Wire-to-wire winners of major poker tournaments are vanishingly rare. Even the most dominant early chip leader can hit any number of obstacles in a bid to claim a trophy. There’s no such thing as plain sailing in this game.
Tonight in Malta, however, we start this European Poker Tour festival by crowning a pillar-to-post victor. Dietrich Fast led at the end of the first day, he led at the end of the second day, and shortly before 8pm he became the first major champion of the fortnight in the Med. He takes €174,600 as well as his trophy–but it was far from a cruise.
Although Fast tweeted this morning that he felt like “today could be a good day”, he encountered choppy waters from the outset and was actually the tournament short stack for a good hour of play. But he rode it out, appeared to pick spots perfectly, and then eventually made his experience pay against Viacheslav Buldygin, his unlikely heads-up opponent.
Buldygin, who takes €126,300 for second, is a relative newcomer to the live game, playing only his sixth live tournament. But acquitted himself excellently to earn the biggest payday of his career, and is sure to be back. Meanwhile Fast now adds a major title on the EPT to his WPT and WSOP victories. It’s not a full triple crown, but it’s getting there.
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After a swift end to proceedings just before midnight last night, six men came back to play for the big money at Casino Portomaso this afternoon. None of them was especially short stacked, giving each of them reason for optimism. That went double when they all watched Buldygin, the admitted rookie, make all the early running.
Buldygin built his stack steadily with a number of small pots and then all of a sudden he won two coolers to vault close to the chip lead. The hands also accounted for the first two knock-outs from the final: Davidi Kitai blasting A♣J♠ into Buldygin’s Q♠Q♣ and pocket queens also destroying Ramin Hajiyev’s chances, when he shoved with A♠Q♣. Buldygin had Q♦Q♠.
Kitai took €37,250 for sixth and Hajiyev €47,720 for fifth, but both would have preferred the 850,000-strong chip-stack that the pots earned Buldygin. He had started the day with only 328,000 and was suddenly brimming with confidence.
By this point, Fast had found himself already on that roller coaster. The stack that had seemed untouchable yesterday was dwindling rapidly today, with most heading to Dario Sammartino. Sammartino is a terrific player to watch when he’s in the groove: he makes huge moves when he has to and applies relentless pressure. He’s not afraid to get knocked out, which makes it devilishly difficult to do so.
When they were four handed, Sammartino had more than double Buldygin’s stack, who was his closest challenger. Fast had less than half of what Buldygin was sitting with.
Pratysuh Buddiga, who is no stranger to the deep stages of high buy-in events, was biding his time at the other end of the table. Having only bought in at the start of Day 2, Buddiga had had one day’s rest more than his opponents, but he didn’t seem able to get anything started at the final.
What seemed to be a frustrating few card-dead hours ended at around 3:30pm when his pocket sevens couldn’t double his 12 big-blind stack against Buldygin’s K♦Q♦. Buddiga won €61,690, while Buldygin continued his record of having knocked out everyone at the final.
The three-handed dynamic offered another fascinating period of play. Fast managed to get himself back into it, winning a series of pots and adding a million to his stack in the space of about 90 minutes.
Sammartino had plenty too as Buldygin now slipped behind. The two EPT veterans seemed to be figuring out the best way to cope with the newcomer so that they could decide bragging rights between the two of them heads-up.
But the best laid plans do not always come to pass in poker, and Sammartino found himself flailing. Fast won with aces against Sammartino’s kings. Then a little later Sammartino slow-played a flopped set of nines and allowed Buldygin to river a straight. He got the last of his chips in with pocket fours and lost a race to Fast’s A♦7♦. Sammartino had to make do with €81,480 for third.
The heads-up duel looked like being brief. Fast had a seven-to-one chip lead and was by far the more experienced live player than Buldygin. However, they quickly established that Buldygin was a heads-up specialist online, and Fast expressed slight dismay that he’d be up against somebody who will “play optimally” with or without the big stack.
About three minutes later, his fears proved well founded when Buldygin found a come-from-behind double up–K♥9♦ beating A♠10♦–and Fast’s advantage was “only” two-to-one. But Fast simply reapplied himself, and kept up the relentless table talk that has characterised his three days in this tournament.
“Sometimes you have to be tricky,” Fast told Buldygin, referencing how he had twice checked full houses to Sammartino today, in order to extract the maximum from the Italian. (It only worked once, it should be noted.) “Second place is good for you,” Fast added, but Buldygin wasn’t convinced.
“Yes, but I want to continue, play, play, play,” Buldygin said, hugely enjoying his moment in the sun.
It was soon to be ended however, when Fast shoved his big stack in, essentially asking Buldygin to commit his last 12 big blinds. Buldygin found pocket sixes and called, but Fast’s A♠3♠ hit an ace on the flop and it sealed the deal for Fast.
The 31-year-old German takes his live tournament earnings past $2 million now–and will hope to add more this week. He was multi-tabling the IPT Main Event too today, and you can follow his progress into the night. You can also look back on the blow-by-blow action in this tournament on our live updates page.
Final word goes to Fast. He started the day with that potentially hubristic tweet, but all credit to him for making good on the promise. And he deserves this moment of self-satisfaction too:
feels like its a really good day pic.twitter.com/2Hnx5G5NlG
— Dietrich Fast (@2pacnrw16) October 20, 2016
Action continues all week in Malta, so stick with us at PokerStars Blog.
€10k NL Hold’em Single Re-Entry
Date: October 18-20, 2016
Players: 48 (+ 12 re-entries)
Prize-pool (after deductions): €582,000
|4||Pratyush Buddiga||United States||€61,690|