PokerStars is celebrating its 20th Anniversary: 20 years as the best known and most trusted online poker site.
To join the celebrations here at PokerStars Blog, we are looking back year-by-year on those two decades, noting the landmarks and remembering all the remarkable moments, fitting them into the wider landscape of poker’s sensational development.
Today we go back to 2013 when one of the most talent-filled final tables of any PokerStars event in history took place–not in a Super High Roller, but in a European Poker Tour Main Event. How did all of those stars make it?
These days, there’s a high roller tournament going on somewhere in the world just about every other day, with buy-ins ranging from $25,000 all the way up to $1 million. Poker’s best players love nothing more than competing at the highest level for huge sums of prize money, so the fields in these events are almost always stacked with poker’s elite.
As a result, we’ve all just got used to seeing the biggest names in the game reach high roller final tables.
And that’s why what happened at the €10,000 buy-in European Poker Tour (EPT) Grand Final in Monte Carlo back in 2013 was so special.
The tournament wasn’t a high roller in which only the elite and wealthy do battle. It wasn’t an invite-only super high roller designed for TV audiences. It was a regular, open poker event, chock-full of PokerStars online qualifiers, mid-stakes grinders taking a shot, and the best of the best looking to etch their name into EPT history.
And yet the final table looked exactly like one we’d expect to see in a high roller. Moreover, it contained four of the top PokerStars Team Pros of the time, two of whom were on the verge of becoming the first-ever two-time EPT champion:
Seat 1 – Jake Cody, Team PokerStars Pro, United Kingdom
Seat 2 – Jason Mercier, Team PokerStars Pro, United States
Seat 3 – Andrew Pantling, Canada
Seat 4 – Grant Levy, Australia
Seat 5 – Steve O’Dwyer, Ireland
Seat 6 – Daniel Negreanu, Team PokerStars Pro, Canada
Seat 7 – Noah Schwartz, United States
Seat 8 – Johnny Lodden, Team PokerStars Pro, Norway
The tournament overall was wildly entertaining. There were 531 entries with €1.2 million awaiting the winner. The likes of Phil Ivey took part and even the bubble boy–Freddy Deeb–was a High Stakes Poker legend.
But was this the best final table ever?
Negreanu, Mercier, Lodden and Cody were the big names repping the red spade. Pantling represented the successful businessmen so often seen in super high rollers. O’Dwyer and Schwartz represented the high stakes crushers. And the most vulnerable player, Levy, a schoolteacher by trade, still had $1.8 million in cashes under his belt.
It felt like it could easily have been the final table of a €100K Super High Roller. But it wasn’t. They’d all made it to the same €10K EPT final table.
“This was fantasyland. The OFC acolytes don’t know the meaning of the word,” wrote PokerStars Blog’s Howard Swains at the event.
“Whoever won at the Grand Final would already be a superstar. It was just a matter of finding out who would be inking that line on his glittering resume. The poker would be sensational, we knew that for sure. But who would be raising the trophy?”
Between January 2010 and May 2011, the UK’s Jake Cody enjoyed a 17-month stretch so pure that there could be no denying him as one of the greatest tournament players in the world at the time.
His streak began with a win at EPT Deuville for €857K (Jan 2010), which he followed up with a World Poker Tour (WPT) victory in London for £273K (Aug 2010). The next summer, he clinched his first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet in the $25K Heads-Up Championship for $851K, and with that, he became the fastest person ever (and third overall) to win poker’s Triple Crown (an EPT, WPT, and WSOP title).
Cody then signed on as a Team Pro and enjoyed further success both live and online. By the time he’d reached “the greatest EPT final table in history” (his words), he was becoming a poker household name. “Winning [this] would be, without a doubt, the greatest achievement of my career,” he told the TV team before play commenced.
“This is the greatest final table poker has ever seen,” claimed Jason Mercier at the time, and believe me, he’d already been on a fair few big ones.
