Chad Willett prevailed over Rich Alsup after a marathon heads-up match in the Mid-States Poker Tour Meskwaki Main Event, banking $96,760 following the grueling three-hour battle. Willett defeated a field of 371 runners for the score, though he nearly let an epic chip lead slip away heads up before recovering for the win.
After the elimination of Harry Finnimore in third place, victory seemed all but assured for Willett. He had 6.48 million with blinds sitting at 25,000/50,000/5,000, while Alsup had a playable, but much smaller stack of 905,000. Alsup battled back over the course of the next two hours, doubling up three times when he got short before finally mounting a sustained charge. Alsup kept winning seemingly three small pots to every one for Willett, and by the time Level 30 (50,000/100,000/10,000) began, Alsup had about a 2-1 lead.
That's when the turning point hit, though, with Willett limping in and Alsup raising to 300,000. Willett called. Alsup checked the J♥9♦K♦flop, and Willett bet 500,000. Alsup put him all in for about 1.5 million more, and Willett called it off with the K♠4♥, seeing he was in good shape against the A♥J♠. His hand held, and mere moments later the chips were all in the middle with Alsup holding the K♥Q♥ and trailing Willett's A♦9♦. Neither player hit anything, and Willett secured the win.
Before any of that took place, 73 players filtered into the tournament area for Day 2 at 10:30 a.m. A slew of recognizable names fell before the money, including Lance Harris, Ben Wiora, John Reading, DJ Buckley, and Mark Hodge. The latter, the current MSPT Player of the Year points leader, ended a remarkable streak of six straight MSPT cashes when he ran QxQx into KxKx early in the day.
Willett got some ammo early in the day when Mario Hudson paid off his 150,000 bet when Willett had aces full on an Ax7xJx7x2x board. That pot put him at 700,000 during Level 20 (5,000/10,000/1,000). In the meantime, the money was reached with 36 players left, after which notable names Mike Ross, Ben Keeline, Matt Kirby, Thao Thiem, Dan Sun, Rob Wazwaz, and Josh Reichard busted out and collected cashes as the final table bubble approached.
After the elimination of Darek Anderson in 11th, the final table was set with Hudson looking like the overwhelming favorite holding more than a quarter of the chips in play.
Reichard's father, Brett Reichard, was the first to go down after dinner, falling short in a bid to join his son as an MSPT champ. Ryan Hohenstein(ninth) and Rodger Johnson (eighth) quickly followed.
Level 27 (25,000/50,000/5,000) proved to be an eventful one as short stacks James Livingston (seventh) and Robert Wittman (sixth) could hold on no longer and busted after losing most of their chips to blinds and antes.
Joe Matheson then ran his kings to Willett's aces, leaving someone other than Hudson chip leader for the first time in hours. Another monster pair-versus-pair confrontation followed, one of the most critical pots of the tournament. Hudson three-bet to 350,000 over a Finnimore open, and Willett shoved from the big blind. Finnimore mucked, but Hudson snapped in with the A♥A♠ for about 2 million. Willett had the J♣J♦ and took the pot when the board ran out 3♦J♥7♥2♣4♦.
Willett then busted Finnimore moments later, calling a shove with the 8♣7♣ and getting lucky against the K♠9♣, setting up the heads-up duel.
Willett wasn't shy about expressing his relief after the win.
"These guys are grinders, man," he said.