Only the worst hack writer starts a sport report with a line of poetry, and the cliche only grows more abhorrent when the poet in question is Rudyard Kipling. But if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…you’ll be a man, my son!
Tonight at the Grand Connaught Rooms, the venue for the London leg of the 11th season of the European Poker Tour, Sebastian Pauli, a 25-year-old German player, was the absolute measure of calmness and serenity for the 11 hours it took to quash dreams, slay demons, deny history and outwit some of the world’s most celebrated poker talents.
Pauli never surrendered the chip lead from the moment eight players sat down today eyeing a first prize of £499,700, and he never even looked flustered. He knew he would have to beat the irresistible Team PokerStars Pro Jake Cody and deny him a second EPT title, and do the same to the immovable object that was Kevin MacPhee.
He would also have to outlast a player supported by Ole Schemion, and another by a horde of onesie-clad Irish revellers. But still Pauli barely blinked, barely sweated, barely lost focus for even a moment. And then when the final card was dealt and the beasts had been tamed, he burst into tears of relief and delight.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a performance so composed and a reaction so emotional. What a tremendous week of poker we have seen — and what a remarkable 100th EPT champ.
“It means the world to me,” Pauli said. “I was really calm for the whole final table, but when I realised I’d won it all came out and I couldn’t control my emotions.”
The scene outside the venue at around midday today, before this six-day, £4,250 buy-in tournament reconvened for its final, made it look as if the Grand Connaught Rooms were hosting Mickey Mouse’s funeral. Half of the people standing on the pavement smoking cigarettes were dressed in black suits and black ties — a gathering of the freemasons, whose building we have borrowed for the week — and half were in furry, all-in-one, zip-out outfits, Kevin Killeen’s railing department having raided Onesies Я Us at Dublin airport this morning.
The Irish Walt Disney contingent contributed the largest bellow as the players were introduced at the outset, given a run for their money only by the Brits in the house for Cody. As the day went on, some big-hitters (Stephen Chidwick, Adrian Mateos Diaz, Igor Kurganov, Schemion, Martin Finger, among others) came by to rail MacPhee, Pablo Gordillo, Pauli and Artur Koren, while business at the bar remained brisk.
Ironically, there wasn’t an enormous amount for the rail-birds to get exited about in the opening stages, even though, unbeknownst to them, they were actually watching a clinic in disciplined poker. The viewers on EPT Live, who could see hole cards, knew precisely how well everyone was playing – one fold from Cody in particular had the purists gushing – yet hands rarely got to showdown and nobody in the building was any the wiser.
Indeed, we had made it all the way to the third level of the day before we lost our first player. Despite all the support, Killeen was down to his last 975,000, about 16 big blinds, and found pocket threes in the cut-off. He didn’t think too long before open shoving. Gordillo, one seat to his left, was the only player at the table with fewer chips at that stage and he found A♥10♣.
Gordillo, who has been on an enormous heater both live and online, made the correct call, but Killeen flopped another three and Gordillo was out. It was his second final table in as many EPT main events (plus that ridiculous Sunday), but the search for a Spanish champion continues. He took £51,900 and will have a good night’s sleep before the Sunday grind tomorrow.
Killeen had been on the ropes before in this tournament – he hit runner-runner flush to survive late on Day 4 – but his survival instinct remained strong. He had also been responsible for breaking today’s dam, and the next player was swept away almost immediately.
On a table boasting so many established stars, some of the lesser-known players could only really hope to be party poopers. Few spectators would be actively rooting for them. Such was the fate of Jonathan Bensadoun, at 38 the oldest player at the final, but also one of the least experienced at the biggest games in the world.
Bensadoun played a patient game, and can hardly be blamed for getting the last of his chips in the middle with A♦Q♣. It was just a shame for Bensadoun that Koren picked up K♥K♠ and even the queen on the flop couldn’t save the Frenchman. He won £75,900 and we were down to six.
Having followed the established pattern for London buses — wait for ages, then two at once — the final table in the British capital quickly reverted back to type. Double ups were the order of the day: Cody through Koren; Koren through MacPhee; then MacPhee back through Cody. It was the kind of circuitous route to the same destination those London buses seem to like so much.
All the while, Pauli had been sitting with more than double his nearest rival and was picking up all the pots nobody had enough chips or reckless abandon to contest.
Despite bagging the chip lead at the end of Day 3 in this tournament, Jakub Mroczek had largely managed to keep himself out of the spotlight — but he was no rabbit in the headlights either.
He managed to outrage many of the spectators in the vast void of the Twittersphere by some seemingly peculiar stalling tactics while a short stack and heading into a break. But some of poker’s sharpest minds explained what he was up to to the dullards: he was waiting for the level to end so he could return with the button and higher blinds to pick up more equity for his shove.
In one sly move he proved he had more game than many had given him credit for, but certainly his table-mates knew he had some tools in his locker. How else to explain a huge call from Killeen with fourth pair (fours) after Mroczek raised pre-flop, continued on the flop and stabbed the river with ace high.
The pot, worth about a million in chips, left Mroczek on the ropes. And he traded those ropes for the rail soon after when he shoved with A♠8♠ and ran into 10♥10♣. (It was Killeen again.) Dominik Panka had swung by to support his countryman, but returned alone to the intersection of the Polish/EPT winner venn diagram. Mroczek picked up £104,200 for sixth.