The young American burst onto the poker scene in 2008 when he took down the EPT Sanremo Main Event for €869K, but he was already a Supernova Elite force in online poker. Mercier proved himself once again later that year when he won the EPT London High Roller for £516K, and what’s since followed has been one of poker’s great careers: five WSOP bracelets, a record for the most weeks spent at atop the Global Poker Index (GPI), and just shy of $20 million in career cashes.
But in 2013, he was all about becoming the first two-time EPT champ, saying: “If I could win a second before anyone else, it would be amazing for me.”
Seat 3 – Andrew Pantling
Canada’s Andrew Pantling was a long-time successful poker pro who went by the name “ClockWyze” online, before making the switch to business by becoming the CEO of a sports betting site. So while he may have been considered a recreational at the final table, he was not one to be messed with.
Pantling had enjoyed a number of six-figure scores over the years before 2013, and still plays in some of the biggest tournaments around the world today, most notably the biggest ever: the £1 million buy-in Triton Million in August 2019. His biggest result came from a sixth-place finish in a €1 million buy-in One Drop event (€1.5 million) while his result on this final table remains his second-largest career score.
“I like playing against the best,” he said before the final table began. Good job he was, then.
Seat 4 – Grant Levy
Grant Levy was the least familiar face at the final table to the TV audiences at home, but those in the know knew he was more than capable of going the distance.
A teacher by day and card shark by night, he’d won an Asia Pacific Poker Tour title for A$1 million in 2007 and had a bunch of other big scores leading up to 2013. But Levy mostly chooses to stay close to home and play in his native Australia, as well as the occasional trip to Macau. Today, he has $2.37 million in career winnings.
For whatever reason, he made the trip to Monte Carlo in 2013. When he first sat down for the €10K Main Event, he probably never could have guessed he’d find himself on such a preposterous final table. “I’ve played poker all around the world and I haven’t seen a final table this stacked in anything,” he said.
Seat 5 – Steve O’Dwyer
Before he became the super high roller beast with $30.7 million in career winnings he is today, Steve O’Dwyer was the online crusher behind the PokerStars name “Mr Tim Caum” who was trying to break out in live events.
He did just that when he finished second to Benny Spindler at EPT London in 2011 for £465K, and over the next couple of years, he became a fixture in big events, notching up six-figure score after six-figure score. But titles eluded him.
Was this his chance to make a big splash? Read on. Regardless, he’s since enjoyed a career that most can only dream of. His biggest score to date was from a $100K Super High Roller win at the 2015 PCA, good for $1.87 million. And that’s just one of his six seven-figure cashes on his CV.
Seat 6 – Daniel Negreanu (a Team PokerStars Pro in 2013)
KidPoker was already considered a legend eight years ago.
Since joining Team Pro in 2007, Canada’s Daniel Negreanu had not only had a huge impact on the PokerStars brand but a huge and influential impact on poker in general. He was a fan favourite, a bonafide crowd-pleaser, and his presence at this final table made it box office.
You know what he’s gone on to do since 2013, but we’ll remind you anyway. He’s got $45 million in career earnings (third all-time), has transcended generations and remains at the highest elite level.
But in 2013, all he cared about was winning this EPT title. If he was to do it, he’d join Cody in the exclusive Triple Crown club.
Seat 7 – Noah Schwartz
Noah Schwartz had long been a feared opponent by the time this final table took place. Like many others he started online, winning the Sunday Million for a massive $291K in 2007, as well as a host of other big events, all before he turned 25.
He then turned his attention to live poker and continued to crush, winning the 2008 Borgata Open for $331K and capturing a WPT title in 2012, good for $402K.
His confidence was clearly high heading into this event, and the other players at the final table knew he was equipped to get the job done. He proved that once again in 2013 when he won his first WSOP bracelet.
That means, had he won this event, he’d also be a Triple Crown holder.
Seat 8 – Johnny Lodden
He doesn’t play much these days, and his surname is arguably now more synonymous in poker for the game Lodden Thinks, which Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak devised when at the table with him.
