Even if there had been a moment in which Tom “hitthehole” Middleton thought he wouldn’t be able to win this one by himself, he could always have counted on his rail full of pals, flown in for this very purpose, to carry him home.
In the event the young Englishman had this one under control, using the same plan that had got him this far in the first place – a masterful combination of patience and self-confidence, lose the lead, before stealing it back, then lose the lead, before stealing it back. It was a habit that made him the perfect first champion on the new season.
EPT10 Barcelona winner Thomas Middleton
Middleton’s task was not easy. Despite having led this tournament for the past three days, before him today was a difficult table that combined the talented with those riding pure momentum. Most difficult was his heads-up opponent Kimmo Kurko from Finland.
In scenes reminiscent of last year’s final table, in which the Finns Ilari Sahamies and Joni Jouhkimainen wore sequined trilbies on their way to second and third place respectively, both Kurko and Pasi Sormunen adopted a similar approach. Kurko would match the second place of Sahamies, while Sormunen would crash out in fifth. But the day belonged to Middleton.
Thomas Middleton (left) and Kimmo Kurko
It had been a fast-paced final, reaching the heads-up stage at 7pm. But it would be another four hours before the last hand of the tournament.
In between all that, the lead switched between the pair as the well-oiled British rail vied with their equally lubricated Finnish counterparts in a battle of song. To the Middleton crowd “hitthehole” was their king. To the Finns, it was simple enough for them to turn that on itself and urge their man to “hit the hole.”
Thomas Middleton, with Fraser MacIntyre and EPT winners Jake Cody and Toby Lewis
But the good-natured rivalry only added to the quality of this last act of EPT Barcelona, which concluded when the chips went in – fives for Middleton and ace-four for Kurko. The flop, turn and river were tense, and both players sat through them without giving anything away. But no street changed anything. The crowd erupted.
The players shook hands, a three-hour duel in which both had played at their best, finally over. Even Kurko admitted that Middleton had been the best player, deserving his title, a first prize of €942,000 and a Slyde watch.
“I just tried to play my stack as well as I could,” explained Middleton, who, like previous days had lost the lead he’d started with. But true to form he got them back again, adding that when the chips get low “you’ve just got to keep your head and keep grinding.”
He did. It worked brilliantly.
After a late heads-up deal, the final result looked like this:
1st. Thomas Middleton, United Kingdom — €942,000
2nd. Kimmo Kurko, Finland — €750,000
3rd. Kresten Nielsen, Denmark — €440,500
4th. Luca Fiorini, Italy — €328,000
5th. Pasi Sormunen, Finland — €253,000
6th. Benoit Gury, France – 188,000
7th. Eduard Bhaggoe, Holland — €143,000
8th. Andreas Christoforou, Cyprus — €102,430
Andreas Christofou went first. He’s shoved behind a raise from Kersten Nielsen with pocket tens, who then folded when Kimmo Kurko also shoved, with jacks. Christofou turned over ace-jack but got nothing in return.
As the cards were turned over Andreas Christoforou (facing) begged Kresten Nielsen not to tell him what he had folded
Eduard Bhaggoe went next when his tens were undone by Kurko’s ace-king.
He was quickly followed by Frenchman Benoit Gury, whose attempts at doubling up never really found favour. He was unlucky when he shoved with ace-king. Nielsen got his chips in with ace-six and caught a six on the flop. Queue scenes of his celebrations as Gury quietly left the stage.
The final table
Nielsen’s surge would have continued were it not for some good fortune on the part of Kimmo Kurko. Nielsen opened with aces, then called when the Finn moved all-in with queen-jack. Nielsen was delighted, as his antics demonstrated. But Kurko had flopped top pair and an inside straight-draw, which missed on the turn but landed on the river. Kurko allowed himself a smile. Nielsen though had tasted defeat for the first time.
Kresten “The Killer” Nielsen
Pasi Sormunen departed in fifth place having overplayed his king-seven. Luca Fiorini happily called the Finn’s shove with ace-king to topple Sormunsen, who promptly took up a position on the rail.
Play stopped four-handed as a deal was discussed. For students of the game it was a demonstration (all there to watch on EPT Live) of how deals are not exactly straight forward affairs that end with mutual agreement. As Rick Dacey discovered, sometimes the opposite is true.
The lengthy deal process came to nothing
As play resumed without an agreement, Fiorini — who incidentally had promised his girlfriend marriage, kids and a house if he’d won — must have wondered if he hadn’t missed out when negotiations failed. This was confirmed a short while later when he found himself out, the fourth-place finisher.
He’d lost a string of hands but finally found ace-jack. He shoved, running into the queens of Middleton, who flopped a set and then rivered a full house. An emotional Fiorini left the stage, heading home and into the arms of a good woman.
Nielsen had become the villain at the table. He’d won several big hands and celebrated in the same elaborate fashion, turning success into bitterness when he allegedly called Kimmo Kurko a “Fish face” in an earlier hand won by the Finn. What he lacked in grace though he made up for in action, and never shied from the big hands.
But moments after Fiorini had departed, he too found himself on the rail in third. He’d raised with king-nine of diamonds and Kurko defended his blind with seven-four of clubs. Nielsen didn’t know it yet but the flop indicated that his luck had run out. Landing as it did five-eight-six, it had given the Finn a straight. The betting and raising began and the chips were soon in the middle. Nielsen, was soon on the rail.
Nielsen out in third
The rest was up to Kurko and Middleton, arguably the two best players on the day, who battled out a good natured and hard fought heads-up duel, accompanied by the travelling Finnish and British choruses.
Middleton’s success brings an end to this, the first leg of the new tenth season, which has started in typically dramatic style.
Today the High Roller event also ended, Daniel Negreanu narrowly missing out on the title to winner Thomas Muhlocker of Austria, but scoring enough points to top the current Global Poker Index Player of the Year rankings.
There were other results, including Vitaly Lunkin’s victory in the Super High Roller and a whole host of side event results, all of which can be found on the relevant pages.
Thomas Middleton and friends
That’s all from Barcelona. It was good to be back. Next stop, London — see you there.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.