The EPT Barcelona Main Event raced to its conclusion today as 37-year-old Simon Brandstrom became the fourth Swede to win the title at European poker’s most popular spot.
Brandstrom followed Alexander Stevic, Kent Lundmark and Sebastian Sorensson to triumph here but earned more than all of them, banking €1,290,166 for overcoming Marton Czuczor heads up, the last of a 1,988-entry field. Czuczor, from Budapest, Hungary, had seemed destined to win this one right from the off as he knocked out three players within the first level.
But even though Brandstrom was up against the ropes in the heads-up stage, he won an enormous double up in a grim boat-over-boat coup, and then spiked four outer to chop another pot that would have put Czuczor back in the ascendancy.
Eventually, Brandstrom found pocket sixes when Czuczor had king-queen. They got it all in pre-flop and the pocket pair held.
“One hundred out of one hundred,” Brandstrom said, describing his feelings on having won the biggest EPT Main Event ever held. “It was tough, for sure. I don’t think I played my best in the heads up but otherwise pretty happy with my game.”
Brandstrom has been in and around the EPT scene for many years, mostly under his pre-married name of Simon Persson. He was a former runner up at the Master Classic in Amsterdam, and also finished third in a huge Eureka event in Prague in 2015. Railed by friends and countrymen Alexander Ivarsson and Anton Bertilsson, Brandstrom showed characteristic calm as fireworks flew very early on, then moved into top gear at the conclusion.
For Czuczor, it’s a case of what might have been. Again. He has gone close before, finishing second in the Main Events in Prague in 2016 and 11th both here in Barcelona and in Vilamoura. He also has a third place in an EPT High Roller.
But though his €1,253,234 takes him to the top of the Hungary all-time money-list, he wanted the trophy badly. He actually becomes the second Hungarian to finish second twice on the EPT, while still none has won a title.
He will be the hot bet to change that when he gets the next chance.
But back to the start of today…
Barcelona has seen some epic struggles at the final table, taking us well into the small hours and beyond. But today’s finale showed every sign of being the precise opposite, and we lost three players within the first 40 minutes of play. That, of course, was half of the returning field.
On the very first hand of the day, Yunye Lu, China’s latest big hope for EPT triumph, found himself in a tough spot on the button. The chip-leading Brandstrom opened to 325,000 with 9♥7♥ in the cutoff, and Lu looked down at K♠J♥. That was worth a call.
But there was now value to be had for the players behind and Marton Czuczor called from the small blind with A♣2♣ and Diego Falcone also called in the big blind with 10♠4♠.
The flop thinned the field when it came J♣6♠5♣. That gave Lu top pair to Czuczor’s flush draw. And Czuczor bet, Lu jammed and Czuczor called (the others getting out of there). Then Czuczor hit the K♣ on the river to fill the flush. That was the end of that for Lu, who won €295,520 for sixth. He spent a long China still awaits its first winner.
Czuczor hit the ground sprinting, and it only continued two hands later. This time, he found A♣K♦ on the button and opened the pot, only to see Giovani Torre three-bet shove from the big blind with K♣J♣. There was an ace on the flop and nothing else significant, and that meant Torre was toast. He won €364,660 for fifth, having successfully laddered one place from the overnight short stack.
Such was the haste from the outset that it seemed positively insulting for the players to then go something like seven hands without a knockout. But they soon remedied that and played a flip for Falcone’s life.
Falcone had managed to live a charmed life yesterday, hitting whatever cards he needed to keep himself afloat, even when there was only one of them in the deck. Anyone who hits a one-outer to survive can’t be too disappointed to be eliminated in fourth, but there was still a slight pang of regret for the Brazilian.
In what turned out to be his last hand, Czuczor opened to 550,000 from under the gun with 8♠8♥ and Falcone looked down at A♥Q♠ on the button. He pushed for 5.1 million, around 21 big blinds, and Czuczor called.
