EPT Prague: Frenchman scoops €708,600 and first EPT Prague title

EPT Prague winner Arnaud Mattern

There are some players who are gifted with natural talent. Their success comes from skill and hard work, traits not always brought to the attention of the poker world eager to find the reincarnation of the next big thing. Others will never have that, however hard they try. Frenchman Arnaud Mattern though is in the former bracket and tonight became the first winner of the EPT Prague.

Hailing from Paris but now living in London, the 28 year-old overcame chip deficits, strong competition and a final that lasted over seven and a half hours to overcome Italian Gino Alacqua, taking the first prize of €708,600 and a seat in the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo next spring.

How did it all take shape? He arrived at the final table this afternoon second in chips.

Seat 1 – Juha Lauttamus – Finland – 567k
Seat 2 – Kristian Kjondal – Norway – 740k
Seat 3 – Gino Alacqua – Italy – 660k
Seat 4 – Markus Golser – Austria – 352k
Seat 5 – Mikael Norinder – Sweden -- 1,036,000
Seat 6 – Nedzib Suman – Sweden – 216k
Seat 7 – Dagomir Palovic – Slovakia -- 759k
Seat 8 – Johannes Strassmann – PokerStars player – Germany – 245k
Seat 9 – Arnaud Mattern – France – 980k

The line-up immediately threw up favorites, statistically and among the crowds. Markus Golser has been a popular player on the tour for some time and despite valiant cashes had yet to make it to a final table. Was this to be his opporunity to bag a title?

Talented young Norwegian Kristian Kjondal had the experience of EPT final table, having finished fourth in Monte Carlo last April. He was looking to better that and most people expected him too, particularly as he was armed with a good stack.

Kristian Kjondal

But the first obstacle for everyone seemed to be Swedish pro Mikael Norinder, an accomplished player who came fifth in the Master Classics in Amsterdam last month. He began with over a million chips, the only player with seven figures, and posed a threat that few expected him to give up easily.

But he did.

First PokerStars player Johannes Strassmann was eliminated in ninth spot for €39,200. One of the two short stacks, Johannes made his move with pocket deuces only for Norinder to call with pocket nines. It marked the high water mark for Norinder who looked unstoppable sweeping up Strassmann’s chips. But in the space of half an hour he went into terminal free fall, from over a million to an eighth place finish sparked by a hand against Kristian Kjondal.

Mikael Norinder

The Swede had raised with Norinder calling and Arnaud re-raising, forcing Kristian to lay down his hand. Then Mikael did something that had everyone asking questions, accidentally putting too many chips in the pot when intending just to call and, as he made no verbal declaration, it was declared a raise by tournament director Thomas Kremser.

It was a moment that would pay dividends for eventual winner Mattern. He went all-in for another 600k. Still ready to cause more surprise Norinder called, making it a colossal pot worth 1.9 million. Arnaud showed his pocket kings with A-Q for Norinder. He would need an ace to dig himself out of the mess but it didn’t come. Arnaud was the new chip leader by a huge margin, whilst Norinder collapsed to 180k. His tournament wouldn’t last another five minutes. Kristian Kjondal did the honorable thing, putting Mikael out of his misery.

The tournament went on, Dagomir Palovic going next. The former child star on Slovakian TV moved all-in with Kjondal calling by the narrowest of margins – A-T for the Slovakian, A-J for Kjondal. The difference was almost the same as the previous hand that had cost him dearly, A-Q against A-K. The result was the same this time and Dagomir was out, taking €93,600 with him.

The pace seemed to have picked up now, with thoughts of a quick final on people’s minds. Nedzib Suman took his €119,000 for sixth when his A-T was called by Juha Lauttmaas holding pocket sevens. It would be nearly an hour before his exit was followed by Markus Golser who finished in fifth place. It was not to be for the experienced Austrian but his options were growing short. He pushed when the flop brought him a flush draw, Juha called though with a pair of jacks. No clubs came for Markus, out with €151,800.

Markus Golser

With four left the chip stacks looked like this:

Juha Lauttamus – Finland – 1,806,000
Kristian Kjondal – Norway – 1,070,000
Gino Alacqua – Italy – 1,073,000
Arnaud Mattern – France – 1,566,000

Golser’s vanquisher would be next in line for dethroning though, another chip leader experiencing a sudden descent into chaos. A simple battle of the blinds resulted in three million chips going to Arnaud after Juha moved all-in. Arnaud found himself to be in the joyous position of calling with aces and the two bullets held. As with Norinder earlier he would be quickly finished off; Gino Alacqua doing the calling this time when Juha pushed, Q-4 against Q-2. The Finn Juha out in fourth place for €182,200

That left three. Arnaud held the lead and was beginning to look unshakeable. But was it as straight forward as that? We’d already seen two chip leaders eliminated before their time. Could it happen a third time?

