They came eyeing a £1m first prize and tonight it has become the opening deposit into the new European bank account of Michael Martin, the 24-year-old from Washing Cross, PA. The popular young American went from hero to zero to hero again and eventually stood firm against the buffeting of an especially brutal final table. At one point, he was down to just 95,000 in chips and in the big blind of 80,000. But he tripled, doubled and doubled up again to vault into a chip lead with four remaining and it was never relinquished from that point on.
Martin's mother, girlfriend and good friend Brandon Schaefer all flew to see him at the final table and each was richly rewarded for their troubles. Despite a wretched opening couple of levels, which his supporters viewed through their fingers, Martin enjoyed a mini-renaissance, then another slump but then that surging comeback through just three remarkable hands. And when the fluctuations finally ended just before 11pm, Martin was a millionaire.
See the interview with Michael Martin shortly after winning the EPT London...
Watch EPT London 08: The Winner - Michael Martin on PokerStars.tv
The final table was notable for more reasons than just that £1m. It was the third appearance there within a year for the Frenchman Antony Lellouche and the second for Johannes Strassmann, who has also twice bubbled one short of the last eight. Lellouche had the chance to go one better than his second place in San Remo in April; Strassmann had the opportunity to make it two from two this season for the German Shooting Stars team after Sebastian Ruthenberg's success in Barcelona last month.
How they lined up
But in the event, they were the first two out the door. Strassmann accounted for Lellouche with K-J versus A-9 - although Lellouche had previously lost a race on the first hand of the final, when his pocket fours lost against Philippe Dauteuil's A-K.
But then Strassmann again found himself on the ropes, thumped relentlessly by the gods of ill fortune. Martin doubled up through the German with the first vicious outdraw, and then the Team PokerStars Pro Marcin Horecki also put Strassmann to the sword with Q-J against Strassmann's A-10. A jack rivered to take another chunk. Strassmann's final hand was jacks against king-queen. Martin had the K-Q but the queen flopped and the Shooting Star was sunk.
Next to fall was Alan Smurfit, the Irish player who probably has more experience of live poker than all of his opponents put together.
The 66-year-old describes himself as a recreational player, but only because he evidently enjoys it too much to describe it as work. But there's no doubt he could also make a living this way: he proudly uses his World Series of Poker bracelet as his card protector and frequently cashes in the major events across the world.
This was his first EPT final table (athough he made 14th here last year) and it would end with £153,351 for sixth place. After allowing himself to get short stacked, he pushed in with A-4 and it was that man Martin who called with J-J. There were no surprises for Smurfit and he was gone.
Philippe Dauteuil, from Canada, took fifth. He had led the tournament for long periods through days two and three, but struggled to get his game going on the final table despite some of the most vociferous support from the rail. Some of them might have been enjoying a beer or two as they hooted and honked from the bleachers, supporting their countryman, but they were silenced when he ran pocket eights into Horecki's pocket kings.
While all this sound and fury was playing out on and around the final table, one man had impressed just about everyone who knows anything about poker. His name was Eric Liu, from San Francisco, a high-stakes cash game player who committed himself earlier this year to learning to improve his live tournament play. If he improves it much more, he's going to be one of the all-time greats: he bossed the feature table for two full days hardly ever showing a hand down and building a massive stack.
With four left, Liu had more chips than all of his opponents combined. But even he couldn't survive this most crippling of contests and was knocked out in fourth. In his post-tournament interview, he blamed his inexperience for his demise, but there's not a great deal you can do when you fail to hit flush or straight draws, with an overcard, then run a suited ace into pocket rockets, then collide with a player (Martin) on the maddest run of cards ever seen at an EPT final table. There is no doubt whatsoever that Eric Liu will be back.
The final three were the aforementioned Martin, the Swedish PokerStars qualifier Michael Tureniec and another man we're going to hear a whole lot about: Marcin Horecki. The Pole is the newest member of Team PokerStars Pro, signed up after a glittering start to his poker career with some terrific results across Europe and then a call to poker's brightest Team for the World Series of Poker.
In his first outings in Team colours, he has been quiet and efficient, impressing table-mates with his solid aggression. And here in London it paid rich dividends as he found the right time to shove his short stack in over and over again until, at one point, it was the biggest at the table. Of course, he also couldn't account for Martin and lost a huge pot to him when the American's 10-2 made trips on the river. Eventually, the remainder of his chips were in the middle behind K-8 and it couldn't beat the K-J of Tureniec.
Third place is a terrific showing from the Polish player, matching the superlative exploits on the European Poker Tour of several of his Team PokerStars Pro colleagues. Welcome to the club, Marcin.
Horecki's departure, however, left two for the money. Two for a million pounds - somewhere north of a $1.7m and huge bucks in any language. As it always tends to, it went this way and that, hither and thither, with Martin's three-to-one chip lead reined in, then extended, then reined in again. The crucial pot came shortly into level 31, where the blinds and antes had been raised to 60,000-120,000, and Martin picked off a ballsy bluff from Tureniec. The Swede had a stab at a jack-high board with nothing but queen high, but Martin called for a huge chunk of his stack with second-pair 10s and they were good.
Soon after, it all went in pre-flop with Martin holding pocket fours and Tureniec holding K-9. The fours made a set on the turn and the millionaire was crowned.
A word, though, about Tureniec. He paid $800 to enter a last chance satellite for EPT London on PokerStars held the weekend before the tournament began.
Michael Tureniec turned $800 into £500,000
He won his seat, found his way to Great Britain, and the super parlay began. He took more than half a million pounds for second place, joining that increasingly well-populated club of PokerStars players making fortunes from very little indeed.
But now the dust has settled, it's Martin with the million and the broadest smile. He was on the alternates list for this capacity tournament, not certain to even get his seat. But he was called in mid-way through level one and never looked back. A great champion and richly deserved.
It's good-night from this half of EPT London.
And don't forget PokerStars.tv to keep you entertained for as long as you need entertaining.