Until this point, it had been pretty much plain sailing for Cody – so long as you remember that the Team PokerStars Pro is never more happy than when getting involved in big pots with any two cards and in any position, then finding a way to win them. But he is not immortal, it turns out, and discovered a particular nemesis today in MacPhee.
The man known as ImALuckSac won what was essentially a race for his tournament life against Cody – A♥3♥ versus K♦Q♦ – and then the two former champions got involved in three critical pots against one another.
Cody raised from the small blind with Q♣J♣ and MacPhee shoved from the big blind with A♥8♥. Cody had approximately double MacPhee’s stack at the time and sensed a decent chance to knock out his adversary. After close to three minutes in the tank, Cody called but couldn’t win this one either.
Three hands later, they were at it again, with Cody now at risk. His K♦J♣ was racing MacPhee’s 6♣6♠ and even though a jack flopped and a king turned, all five cards on the board were hearts. They chopped it up.
That was about as good as it got, though, for Cody who lasted only two hands longer. Again he was given hope when his K♦10♦ connected delightfully with the flop of J♥K♣K♠. MacPhee called Cody’s shove with Q♠Q♣. But the Q♥ on the turn drew a slight smirk from MacPhee and wiped the smile from Cody’s face. He couldn’t catch a miracle and headed home in fifth.
Cody, who won his first EPT final table in Deauville in Season 6, has now been back to the vaunted felt twice. Both times he finished fifth – in the Season 9 Grand Final, and now here in London. It would still take a very brave gambler to bet against another title soon for Cody.
He takes £133,800 for this one, and his biggest fan James Raddon will earn nearly £1,400 of that.
With MacPhee and Killeen resurgent and Pauli still sitting pretty at the top, Koren was the man in trouble. He found pocket kings, but couldn’t persuade MacPhee to put much more in the pot with bottom pair, and that meant he was short when he shoved with pocket eights.
Killeen had no choice but to call with his Q♣J♦ and he hit both of those over-cards to send the German player to the rail. Koren had had the chance to put that name (or a version of it) on the winner’s trophy for the third time, but instead he went out in fourth for £168,900.
With only three players remaining, they talked for the first time about chopping it up. All of MacPhee, Pauli and Killeen seemed keen to have a conversation, but it foundered when they couldn’t agree whether to split according to ICM or based on chip-counts. Bryn Kenney swung by to advise MacPhee; Killeen had his backers/friends/men in onesies and novelty suits in his corner; and Pauli, the chip leader, was happy to represent himself.
But they couldn’t reach unanimity, and so on they went.
Three handed poker is strange, with so much depending on chip stacks and information picked up by players about their opponents over what can amount to five or six days. Often it can become the moment for the opportunist to prosper, sneaking in and picking up pots that had been tussled over by the other two. Other times, it can descend into a series of petty squabbles between all three.
In this instance, it became one of those times when two become the bullies and the other is jabbed and pecked and knocked to the ground. Killeen, even with the monster on his lucky woollen hat, couldn’t frighten his adversaries away.
Killeen got his chips in with A♦7♦ and smashed into MacPhee’s A♥Q♠. There was a seven on the flop but a queen on the river. Nobody said this was a fun game.
And so there they were: Pauli against MacPhee. A management and economics student at Ruhr-University, Bochum, and the poker superstar, whose finest hour came in his opponent’s back yard during Season 6. Pauli said he might not be able to come to the next event in Prague because he has to finish his studies, while MacPhee has barely missed a stop for about six years.
Not long before, MacPhee had raised two Churchillian fingers in the direction of a waiter, requesting nothing more than two bottles of water, but the image, captured by our photographer Neil Stoddart, immediately acquired the potential to become iconic. If MacPhee went on to lock up his second EPT title, this throwaway moment would have become remarkably prescient.
They talked briefly again about chopping the dosh, but there was still some animosity from the stalled discussions three-handed. They agreed to play on.
And despite many previous heads-up duels on the EPT lasting long, long into tomorrow morning, this one turned out to be one way traffic. MacPhee did exceptionally well not to go broke when he made a full house with sevens in the hole and three eights on the board. The problem on that occasion: Pauli had pocket aces.
And all the momentum stayed in Pauli’s favour, as it had been for at least two days to this point. MacPhee eventually got his chips in with A♦10♣ and ran smack into Pauli’s A♣Q♠. There were no miracles. There was no double champion. There was instead just one very, very good player from Germany, one emotional wreck, and a 100th champion on the European Poker Tour.
“I was confident that I had a good chance with the chip lead,” he said. “People are afraid of the chip leader and I knew I could apply a lot of pressure…I’m not really the party guy, I’ll sit down with my friends and talk about what has happened.”
Plenty of others will be talking too.
EPT11 London, £4,250 NL Hold’em Main Event
Places paid: 95
Prize pool: £2,619,000
1 – Sebastian Pauli, Germany, £499,700 (and a Slyde watch)
2 – Kevin MacPhee, United States, £308,500
3 – Kevin Killeen, Ireland, £220,500
4 – Artur Koren, Germany, PokerStars qualifier, £168,900
5 – Jake Cody, UK, Team PokerStars Pro, £133,800
6 – Jakub Mroczek, Poland, £104,200
7 – Jonathan Bensadoun, France, £75,900
8 – Pablo Gordillo, Spain, £51,900
Look back at our coverage of the EPT London festival via the main EPT London page, where you can review the hand-by-hand updates in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. There’s also an archive version of the live stream on PokerStars.tv.