The flop brought what looked like another survival card for Falcone. It was 10♣Q♦2♦. But the 8♣ on the turn was a dagger to his heart and he was finally drawing dead. Falcone took €436,760 after a thrill ride.
Though it had taken less than 40 minutes to cut the field in half, the tournament structure meant that level length was now supposed to be reduced to 45 minutes, while pay-jumps were getting serious. Czuczor, who had knocked out all three opponents, was now the dominant leader, with 29 million chips to Brandstrom’s 17.85 million and Rui Sousa’s 12.75 million.
They looked at the numbers for a prolonged period, but couldn’t agree on a deal. (It seemed like Czuczor wanted a bit extra that nobody was prepared to give.) So after about 20 minutes, they opted to play on, with the next man out guaranteed €607,400.
There was every chance that a slowdown could now occur, but again it was not to be. Before the level even reached its conclusion, Sousa became the next man out.
This time, it was Brandstrom who did the damage. He opened to 525,000 from the button, sitting with J♣J♠, and Sousa called in the big blind with 10♥8♦. What was already an unequal match-up just became cruel after the 4♣8♠3♥. Sousa was still way behind but had reason to think he might not be. Sousa checked, Brandstrom bet 500,000 and then Sousa unveiled the check-raise to 1.4 million. Brandstrom then pushed and Sousa was now committed to calling his last 6.625 million.
The 7♥ turn and 4♦ river were both blanks and Sousa went looking for his €607,400.
“Marton sent them all out so I was just sitting back watching him,” Brandstrom said of that part of the day. “When it got three handed, I could do my thing.”
Having failed to secure a deal three-handed, the remaining two quickly began to renegotiate once more. Bradstrom’s big knockout of Sousa drew him all but level with Czuczor again, and the parity was reflected in the near equal chop they quickly agreed. Czuczor locked up €1,253,234; Brandstrom secured €1,212,706, with the €77,460 left on the table the amount that would decide the champion.
Though they started pretty even, it was quickly one way traffic again. Brandstrom couldn’t hit a barn door, while Czuczor couldn’t miss. And when Brandstrom did connect with the flop, it hit his opponent even harder. In one particular coup, Brandstrom’s Q♠8♠ hit top pair, but so did Czuczor’s Q♣4♠. The turn was the 4♣ and Czuczor leapt into the lead, and even got a big value bet paid off on the river.
Remarkable as it sounds, the first scheduled tournament break only came about after they had been playing heads up for a good while. It was enough for Czuczor to have opened up a lead of 42.65 million to Brandstrom’s 17.125 million, and also quick enough that the TV crew were worried how they were going to fill the rest of their broadcast schedule. This was the deciding factor in keeping the levels at 90-minute length, with a big blind average of around 100.
And then the fireworks really started. Czuczor’s momentum was such that he must have thought he could do no wrong. However, the dealer soon ironed him out. Brandstrom found K♣3♥ against Czuczor’s 6♠3♠ and they played the pot on every street as the board fell K♦3♣3♦6♦10♥. That was a flopped full house for Brandstrom and a turned full house for Czuczor. When Brandstrom shoved the river, Czuczor snap called expecting to win the title, but instead he lost more than half his stack.
“That was a crucial pot for me, for sure,” Brandstrom said.
Czuczor was also desperately unlucky soon after when he flopped a straight and needed to fade only a double belly-buster straight draw to double up. If Brandstrom hit the top end of his straight, he would win. If he hit the bottom end, he would chop. And lo and behold, he hit the latter to maintain a big chip lead.
The conclusion came very soon after. It was, again, cruel on Czuczor who played remarkably well. But it was also a final table of two halves, with Brandstom really hitting his stride when it mattered most. Czuczor will no doubt try once again.
EPT Barcelona Main Event
Dates: August 26-September 1, 2019
Entries: 1,988 (inc. 499 re-entries)
Prize pool: €9,641,800
*denotes heads up deal
Pictures by Neil Stoddart and Joe Giron/PokerPhotoArchive