There's no way to begin this report with anything but the statement of an amazing fact: Victoria Coren Mitchell is the first ever two-time European Poker Tour champion.
Today in Sanremo, Italy, the Team PokerStars Pro from London, England, completed the most remarkable double -- the seemingly impossible double -- adding the title here to the one she won in September 2006, 2,765 days ago.
This is a day we have waited for on the EPT for even longer, 3,500 days to be precise, ever since Alexander Stevic won in Barcelona in September 2004 to get the whole show on the road. There have been occasions, many years ago, when we thought it would be a formality, and then many dark years more when it seemed it would never happen.
But now, in the 98th EPT Main Event, the two-time champion hoodoo is finally put to rest, and it is impossible to think of a more popular champion. Coren Mitchell is without question the best known poker player in the United Kingdom and her endeavours in the media -- she is a journalist, television personality, film director and all-round raconteur -- have endeared her to huge swaths of the mainstream.
Poker is going to enjoy an enormous uptick in popularity, clinging on the coat-tails of this sensational triumph. The €476,100 winner's prize, plus SLYDE watch, is by no means insignificant, but in terms of what this means in the wider world, it almost seems like an afterthought.
"People in poker know it's about showing a profit," Coren Mitchell said, whose lifetime earnings from poker now total $2,406,126. "The minute I won €8,000 it was a good trip. But tens of thousands of people (on Twitter) got behind me. I thought I'd be happy with sixth, but also thought they'd be disappointed."
She added: "I kept calling my husband during the breaks asking, 'Is sixth place all right? Fifth place?'" At which point David Mitchell, the aforementioned other half, spoke from the side of the stage: "I thought perhaps I should have been saying, 'You must be first!' Not, 'Eighth seems great.'"
Coren Mitchell was the short stack coming into the final, but had shown some impeccable timing with any number of chips throughout the tournament, and wasn't planning to do anything reckless. Instead, it was Emmanuel Pariset, the French player who had been clinging on for dear life since Day 2, who was the first to fall.
It was a turbulent, short day for Pariset, during which he bluffed at a couple of pots, was bluffed in a couple of others, made some monsters (an aces over eights full house, for example) but then ran into kings and was knocked out. He conspired to move all in out of turn in that last pot and that allowed Benelli to make a pretty easy call. Pariset made €53,100 for eighth.
Benelli now assumed the duties of the big stack. The home favourite, who is never shy to get his money in the middle, had some sizeable hands to match his sizeable stack and overtook Jordan Westmorland to assume the lead. He stepped out to allow Coren Mitchell to double her short stack through Andreas Goeller's with kings against sevens, but was straight back at the coal-face with 9♦T♠ and a flop of K♥J♣Q♣ to take a massive dent out of Andrija Martic and his A♠K♣.
That was the decisive pot for Martic, but his bad beats weren't even done. He got his last remaining chips in very soon after with A♠J♣ against Benelli's K♠J♠ and Benelli went runner-runner flush to oust the Croatian. Seventh place paid €76,650.
Westmorland, who led at the end of the previous two days, had dealt with the Benelli momentum in typical style: amiable indifference. This American player has dazzled everyone in Italy this week with his unshakeable joie de vivre. Whether leading the pack or in a temporary slump, Westmorland's demeanour has not changed. He knows he has a pretty good life whatever happens at the poker tables, and tends simply to get on with it regardless.
Of course, this unflappable approach again paid dividends. Westmorland soon went on a surge of his own and busted Bruno Stefanelli with jacks against A♠J♦. Stefanelli earned €102,700 for sixth.
Then Westmorland won a pot from Giacomo Fundaro with quad threes. He then also flopped a flush draw and bottom pair on a flop of J♥3♠5♥ (Westmorland had A♥3♥) and found Goeller shoving into him with middle pair.
Westmorland made the call and Goeller probably knew this wouldn't be good. He didn't win any pots of any note today. Sure enough, the 3♣ came on the turn and Goeller's unfortunate day ended in fifth. He picked up €130,750.
After they went four handed, a passage of play that lasted a good couple of hours, it again became the Andrea Benelli show--but this was the ugly side of things. Benelli lost a succession of pots, including two big ones against Westmorland. JWPRODIGY flopped a flush to beat Benelli's flopped pair of aces, and then Benelli's queens ended up second-best to Westmorland's 9♣7♠. Westmorland backed into a straight.
Benelli was already visibly shaken by the downturn his tournament had taken, but he had saved the worst of it until last. He got his chips in with K♥T♠, Fundaro called with a dominated Q♠T♣ but the pre-flop domination evaporated on the queen-high flop. Benelli was bounced in fourth, for €166,700.
Westmorland still had the most chips, about the same as his two adversaries combined. But here's where poker can be an exhilarating game, and matters were turned on their head in an instant.
Westmorland found Q♣T♠ and, after Coren Mitchell called his raise in the big blind, must have been delighted to see a flop of T♦T♥2♠. His next task was to figure a way to get all the money into the middle.
Little did he know how easy that would be. Coren Mitchell, you see, had A♦T♣ and was actually trapping the young American. The chips did eventually fly, completing a sensational double up for Coren Mitchell and putting her beyond 11 million in chips.
Coren Mitchell finished off Westmorland very soon after, with A♦3♠ to his Q♥6♥. "That's poker," he said, as Coren Mitchell offered an apologetic hug.
After coming from so far behind, and clinging on for so long, Coren Mitchell was now well established in the driving seat and wasn't going to let this momentum dissipate.
Fundaro had neither the chips nor the cards to do much about it, and when he did find the biggest pair of them all -- black aces -- he only managed to get the chips in the middle when he was behind. By that point, Coren, with Q♠J♣, had flopped two pair and faded the outdraw outs. She clasped her hands over her face and looked at the heavens in disbelief.
If we thought this could never happen, one can have no idea at all how it felt to be in her shoes. "You played very well, congratulations," Fundaro, the beaten finalist and Coca-Cola fiend, said. He wins €298,700.
Westmorland, meanwhile, sprinted downstairs from the main casino and led the charge on to the stage to celebrate with his new friend, Coren Mitchell. They have played many hours together this week, and have been chatting throughout. "She's a sweetheart," Westmorland said. "If I could lose to anyone it would be her."
Even on the subject of the cooler that accounted for his chances, Westmorland was gracious. "I knew that's what I got myself in for when I started this game," he said. "But I will win a live tournament soon." He's a classy dude.
Coren Mitchell, meanwhile, headed off into the Italian evening with her life in a beautiful quandary. "I've long since lost the sense of what my day job is," she said, having earlier extolled the virtues of positive pessimism. "Am I a professional writer who players poker as a hobby? Or a professional poker player who writes as a hobby?"
I'm really not sure it matters anymore. Viva your
new only two-time champ.
I WON! I bloody WON!!!!!!— Victoria Coren M. (@VictoriaCoren) April 20, 2014
EPT10 Sanremo Main Event
Date: April 14-20, 2014
Game: NLHE Main Event
Prize pool: €2,480,872
1. Vicky Coren Mitchell, UK, Team PokerStars Pro, €476,100
2. Giacomo Fundaro, Italy, €298,700
3. Jordan Westmorland, USA, €213,850
4. Andrea Benelli, Italy, €166,700
5. Andreas Goeller, Italy, €130,750
6. Bruno Stefanelli, Italy, €102,700
7. Andrija Martic, Croatia, €76,650
8. Emmanuel Pariset, France, €53,100
And why not a video too: