Confidence in poker can go an awful long way, and the abundance of that commodity in Maxim Lykov has made him the first ever champion of EPT Kyiv.
“I’m already thinking of my second title,” said Lykov in the moment after his dominant display in the first EPT event of season six. This was also the first EPT in a CIS country and Lykov’s was the first victory by a Russian player in the five-year history of the tour.
Lykov’s confidence is by no means misplaced. The 21-year-old was chip leader at the end of days three and four, reaching the final table as if certain he could not put a foot wrong. Even when he suffered the buffeting common around any major poker tournament final table — losing his chip lead as a succession of races went against him — he simply regrouped, re-stacked and refocused until the job was done.
The last hand of a six-hour final came when Lykov and Alexander Dovzhenko got to a jack-high flop, no more than 20 hands into their heads-up confrontation. To be precise, it was 4♠J♦7♠ but it was the turned 4♣ that was crucial. Lykov had 9♦4♥ to Dovzhenko’s jack-ten and it brought to an end a fascinating personal duel between these two.
Lykov was giving up 23 years experience to his wily adversary Dovzhenko, who was also buoyed by a firm cluster of supporters draped in the flag of Ukraine. And these two had been at it all day, Lykov pounding and pounding as Dovzhenko kept calling and calling. One hand in particular gave the Kyiv native the chip-lead; an ace-high hero-call bettering the Russian’s king high. It was worth more than a million chips and could have been a turning point. But Lykov simply came back for more.
For a period, Lykov’s countryman Vitaly Tolokonnikov threatened to gatecrash this tete-a-tete. The chip leader at the end of day two — one of few nights that accolade did not belong to Lykov — is another Russian clearly following in the footsteps of the Team PokerStars Pro duo Alex Kravchenko and Ivan Demidov, here relegated to the role of translator for their countrymen.
Tolokonnikov also scarcely put a foot wrong, except failing to get pocket sevens to hold up against Lykov’s A♦J♣ when they were three handed. With Lykov’s extraordinarily wide opening range, he had every right to think he was ahead. C’ЗST LД VIЭ, as they say in Moscow.
To get to that final three, they had to skittle out the previous five — and each of those will have left the Palace of Sports in vastly differing moods. Vadim Markushevski will have been infuriated: one of the dominant chip stacks overnight, he ran kings into Dovzhenko’s aces, one of the only players who could bust him. He was dispatched back to Minsk in eighth, fists furiously waving at the poker gods.
Torsten Tent went in seventh, but he would have been content. He was a micro-stack coming to the final table and played it super-tight; one place up the payout ladder was as good as he could have hoped, barring miracles. Adrian Schaap was a medium stack and he went out in sixth. It was tens against ace-queen and he lost the race. Fair enough.
Lucasz Plichta was far more active, and doubled up, chipped down and doubled up again. Eventually he found eights when Tolokonnikov found queens, and that battle rarely ends well. But it was a spectacular show from the man from Gdansk. He free-rolled into the tournament on an FPP satellite on PokerStars, and when he got here discovered he was the only representative from Poland in the room. Fifth place is enough to go back with head held high.
As for Arthur Simonyan, who finished fourth, he was the short-stack grinder who went deepest. He never had many more than about 10 big blinds, but crucially rarely had fewer. Eventually he became Dovzhenko’s prey, when the Ukrainian’s tens vacuumed up the Russian’s queen-eight. Simonyan could have no complaints at all, and 100,000 reasons not to have them.
And so that left those three for the post-dinner shenanigans, with most commentators agreeing that they were the most accomplished players of the lot. When the swings stopped swinging and the dust was all swept clear, it was Lykov standing tall and Dovzhenko falling one spot short of emulating Vicky Coren’s feat of winning an EPT in his home town.
As ever, video blogs are available at PokerStars.tv. And we’re ever grateful to the sharp eye and index finger of our photographer “(c)” Neil Stoddart.
Next stop Barcelona, where Lykov has the first chance to win that second title. It’s a long shot, but this kid is good.
Take a look at how the video blog team saw it. And then that’s your lot from Kyiv. Good night.