Looked at a certain way, every poker tournament may seem a daunting, insurmountable task for any individual to overcome. Take the Italian Poker Tour Malta Main Event, a tournament that drew 775 competitors. Each arrived with an idea of conquering what might initially seem an almost impossible to defeat, multifarious foe, the rest of field being some kind of elusive, difficult to capture beast.
But someone always does end up alone at the end, and the story of the tournament somehow becomes that player’s story. Such was the case for the man from Hamburg, the talented Ismael Bojang who becomes the central protagonist of the IPT Malta Main Event thanks to his victory.
As a kind of prologue to today’s adventure, three days of poker ended last night with a dramatic double-knockout, with Israel’s Daniel Portiansky falling in seventh and Poland’s Filip Demby taking eighth to set up today’s finale.
The final six competitors included some top talent, encouraging us to prepare for a heady and perhaps lengthy battle between them. But after a couple of orbits and relatively minor back-and-forthing of chips, a tidal wave of activity swiftly reduced the field from six down to two in a matter of minutes.
First it was one of the two Russians, Alexander Lakhov — winner of a Sunday Million, a Super Tuesday, a SCOOP, among other live and online successes — getting caught in one those terrible, almost inescapable situations that have trapped many a tournament player — the dreaded set-over-set.
Having turned a set of fours in a hand versus Bojang, Lakhov bet the river after an innocuous-looking seven fell, and Bojang raised enough to put him all-in. Lakhov called without hesitation, then looked with dismay as Bojang tabled the pocket sevens that unluckily sent Lakhov railward.
It was a mere three hands later 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Main Event champion and wunderkind Dominik Panka open-raised his short stack all-in, Bojang called from the button, then the Frenchman Johan Guilbert pushed his similarly small stack in from the small blind. The action back on Bojang, he called the small difference and the trio all tabled their hands.
All three had an ace, while Bojang’s second card — a king — was better than Guilbert’s queen and Panka’s five. A queen came on the flop to heighten Guilbert’s hopes, but a king fell with a thud on the river, striking down both of Bojang’s opponents in a single blow, reminding all of the conclusion of play on Saturday.
As the shorter-stacked of the two at-risk players, Panka earned fifth-place prize money, adding yet another line to the Polish player’s growing poker résumé.
Meanwhile Guilbert — a former theatre actor — had played heroically to outlast all but three from the field of 775 to take fourth.
There was no time to reflect on what was happening, though. Another wave was about to crash. On the very nexthand, Italian Francesco Leotta pushed all-in from the small blind, and after a short study the shortest stack left — Russia’s Vladimir Shalabin — made the call.
He was instantly glad about his decision, tabling pocket fives while Leotta showed a pair of threes. But a three on the flop left Shalabin asking for fives, and when none came for the online pro he was out the door in third.
That was four eliminations in less than 10 minutes — and not even 45 minutes into the day! Heads-up had arrived, with Bojang enjoying a slight lead to start versus Leotta.
Leotta — a relative poker newcomer who carried the chip lead to today’s final day — seized the advantage back right away, however, and after building upwards had Bojang all-in and at risk. Bojang had ace-queen, and Leotta was taking his chances once more with a pair of threes, the hand with which he’d knocked out Shalabin.
The threes were good through the turn, but a river queen saved Bojang and the duel continued.
A little later Leotta was the one all-in and in rough shape holding king-eight versus Bojang’s ace-king, and once more the first four community cards were no help to the all-in player. But the river this time put a second pair on the board, making a split pot and allowing the Italian to keep his seat.
Between the earlier flurry of busts and the near-elimination experiences of the final two, the tournament’s final day had felt like a boat rocking back and forth on an increasingly restless sea. Eventually things had to break up, it seemed, and at last they did in a final all-in confrontation.
The ending involved no dramatic river twist, but rather began with a simple all-in from Leotta with ten-nine suited. And no, he didn’t say “Call me, Ismael” — he didn’t have to, as Bojang’s ace-nine suited provided enough fortification for him to do so. The board ran out clean, and the tournament’s narrative ended, with Bojang the story’s hero.
Stick close to the PokerStars Blog, as still more epic poker adventures await here in Malta.
Date: October 18-23, 2016
Buy in: €1,000+€100
Prize pool: €751,750
|1||Ismael Bojang||Austria||PokerStars player||€ 101,940|
|2||Francesco Leotta||Italy||€ 75,690|
|3||Vladimir Shabalin||Russia||€ 56,200|
|4||Johan Guilbert||France||€ 41,720|
|5||Dominik Panka||Poland||PokerStars player||€ 30,970|
|6||Alexander Lakhov||Russia||PokerStars qualifier||€ 23,000|
|7||Daniel Portiansky||Israel||€ 17,070|
|8||Filip Demby||Poland||PokerStars player||€ 12,670|
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Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog; photography by Manuel Kovsca