Poker is a game of decision-making, about picking the right choice and forsaking all others, no matter how tempting another path might seem.
In mid-afternoon during the final day of this European Poker Tour Main Event in Barcelona, John Juanda was offered the chance to lock up a pay-day of more than €500,000 — a 100-fold increase on the €5,300 he paid to enter this tournament, alongside 1,694 others, a week ago.
But Juanda, the 44-year-old professional from Indonesia (via the United States) turned the offer away. “And forfeit the chance for a million?” he said, by way of explanation. Nobody argued. The logic was flawless.
Few decisions have proven to be so shrewd. Only a few hours later, Juanda was crowned champion of EPT Barcelona, his first victory on the tour, and was handed a cheque for €1,022,593. Juanda said he hasn’t played a hand of poker in 12 months, since the trip to Barcelona last time. Another very shrewd decision, it seems.
“I feel really blessed,” Juanda said. “I’ve been playing poker for 18 years and you still get a rush.” He then paid tribute to his opponents and two special helpers: Erik Seidel and ElkY, who had been watching EPT Live from their hotel rooms but offering Juanda strategy assistance from afar.
Juanda has previously finished runner up, at EPT London in Season 7, but left Steve Warburton, the 28-year-old from the United Kingdom, with that honour this time. He also denied Frederik Jensen, who finished third, the chance to become the second double champion on the EPT. Warburton won €941,613 and Jensen €810,294. The dominant overnight chip-leader Denys Shafikov had to make do with fourth and €405,100.
As ever, proceedings got under way at Casino Barcelona at noon, but there were a few unusual quirks to iron out first.
The notion of a “final” has been cloudy since the inception of the EPT, with players condensing around a last table of nine but an “official” final table accommodating only eight. That was further complicated at this event by some last-minute fidgeting with the tournament schedule, the result of the bumper turnout, that meant we headed to the final day with nine, i.e., still not at a final table.
As has been customary at this tournament, however, a new day ushered in a new desire to get busy very quickly. Within the first level of the day, they were down to six players as both Victor Bogdanov and Amir Touma surrendered their short stacks — only to be expected — but Mario Sanchez was also sent out in eighth, which was far more of a shock.
To deal with the predictable first: Bogdanov had only nine big blinds at the start of play, and got them in on the very first hand, three-bet shoving with A♦7♦ but clobbering into Jensen’s A♠K♦. He left with €104,000 for ninth.
While everyone was expecting Touma to be next out of the door, having started the day with a smaller stack even than Bogdanov, the lone Spanish representative at the final table beat him to the rail. This is going to be filed in the category of catastrophic misreads, but looking at a board of 4♠3♠10♥Q♠9♠ and sitting with K♥J♥, Sanchez interpreted Jensen’s polarising shove as a bluff.
Sanchez called for his tournament life and was shown A♠K♣ – i.e., the nuts – and was looking for a €137,080 cheque. It was especially disastrous as Touma had only two big blinds at the time, while Andreas Samuelsson had only nine after losing an enormous flip against Juanda. But there was no getting the chips back once he had made the call.
Touma’s remarkable laddering act eventually came to an end on the next hand. He had only 400,000 chips (with the big blind at 160,000) and couldn’t get either Juanda or Warburton, in the big blind, to fold. Juanda’s pocket threes ended up accounting for Touma’s Q♦J♣ on a dry board, and Touma took his leave, with €194,100.
Juanda and Jensen had had the best of the early exchanges, but Warburton soon put himself back in with a shout. He was the man to end Samuelsson’s torrid day, finding A♦A♣ after the Swede shoved for a little more than a million with J♠10♣. The damage had been done for Samuelsson in the huge hand with Juanda, when he came off on the wrong end of a queens versus ace-king classic. Samuelsson was third in chips at the beginning of the day, but fourth out. He took €253,900 for sixth place.
As Samuelsson took his seat on the front row of the audience, with a bottle of champagne at his feet, he left an imbalance among the last five. Four were well-heeled, but Rainer Kempe, who recovered from two big blinds last night, was the short stack again. And this time he could not recover.
It wasn’t that he didn’t try. The German player, who lives in Brighton in the United Kingdom, earned a pretty swift double up for his short stack, with A♣K♠ against Jensen’s K♣9♣. But his luck was well and truly out when he looked to secure a second with another big slick, even though Shafikov only had K♦Q♦.
The flop brought two queens and Kempe was drawing dead by the turn. He possibly thought he was staring at a tenth-place prize late last night, but ended up fifth, for €320,400.
