Isabelle Mercier wins PokerStars' Ante Up for Africa
While it was a day of great glamour, drama and sportsmanship, and a day that Isabelle Mercier will remember for a long, long time having secured victory, PokerStars' Ante Up for Africa tournament will go down in the history books for another very good reason - raising more than 250,000 euros for relief efforts in war-torn Darfur, Sudan.
On the eve of the season 5 finale of the European Poker Tour in Monte Carlo, winning money was the last thing on 40 players' minds. Donating money - each of them the 4,000 euros entry fee - was the name of the game, a figure topped up with 100,000 euros from PokerStars.
While a host of pro players, including a great turn out of Team PokerStars Pros, provided the poker expertise, a fine group of celebrities from the tv screen, to music and sport provided the glitz that ensured this event not only raised a sizeable sum, but also raised awareness for the continuing problems in Darfur.
The field could not have been a more diverse bunch. U.S rapper Nelly sat with French rugby star Sebastian Chabal; Heroes TV star James Kyson Lee sat with Formula 1 driver Nico Rosberg; and French rapper Bruno Lopez - aka Kool Shen - shared the felt with Sex in the City star Jason Lewis. And to bring a touch of royalty to the occasion, England rugby international Mike Tindall had a famous supporter on the rail - his partner Zara Phillips, the Queen's grandaughter.
None of this, however, would take attention away from the real reason they were here to play. Isabelle Mercier, who beat former England and Manchester United footballer Teddy Sheringham heads-up after a super-tough final table, summed it up perfectly: "It was great fun to play, but overall I am very proud to have helped raise so much money."
The event started with a glittering red carpet for the press to catch their shots of the stars. Once at the tables, they had 10,000 chips but a fast structure with blinds rising every 20 minutes. The action, unsurprisingly, was fast and furious. Among the celebs showing early promise was Liverpool FC and Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina, while Nelly and singer/songwriter The Dream were early fallers. James Kyson Lee was one of those suffering from Isabelle Mercier's early charge: "Isabelle's taking everyone's chips," he lamented. "Ah, but it's my job," came the quick reply.
The actor stayed around until the last two tables before losing the last of his chips to team PokerStars Pro Dario Minieri - his K-10 no good against the Italian's A-7. But he'd enjoyed his time at the tables: "I've done well to last this far," said Lee. "It's been a great experience for me - you can learn so much by just playing at the same table as these pro players."
It was a hard lesson for so many of the celebs. Many fell early, but they were in good company - Team PokerStars Pros Joe Hachem, Peter Eastgate and Greg Raymer, all world champions, also found the rail before the business end. Three celebs, however, showed they had the guile to make it through to the final table - Sebastian Chabal, Teddy Sheringham and French sports commentator Patrick Chene found themselves on the lofty televised stage along with Tony G and a gaggle of Team Pro survivors.
Chabal, who has a fearsome reputation on the rugby field - something noted by Daniel Negreanu who could not believe rugby players played without padding - had earlier sounded a word of warning: "I was tight. I was really tight. But it doesn't work.
I decided to be more aggressive." And it worked.
The final table looked like this when they sat down:
Seat 1: Dario Minieri, Team PokerStars Pro, 43,400
Seat 2: John Duthie, Team PokerStars Pro, 39,000
Seat 3: Patrick Chene, 20,100
Seat 4: Sebastian Chabal, 20,300
Seat 5: Luca Pagano, Team PokerStars Pro, 41,500
Seat 6: Tony G, 18,200
Seat 7: Daniel Negreanu, Team PokerStars Pro, 151,000
Seat 8: Teddy Sheringham, 44,900
Seat 9: Isabelle Mercier, Team PokerStars Pro, 42,700
Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu had built up a commanding lead, but Sheringham and Minieri in particular were catching fast as Chabal, then John Duthie and Chene busted. Luca Pagano was next to go - increasing Sheringham's stack in the process - and then Negreanu completed his riches to rags story going out in fifth.
Tony G went next, and then Minieri departed in third, his chips moving to Sheringam in a forlorn 10-10 v Q-Q battle, which left the ex-England football star with a 3-1 chip lead over Mercier heads-up.
It wouldn't last long, with blinds rising super fast, the all-in move was the only one that seemed appropriate. It was cat-and-mouse stuff, but Mercier clawed back, edged ahead, then finally snatched victory when her A♠2♦ held up against Sheringham's [10s]4♥.
While it would be wrong to overlook Isabelle Mercier's win, the real winners are the charities working so hard to bring relief to Darfur, so ravaged by bloody conflict. Our thanks to all our celebrity players for helping to make the first Ante Up for Africa tournament held in Europe such a success.
We'll leave you with Heroes star James Kyson Lee...
Watch Ante Up for Africa Europe: Interview with James Kyson Lee on PokerStars.tv
And if you'd like to catch up with the tournament as it unfolded you can read our Action from the tournament floor, peruse our picture gallery post, our start to the proceedings in Stars take to the tournament stage, or even our scene setter at PokerStars' Ante Up for Africa reveals poker's heart of gold.
Until tomorrow - or actually in just a few hours when the EPT Monte Carlo main event begins - goodnight.