There was a story waiting to be written in Vilamoura tonight, one of a child chess prodigy turned poker player winning an EPT event and rocking the poker world after he’d only narrowly missed out three weeks ago in Warsaw. But as anyone who has played this game will know, poker is nothing if not unpredictable.
Instead, in front of huge crowds in Casino Vilamoura, another story will be written. A 54-year old economist named Antonio Matias from Setubal, Portugal, a cash game player who couldn’t resist playing in the first EPT in his home country, became the tour’s oldest winner. A champion and €404,793 richer, he is the first winner on home soil since Sandra Naujoks in Dortmund last season.
Champion Antonio Matias (spot the deliberate mistake*)
In the last hand, Neuville, holding J♥10♠ raised 240,000 from the button. Matias called with 8♠7♦ for a J♦7♥8♥ flop. Matias was ahead with two pairs to Neuville’s top pair and gutshot straight draw. Matias checked before Neuville made it 315,000 to play. Matias made it another 500,000 more before Neuville pushed all in. Matias called, already ahead, and the 7♣ gave Matias the full house on the turn. It also won him the title.
The heads-up duel was the conclusion to a thrilling final. The runner-up Pierre Neuville, fulfilling a poker dream held for 50 years, had to settle for €257,681. But he’s shown one or two of the youngsters that at 67 he can still play.
All this began some eight hours ago. Andrei Vlaskenko was first to depart, thanks to the 18-year-old PokerStars qualifier Ryan Franklin who would himself be sent to the rail by Jeff Sarwer two hours later. The French tour veteran Michel Abecassis followed him in sixth place, his chips helping bolster the stack of the chip leader Matias.
The local boy Joao Silva was the obvious crowd favourite. Despite being hamstrung by a short stack Silva would double up through Sarwer twice, lifted out of his chair each time by the roar of the rail. He would eventually depart at the hand of Jan Skampa in a queens vs. jacks showdown, ending the Portuguese player’s adventure. Skampa now had the chip lead but there was a thread of chaos weaved into the final and Skampa would be next to leave.
The Czech player hadn’t finished stacking Silva’s chips when he gave them to Sarwer. Sarwer opened under-the-gun, Skampa raised, before Sarwer re-raised. Skampa then shoved, called in a flash, showing king-nine to Sarwer’s pocket queens. The queens held. Sarwer celebrated with a Portuguese-style “Vamos!”, followed by a lap of honour. He now had 5 million. Skampa was crushed and would be gone in a matter of hands.
Three players remained, passing chips around for two and a half hours. Pierre Neuville and Antonio Matias knew they couldn’t out-think Sarwer, so they tried muscle instead, ultimately using big hands to crush Sarwer’s hopes.
Frustrated by what seemed an incredible run of cards that had ultimately stolen the chip lead, Sarwer took a last stand against Matias who re-raised him all-in on a flop of 9♣7♥3♣. He had 9♠5♠ and called, but Matias was ahead with pocket tens.
Sarwer needed help, and got it, a 5♣ on the turn. For the first time Sarwer released a primal howl before regaining his composure. But the relief was short lived. A 3♦ on the river left Matias cheering, now with a bigger two pair, while Sarwer, who seems to be busy cracking poker’s code, sought comfort from the likes of Shaun Deeb, Jim Collopy and Jonathan Aguiar, his new entourage gathered on the rail.
The rest is now inked into the EPT history book. Neuville and Matias girded themselves for a heads-up scrap that soon went Matias’s way and Neuville graciously conceded the limelight to a new local hero who also wins a seat at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo.
“I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world,” said Matias. “But it is very satisfying win an EPT in my home country. I just decided to play the way I play, and hope that luck didn’t turn its back on me. When I got the chip lead yesterday the only thing I had on my mind was winning.”
And if you would rather see the chuffed chap (apologies, we’re English) then this is for you…
Having watched that, it’s certainly worth a look back at how he did it via our wonderful words. Re-live the whole experience at your leisure at the links below:
That’s everything there is from EPT Vilamoura. Thanks for following our coverage throughout the week. Our thanks go to Neil Stoddart for his work with his camera and the Portuguese legal system, and the video blog team whose work can be seen in full over at PokerStars.tv.
There’s still the action from Costa Rica if you’re hungry for more but we’re off for a last taste of Portuguese hospitality. Next stop for us is Prague in just over a week’s time. See you there.
* The winning hand was actually 8♠7♦. Matias posed with the incorrect eight.