The final four might have been handpicked. There was the dominant leader, Shafikov, of course, plus the former champion, the global superstar and the breakout Brit. And the four of them soon crowded round the tournament director’s laptop to “look at the numbers” for a deal.
This was arguably the tournament’s defining moment. Juanda was the short stack and felt that ending the tournament at this stage, giving him only about €150,000 more than he was already guaranteed, wasn’t worth his while. It is when he uttered his now infamous, “And forfeit the chance for a million?” He nixed the deal negotiations. Few could argue, and no one did. But they could not have predicted what was to follow.
First Juanda tripled up, getting all of his chips in the middle with K♣J♥ against Shafikov’s A♥K♥ and Warburton’s 4♠4♣. He spiked a jack on the flop, and won. That represented the first chink in Shafikov’s armour, and the chain-mail unravelled immensely quickly from there.
The formerly unimpeachable chip leader, from whom nobody has won a pot in two days, suddenly couldn’t get a hand to hold up. He lost with pocket aces against Jensen’s pocket tens all in pre-flop, doubling up the latter, and he dribbled further downward. Against all the odds, he found himself having to shove all in pre-flop with Q♥10♣ and Juanda called from the big blind with A♦6♣.
The small ace remained ahead throughout flop, turn and river and, less than an hour after he was a seeming lock for €1.5 million, Shafikov had to settle for about a million less. His fourth place was worth €405,100.
Poker is cruel in so many ways, but one hopes Shafikov didn’t hang around to see the salt rubbed into his wounds almost immediately. When he was at the table, nobody wanted to deal. Now he was gone, the idea was received much more warmly and the three remaining players, with stacks far more closely matched, agreed to chop it.
They would leave €100,000 to play for, but Warburton would be taking a minimum €941,613. Juanda would get €922,593 and Jensen €810,294. They were all looking very close to nailing the million euro payday, the prospect of which Juanda had been so wisely reluctant to sacrifice earlier.
Barcelona has hosted more than its fair share of marathons on the European Poker Tour and it’s usually the result of level stacks and an enormous number of chips in play when they get two or three handed. Despite the deal, this one had the potential to follow a familiar pattern, particularly as each of the three players took, then relinquished, the chip lead in the early stages of three-handed play.
As always, you can look back on the full hand-by-hand action in the panel at the top of the Main Event page for the nitty gritty of how it panned out.
When they went to dinner, Juanda had the most: nearly 30 million, in fact, while neither opponent had much more than 13 million. But after they came back, it still felt as though it was anyone’s game.
However Juanda was relentless, and finally ended Jensen’s long and obdurate resistance. Jensen had been brilliantly accurate in a handful of folds during this tournament, laying down top pair aces three-handed (with a queen kicker) after Juanda turned a set of nines.
But Jensen couldn’t get away from J♣10♦ on a board of J♥2♠7♠Q♦7♦ and called Juanda’s river shove. Juanda had filled his boat with Q♥7♣ and we knew we would be crowning a new champion.
With the elimination of Jensen, Warburton’s supporters out-numbered every other by about five-to-one. He even had the former Barcelona winner Tom Middleton in the front row, leading the football chants. Their man faced a hefty chip deficit as heads up got under way (Warburton’s 10.45 million to Juanda’s 40.125 million), but a speedy double up, with ace-king over Juanda’s smaller ace put him, in Middleton’s words, “back in the game”.
The heads-up jousting continued, and shortly after Warburton had doubled, ElkY, who had been watching from the hotel, decided it was time to get to the tournament room and support his friend face-to-face. The Team PokerStars Pro managed to watch two hands, the second of which clinched the title for Juanda.
“You guys were so lucky for me,” Juanda said.
“It was perfect timing,” ElkY said. “Good job, John. Really good job.”
“I got lucky too a few times,” Juanda said.
“You have to be.”
On the final hand, Juanda found pocket queens (Q♦Q♠) and beat Warburton’s eights (8♥8♠). It crowned us as tremendous champion.
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EPT12 Barcelona – Main Event
Prize pool: €8,215,900
1 – John Juanda, Indonesia, €1,022,593*
2 – Steve Warburton, United Kingdom, €941,613*
3 – Frederik Jensen, Denmark, €810,294*
4 – Denys Shafikov, Ukraine, €405,100
5 – Rainer Kempe, Germany, €320,400
6 – Andreas Samuelsson, Sweden, €253,900
7 – Amir Touma, Lebanon, €194,100
8 – Mario Sanchez, Spain, €137,080
*denotes three-way deal