(AP) -- Two poker professionals and a college student have begun their final run at the World Series of Poker toward poker's richest prize -- an $8.53 million crown in Las Vegas.

Arizona State senior Jake Balsiger and card pros Greg Merson of Laurel, Md., and Jesse Sylvia of Las Vegas began play Tuesday night having already outlasted six others at a final table that began on Monday.

Balsiger eliminated Russell Thomas in fourth place just after midnight early Tuesday to set up the trio's final showdown. The 21-year-old is seeking to become the series' youngest ever no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event champion.

Merson goes in with 88.4 million in chips, compared with 62.8 million for Sylvia and 46.9 million for Balsiger.

Each competitor is guaranteed at least $3.8 million.

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