Aaron Gustavson had the credentials to be here. There was no doubting that. Just a few months back, he won the PokerStars Sunday Warm-Up for $135,000. He’d done well in the World Championship of Online Poker. He’d won a tournament at the Borgata in Atlantic City. He didn’t doubt his own skills and nobody who had seen him play would ever question whether he had the ability to win the London stop of the European Poker Tour.
But who could have imagined that when when he sat down to play heads up for the title, it would be across from the 2008 World Series of Poker champion Peter Eastgate? And then beyond that, who would have predicted Gustavson would win the heads-up battle in fewer than ten hands?
Gustavson, a PokerStars qualifier, summed it up with just one word.
“Amazing,” he said.”I couldn’t ask for more. It’s what every poker player dreams to do.”
It happened at the biggest ever major poker tournament in the UK. Seven hundred thirty players put up £5,000 to build a prize pool worth £3,540,500 and a first prize of £850,000. For the first time in its history, EPT London had outgrown the confines of its five-year home at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino. PokerStars and The Vic teamed up and rented the giant Kings Suite at the Hilton Metropole on Edgware Road, and the EPT London Poker Festival grew to fit its bigger room.
Over a week of play we saw some of the world’s top players compete in the big one and a full festival of side events that were won by the likes of Joe Hachem, Jason Mercier, and William Thorson. It was a week that saw players win hundreds of thousands of pounds, the lion’s share of it going to our new EPT London champion, Aaron Gustavson.
To get to that point, though, we first had to bid goodbye to seven top players (about whom you can read on our EPT London final table player profiles).
Short-stacked coming into the final table, the blinds ate quickly into Karim Bannini’s stack. With a half-smile that belied what he knew was surely about to happen, Bannini put in his final 209,000 chips. In the big blind, Rui Milhomens had a moral obligation to call with his K♠10♠, well enough to beat Bannini’s K♦3♥.
The flop J♠7♦3♠ widened the smile on Bannini’s face, but the spade draw tempered any joy. The 4♠ on the turn removed any doubt it was over, and Bannini exited in eighth place for £50,100.
Over the next hour, Team PokerStars Asia Pro Raymond Wu began to fall victim to the Bannini problem. Wu’s stack had been whittled down to 650,000, at the time worth about six big blinds. Once again, the short-stacked shove was met with a near-obligated call. Aaron Gustavson held K♣6♣ to Wu’s Q♣10♥.
Gustavson flopped a king. Wu couldn’t find any miracle runners and went out in seventh place for £87,000.
It only took one more shuffle before we lost the next player.
Rui Milhomens raised it up to 230,000 and Peter Eastgate surprised him with a quick shove, well enough to cover Milhomens’ last 2,175,000. Milhomens had a tough decision, but after some thought made the call. It turned out he was marginally ahead with 8♠8♦ against Eastgate’s A♦10♠. Milhomens maintained his lead all the way to the river when Eastgate hit his ten to send Milhomens out in sixth place for an impressive £124,000
The next big pot changed the balance of the table in a very big way. Martin Gudvangen and Nikolai Senninger went heads up to a flop after Senninger raised and Gudvangen called. The two aggressive players looked at a flop of K♣Q♦K♥.
Gudvangen checked and Senninger came in for 275,000. That’s when things started to get exciting. Gudvangen raised to 735,000. Senninger, in a move we’d understand later, called. Both players checked on the 4♠ turn. When the 5♣ came on the river, Gudvangen checked, seemingly happy to show down his cards right then. Senninger wasn’t content to let that happen. He pushed out the remainder of his chips, more than 2 million.
That wasn’t what Gudvangen wanted. His hopes for an easy showdown were squashed. Worse for him, he couldn’t find a fold.
Senninger showed him pocket queens, the flopped boat. Gudvangen’s queen-jack had never been good. The hand knocked Gudvangen down below 1.5 million and put Senninger in third place, dangerously close to leaders Peter Eastgate and Aaron Gustavson.