That thought came to mind when Gino took a huge pot against the Frenchman, a bet from Arnaud called by Gino for his tournament life. It proved a good decision. K-J for the Italian, pocket eights for his opponent. The race was ended fast when the king hit the flop. Was history repeating itself?

Kristian Kjondal -- Norway -- 1,651,000
Gino Alacqua -- Italy -- 2,349,000
Arnaud Mattern -- France -- 1,434,000

One of these three would have to go next - Norwegian Kjondal would shoulder that responsibility. With a flop dealt 3-4-5 Gino made it 200k. Kristian moved all-in and Gino called. As had now become familiar the crowds got to their feet, standing on chairs, hanging off railings and flouting health and safety laws to get a better look at the cards as the hit the table. K-6 for Kristian with a straight draw, K-5 for Gino with a made pair of fives. An eight hit the turn, no good for Kristian, but it gave Gino more options for a potential flush. A deuce, six or seven of the non-club kind would work. It didn’t come. To cheers of “Go on the devil!” (Alacqua’s nickname being ‘El Diablo’) Kjondal shook hands with the others and made his way off stage with €235,399 for third place.

With a case of cash and the EPT trophy now standing on the table the heads-up battle began. Gino Alacqua on one side, the young Frenchman Arnaud Mattern opposite. The duel would take over 90 minutes but would hinge on just two hands.

Just two? Well, the reality was that Arnaud chipped away without needing a particularly big hand and never gave up. In contrast to Gino’s flamboyant style Arnaud was the picture of discipline and perseverance. No extra movements, no wasted energy. Heavily outnumbered going into the heads-up, with 1.5m to Gino’s 4m, the Frenchman simply refused to lose sight of winning and maintained the concentration needed to avoid any mistake.

The first of those key hands saw the chip lead take a violent swing away from Gino. Arnaud had moved all-in. Gino, who speaks little English only ever talked to his friends on the rail a few feet away and even then rarely. All his thoughts stayed inside his head, his composure and concentration seemed to depend on this.

Sometimes there are little moments that go overlooked, forgotten in the shadown of the crowd pleasing acts of winning. The pitcher nodding at the catcher calling for a fastball in the ninth inning, or the two or three bounces of the basketball before the star player takes a game wining foul shot.

Call me old fashioned but Gino’s donation to this spirit was a simple nod to the dealer, declaring his wish to call Arnaud’s all-in. No words, no chips being pushed forward, just a few short nods.

All hell broke loose. The same recklessness on the rail with people rushing forwards to see what they could – partly responsible for adding to the drama. They wanted to see the Frenchman paid off for nearly 90 minutes of rock face work and they wouldn’t be disappointed.

Gino stood to attention, head slightly bowed, his hands clasped in front of him, patiently waiting for a big voice to shout at him. It came in the form of Arnaud’s pocket jacks. Gino could only manage A-9 and would need one of the three left in the deck. The flop came 4-K-Q. No sign of the ace. A deuce on the turn, a four on the river. Arnaud’s mission was almost complete. The French fans on the rail, and there were many, went delirious.

Fifteen minutes later it was done. The last hand of EPT Prague was heralded by the whoosh of spectators. Anyone not in the know would have thought the crowds were waiting for a man to emerge from a deep whole carrying the secrets of the universe. Instead they were seeing the last all-in called. A-K for Arnaud, Q-T of diamonds for Gino. The Frenchman was ahead with the hand and ahead with chips. All he needed to do now was dodge a lot of diamonds, queens and tens.

Two of the dreaded diamonds found their way to the flop. 2-6-J, a ray of hope for Gino. King (hearts) on the turn. A deuce (clubs) on the river. It was all over. The cheers drowned out everything else as Arnaud Mattern completed one of the great EPT comebacks and win the inaugural EPT Prague and €706,800 - and of course, a seat in the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo next spring.

Arm aloft, Arnaud Mattern wins the EPT Prague

It marks the end of the first EPT Prague which started with 555 players this week, arriving from 36 different countries. The starting field went beyond anyone’s expectations, making the event a success all round.

“For a new event, the Prague EPT has been an outstanding success.” Said PokerStars Head of Communications, EMEA, Conrad Brunner. “Europe's top players have put on a real show, and great credit must go to Arnaud Mattern for winning against a top class field. His victory in Prague catapults him to the top of the French EPT leader board.”

As for the EPT another new event awaits as the tour makes its first stop beyond the geographical borders of Europe. Staring on 5 January 2008, the Bahamas will be home to the EPT with the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, one of the most popular tournaments, not to mention destinations, anywhere in the world.

And don’t forget, you can read news, features and interviews with the winner of the EPT and more on the EPT live blog. For more details click here.

That’s all from Prague. See you in the Caribbean.
Brad Willis
@BradWillis in