But in 2013, Johnny Lodden was considered a wizard of the highest calibre. This EPT final table was his second, having finished eighth at EPT Budapest for €53K in 2008, but he had some unfinished business with EPT Monte Carlo in particular. In the 2008 edition, Lodden was chip leader for much of the tournament but ended up busting in 17th place, earning €46K.
“I’ve been wanting to win an EPT for nine years,” he told TV cameras before play began. “It’s embarrassing to say but I’ve only made one final table.”
At the time, the final table players had $39 million in career earnings between them.
If you were to combine their totals today, it would come to a staggering $115 million, led by Negreanu and O’Dwyer ($45 million and $30 million, respectively).
And so the action began.
“They started falling from the most vulnerable up,” Swains wrote in his event wrap-up as Levy was the first to fall, felted by Pantling. Mercier would follow suit, unable to clinch that coveted second EPT title, and again his chips went to Pantling.
Negreanu’s quest for the Triple Crown was going swimmingly when both Cody and Schwartz committed their short stacks all-in and he woke up with pocket aces, getting the double KO. But Lodden had a quest of his own and struck down Negreanu in two hands: first beating his pocket queens with pocket nines to double, then taking the rest by winning a flip.
Lodden held the chip-lead three-handed but O’Dwyer would win a flip of his own to change that. He’d then bust Lodden by sucking out with a dominated ace, taking it down to two.
“And so they went heads up, with talk of a deal quashed at its first mention,” wrote Swains. “O’Dwyer seemed amenable to at least looking at the numbers, no doubt terrified of history repeating itself. He had been here before when Spindler beat him to the crown. But when Pantling demured, O’Dwyer was happy to refocus, adjust his play and settle in for the night. Both players took their time over every action heads up; they were both well stacked and there was every chance they could play for hours more.”
Instead, it all ended quite quickly thanks to a cooler. O’Dwyer, who had flopped three eights, got Pantling to put all his chips in the pot. “Pantling had turned a flush and was only too happy to oblige,” wrote Swains. “But when the river card was a fourth eight, O’Dwyer couldn’t seem to believe it. He sat back in his chair, stunned, and then slowly walked over to shake the hand of the defeated Pantling.”
O’Dwyer was the victor of arguably the best final table in history. “I just…I don’t know any words,” he said after the win. “I’m in shock.”
The EPT continued to get bigger and better in the years that followed while the buy-ins for high roller events would eventually swell to inconceivable heights. Lord knows we’ve seen countless incredible high roller final tables between 2013 and 2021.
We’ve still never seen an open EPT Main Event final table quite like that one though. But who knows? When the EPT returns, as it will in 2021, perhaps we will.
EPT9 Monaco Main Event
Date: 12 May, 2013
Prize pool: €5,130,000
1. Steve O’Dwyer, Ireland, €1,224,000
2. Andrew Pantling, Canada, €842,000
3. Johnny Lodden, Team PokerStars Pro, Norway, €467,000
4. Daniel Negreanu, Team PokerStars Pro, Canada, €321,000
5. Jake Cody, Team PokerStars Pro, United Kingdom, €251,000
6. Noah Schwartz, United States, €189,000
7. Jason Mercier, Team PokerStars Pro, United States, €137,000
8. Grant Levy, Australia, €103,000
MORE IN THIS SERIES:
2012 – A look back at some of poker’s best (and worst) innovations
2011 – Isuldur1 and the nosebleed cash games
2010 – Poker as a TV and streaming spectacle
2009 – The live poker boom hits its highest point
2008 – Where future superstars cut their teeth
2007 – The changing face of the sponsored pro
2006 – How poker prize pools ballooned
2005 – Reporting on poker will never catch on…
2004 – The Year of the EPT
2003 – Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP, sparks ‘poker boom’
2002 – The year of WCOOP
2001 – Electronic poker before PokerStars