the three players left had to play 61 hands before one of the them hit the rail. Anthony Maio was the unlucky one to finish third; he open-raised the button with pocket Queens and Merulla called from the small blind. The flop was all diamonds with Maio firing a continuation bet and his opponent smooth calling. Maio fired the second barrel only to watch the amateur move all-in. He eventually called and was drawing dead against a flopped flush.

The heads-up play was another marathon. The finalists played 95 hands and switched the chip lead time and time again before the final hand. And it was once again a queen that brought Merulla the victory. Paredes started the action min-raising from the small blind; Merulla called and led on a Q-6-3 flop. Eventually, after several raises and re-raises, all the chips were in the middle. Paredes had top pair, but Merulla had Queen-Three and two pair. Nothing changed on the turn and river with the amateur winning the big tournament and $842,379. Paredes cashed in $499,549.

“I know (Paredes) has an edge on me heads-up. I thing I’ve got a little bit better at recognizing when people are better than me. I used to play online heads-up and I felt fairly comfortable playing heads-up. I’ve just played my game, ran pretty well in some spots and was able to beat him one time,” the winner said in a WPT interview.

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Florian Gheorghe