It was Gustavson, the 23-year-old from the USA, who sent the next player on his way. In a hand reminiscent of the hand that sent Milhomens out, we next saw another A♠10♠ versus 8♣8♥ showdown. This time it was Dominic Cullen with the overcards getting his final 1.5 million chips in pre-flop and getting called by Gustavson’s pair. The last time we saw the race, Eastgate hit his ten on the river. This time, the hand went differently. The first card in the door was an eight to give Gustavson a set. With barely anything to sweat, Cullen started packing up to collect his £173,000 prize. The fifth place finisher was the last Brit left standing, guaranteeing that EPT London would not have another hometown hero.
Just moments later, Norway’s Martin Gudvangen found the best of the “any-two-cards” situations he could, in this case A♦3♣. He shoved his meager 1,100,000 stack into the middle. Senninger didn’t waste time and snap-called with his A♥Q♣.
The board was irrelevant in the end. No three or draws appeared and Gudvangen headed out in fourth place for £227,000.
That exit left Aaron Gustavon, Peter Eastgate, and Nikolai Senninger all within striking distance of each other. It took more than an hour of jousting and three-betting before the next big hand hit…and it was a big one.
Nikolai Senninger was on the button and raised to 275,000. As he’s been known to do before, Aaron Gustavson three-bet from the small blind. Eastgate fingered his chips, but passed from the big blind. Senniger looked as if he might be moving all-in. Then he looked as if he might fold. Ultimately, he decided to call.
The flop came 3♦7♥Q♥. Gustavson, who was rare to check after three-betting, didn’t surprise with a 1,140,000 bet. Senninger, for his part, called. On the 9♣ turn, Gustavson wasted no time before moving all-in. He had Senninger well covered, and it took the German a long time to make his decision. Finally, he used both hands and pushed all his chips across the line.
Gustavson flashed his cards Q♠10♠. Senninger winced and turned over his 8♥8♣. The river gave Gustavson two pair with 10♣. Senninger was out in third place for £285,000.
Going into heads up play, Gustavson led 14,045,000 to 7,895,000. After a quick dinner break, it took just one hand for us to see a massive pot.
Gustavson and Eastgate saw a flop of Q♣5♠2♠ and then a turn of the K♣. Gustavson check-called a 725,000 bet from Eastgate. Gustavson checked the 5♥ river and Eastgate put out 1,135,000. This time, Gustavson raised to 3,300,000. Eastgate struggled. The last time Gustavson had pulled the same move, Eastgate made the call and was ahead. This time, Eastgate made the tough laydown.
“Nice bluff,” he said with a smile.
It took just a few inconsequential hands before the one that crowned a champion
Eastgate came in for a raise to 350,000, and Gustavson raised to 900,000. The only thing that was quicker than Eastgate’s all-in move was Gustavson’s call. Gustavson held A♠Q♦ to Eastgate A♥9♦. On no street did the board offer hope to the WSOP champ. It came 3♠4♦6♥K♣J♥. Gustavson, already standing, smiled and exhaled.
He was am EPT champion and £850,000 richer.
“I know Peter is very aggressive, so I knew it was going to be tough,” Gustavson said. “I wanted it to be quick.”
Quick it was, and so much so that Eastgate barely looked as if he knew it was over. Slowly, it started to sink in. He hadn’t won, but he had earned £530,000.
“When you lose heads up you’re always going to be a little disappointed,” he said, “but I’ll be happy tomorrow for sure.”
Happy tonight, tomorrow, and probably for a very long time is the PokerStars qualifier from the United States, Aaron Gustavson, a man worthy of praise and congratulations tonight.
All week long, our correspondents from around the globe have been writing in German, Swedish or Italian for those people who haven’t been able to understand what we’re writing here (and to be fair, there are a good many English readers who struggled with the same problem–alas, there is no alternative for them). If reading isn’t your thing or the ADHD meds haven’t kicked in today, you can have a look at some pretty clever video blogs over at PokerStars.tv, including this overview of the final…
However, if you’d like to stick with us and get a feel for how this week played out, check out any of of the live blogging links at the end of this post or all of our day-end EPT London reports: Day 1a | Day 1b | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4
Thanks for joining us for the biggest ever EPT London. The next stop on the EPT comes in just a couple of weeks in Warsaw. Join us then for all the action from Poland.
All photography © Neil Stoddart