Thanks and thoughts after EPT Copenhagen

teampro-thumb.JPGAfter EPT Copenhagen I was happy and exhausted in equal measure. I had only one feeling of loss: being unable to respond to the thousands of messages of sympathy.
We are like that in smaller countries like Belgium; much closer to each other, and in our little world of Belgian poker everyone is my friend and partner. It's very touching. Only this morning, I told a journalist I have not yet won the world championship, and he replied that, having read PokerStars Blog, I had--the world championship of sympathy from the poker world.

So I decided to formulate a response to the thousands of questions I have received since coming second in Copenhagen, and I have chosen to use the PokerStars Blog to honour the talent of their writer Stephen Bartley.

There are so many wonderful articles, so many good troubadour poker writers, that I have a generous choice of stories to enjoy. But the piece by Bartley filled me with emotion. These words from the pen of this Shakespeare of poker: "The game is better when Pierre plays", filled my eyes with tears of emotion. He continued: "Age is no barrier in this most open of games." One of the goals I have set myself is to be an inspiration for my whole generation, which hardly dares to venture into this world where youth triumphs.


The qualities I admire most in our poker community are the honesty and fair play that prevail at the moments of the most serious confrontations. So when I read the following words by Bartley: "a gent and an honourable ambassador for the game", I no longer needed to see the next story on PokerStars Blog about my rise up the EPT Leaderboard. Stephen, thank you. Thank you all who offer me the greatest victory in poker: the empathy and friendship within our global community.

During the epic heads-up battle with Mickey Petersen in Copenhagen I appreciated the messages from all the countries assembled together behind their computer screens. The French sent me certificates of adoption, while the Russians acknowledged the "old one" as being as indestructible as a true Russian. There were so many other nationalities getting in touch, but this is one of the missions of world poker: all cultures, races and nationalities playing together. Maybe it has to be one of the best antidotes to the occurrence of future wars.

In this piece I would especially like to answer the question I was asked most often: "So, are you not a little sad about finishing second?" To the entire poker world let me say, however many times necessary: no, no, not a single percent of regret. Instead, I have a feeling of complete happiness.

What can I say? I wish I were ten or 20 years younger and could have kept going for a few more hours (we played heads-up for more than six hours)? At 69 years old and on the fifth day of the event, to not lose patience after 13 hours of a final-table battle, where the heads-up opponent even refused a dinner break, demanded maximum effort from me. But I motivated myself physically, mentally - in fact, every way known to man. I told myself I had to keep going. I had the feeling of victory, but a poker river card threw in the towel for me like a boxer's corner would do. I was exhausted.

Having said that, the way it happened was good. While it brought me five seconds of disappointment because I lost to Mickey, it also gave me a lifetime to rejoice in the victories that I took away from Copenhagen.

Here is a brief story of the event for all those new to high-level poker:

On the first day that you arrive at an EPT, you meet champions from 80 countries and you're completely impressed. Each one wants to get through that first day. In Copenhagen, the field had decreased from year to year because some players elsewhere in Europe believe the Nordics are too strong; this concentration of Nordics is too much.

So the first day I was very conservative, being patient for eight hours without picking up a chip. It was only thanks to two bluffs (I showed them) that I managed to survive after having fallen to 8,000. What a great victory, I said to myself that evening. But in poker your efforts are not inscribed on your little stack of 15,000.


That small stack transformed itself into something much bigger on Day 2. I only had to wait for one hand, throwing away A-x, before doubling in the second. And within a few hours I had increased my stack ten-fold. What a wonderful comeback; what a second-day victory!

The third day started like the first. I was hitting nothing and my stack was diminishing relentlessly. So much so that with 60 players left I was in danger of going out. This was well before the bubble as 48 places were being paid. So at that point, I chose victory over fate and impatience. With the bubble getting ever near I decided to ignore the possibility of being denied a cash finish. So there followed two hours of total patience; I became a super-tight player donning his anti-bubble shield.

Just between us, I was completely set on returning to the top ten of the all-time EPT cash leaderboard (previous high roller points had just been removed due to a change in the regulations). I remembered a response to a reporter six months ago who asked me up to what age I intended to carry on playing. Answer: until I'm in the EPT top 10 all time.

From that moment I tried to profit from my tight image at the table by launching a series of attacks and ended the day tournament chip leader: my first ever chip lead in an EPT, which had been another ambition of mine.


But Day 4 had yet to begin. The real victory in this level of tournament poker is getting to the final table. When you arrive at an event and you see this huge room full for two days with the best players, you think you have to stay in until the very last, and you'll see hundreds of champions leave before you. What a great victory that would be. So the fourth day is very long. Very, very long. With every hand there is the risk of being out, and with every hand the divine final table comes a fraction closer.

I reactivated the tactic of being active but cautious, swapping the chip lead for the benefit of a greater chance of making the final table. And then the day was almost finished, and I found myself with one remaining table of nine players. We needed to lose one more player, and it took 90 minutes. Finally, the top eight survived. The final table was set.

ept copenhagen_day 5_pierre neuville.jpg

So to the the last day. When you see the enormous difference between each cash prize at the final table, you understand that every place gained is worth a victory in an average tournament. And the first goal of the day is, above all, not to be out in eighth place. And since there were three giant stacks in comparison with mine, of which the super active on my right was four betting, and on my left playing any two, I simply concentrated on my own cards.

The first victory on this final day was when Steve O'Dwyer, the chip-leader on Day 1, who had 14 times my stack at that time, went out. A second victory of the day came when, in his wake, there were only six of us left. And then the promising but still imprudent young Dutchman committed himself, which left five of us, my stack putting me in fifth place. My few solitary chips made up only five per cent of the total in play, so forlorn against these four Vikings, each with a few million in front of him.

Surviving for another place would be a superb victory, but how? Total attack was the answer, and I gained a place as I felt that the Finn to my left was on an early tilt and his millions were going to melt like snow in the sun.

At this point, I proposed a fair deal among the five of us. The one who refused busted ten minutes later - poetic justice. Followed by the Finn on tilt.

With three of us left, I celebrated these victories with a volley of attacks and found myself in the lead. My two Danish opponents again categorically refused the deal that I proposed, which was calculated fairly. Strange? But again, the difference in prize money from third to second meant getting to heads-up was another huge victory to enjoy.

ept copenhagen_day 5_heads up.jpg

So you've seen how many poker victories I had during those five days... and it was not over yet. When I returned home, I discovered on the Hendon Mob forum the victory of international popularity; I now knew that in that country (the UK) they have this respect for Belgian poker which was virtually unknown four years ago.

So after Copenhagen I jumped up to fourth place on the EPT all-time leaderboard. Oh yes, there had been five seconds of disappointment because of a 5 on a river. The cards had made their choice, but the last lesson of poker is that, after having respected all the opponents, all the qualities and all the challenges of the game, we still owe tribute to the cards. What the cards wish is always granted. But the cards haven't got the power to remove even a tiny part of my poker pleasure, and I am very lucky to be among the happiest players on the planet. Poker has afforded me the pleasure and consideration of friends in 100 countries

And this victory surpasses all other results.

Our game is the ultimate game; it requires us to make use of all our humane qualities. But the cards do not relinquish their power; they are guardians of boundless suspense, hopes and dreams.

Good luck to all of you. See you at the tables soon, both live and online at PokerStars every evening.