EPT Snowfest: Baekke completes job to become first King of the Mountains
Whenever you try anything new, even under the auspices of something so well-established as the European Poker Tour, there's always some element of risk. But rather like in poker itself, where the most skilled players reduce the influence of chance to its bare minimum, the wily operators of the EPT can sense when they're holding all the aces.
Snowfest - a poker tournament in an Alpine paradise of winter sports, warm hospitality, snowball fights and goats - was a brilliant idea all the way from drawing board to final execution. And after six days of intense competition over the poker tables at the Alpine Palace in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, we have just named our first king of the mountains. And this was as deserved a success as we've ever seen.
Allan Baekke, from Copenhagen, Denmark, took over the chip lead on day three and he barely relinquished it for a moment before he etched his name on the winner's trophy and on a cheque for €445,000 tonight. "I feel awesome," said Baekke. "It's so big. It's every poker player's dream."
The final stretch of that slaloming journey was today's final table, and seven opponents who were no mere moguls to be casually overrun. This was actually a gruelling battle today - more than 11 hours from start to finish - and for a while it seemed as though it really could have gone any which way.
A three-handed battle between Baekke, Russell Carson and Johannes Strassmann was the fitting end. There were big hands and major outdraws; there was relentless aggression and hero calls; there was terrific poker from start to finish. Both Strassmann and Carson wounded Baekke, but he would not lie down. Strassmann was sent to the rail and then Carson followed after another lengthy heads-up battle.
"I feel pretty good, considering," said Carson, who took €296,000 for second place. "I've had worse days."
We reconvened at 2pm today, with our final challengers looking rather like this:
Our first man to depart was Daniel Van Kalkeren, who arrived to the final table with a short stack and knew he had to move it. He got it all in with pocket fives, but ran into an ace-king and a king on the flop. We were off and playing, but playing without our final Dutchman.
Home hopes this morning were all on the young shoulders of Lukas Baumann, an engineering student who had manufactured himself a final table spot, against the odds. Humble but clearly no slouch, and having won his seat here for nothing in a Frequent Player Point satellite, Baumann had considered himself the underdog coming into today. But pretty much any player would have shoved a short stack over the top of Strassmann's opening raise with A♥J♣. This time it couldn't win the race against Strassmann's eights, however, and we were down to six.
Jonathan Schroer is more accustomed to life over the chequered chess board, where he is an international master. But having played online for ten years, and having also taken the FPP satellite route to Snowfest, he also knows his way around the poker tables. And he explored pretty much every inch of today's final table too, eyes darting around at his opponents and their stacks ... until he decided to enter a pot himself. Then, Schroer pulled a hoodie tightly over his face, laid his forehead flat on the table, and shoved all his chips over the line.
The routine confounded all his opponents time and again, and he steadily chipped up into contention. But eventually Schroer tried it one time too many, and shoved his messy stacks into the impeccably ordered skyscrapers of Strassmann, who also happened to have pocket kings. Schroer was slain.
Brent Wheeler was the next to go. Having been forced to play it pretty tight by the dominant Baekke to his left, Wheeler eventually seized his opportunity to chip up through the Romanian Alain Medesan. Wheeler flopped two pair and wasn't getting much resistance from Medesan. But little did Wheeler know, he was walking into a trap. Medesan had flopped a set of fives and there was no way back for the American, Baekke applying the final blow on the next hand.
Medesan emerged from the skirmish with Wheeler as the chip leader, but he wound up following him out the door. The three more experienced campaigners around him began to target the Romanian's huge stack, and it was Carson who managed to snaffle the lion's share when Medesan was on the wrong end of another cooler.
Carson and Medesan went at it pre-flop and it was Carson's kings that were decisive against Medesan's jacks. That put Medesan barely above the felt and his attempt at a heroic comeback foundered on the third time he was all in. Baekke again snapped him off - and the EPT still searches for its first Romanian champion.
That left us with that epic three-handed battle, which stretched from the dinner break long into the Alpine night. Even the floodlights went out on Mount Zwölferkogel as those three titans - Baekke, Carson and Strassmann - did battle, with any of them a worthy winner, and any of them possibly the next out.
Baekke hit the ropes after he ran fours into Carson's queens, but he mounted such a comeback that by the time he had rivered a flush against Strassmann's top two, and all the chips went in, it was the Team PokerStars Pro who was looking for the cash table.
Strassmann, yet again, has shown class in bundles here at Snowfest, leading on day two and cruising ruthlessly to the last eight. But there was no budging Baekke and Strassmann remains in search of his first EPT title even after his fourth visit to a final table.
The two players left were two of the very best, and they each had a vocal rooting section in the bleachers. Carson was down to his last few chips and staring at elimination with his A♥J♠ versus Baekke's A♣Q♦ all in pre-flop. The poker gods left it until the river to throw the lifeline, and when the jack popped out, the comeback was on.
Carson hauled himself all but level after another big double up, but heads-up play is Baekke's speciality. And he also has patience in abundance. He picked his spots perfectly, moved the chips in at all the right times. Eventually he managed to get pocket sevens to stand up against Carson's K♣J♠ and we finally had the champion we'd known about since Tuesday.
On the whole, then, this was another EPT that over-delivered on even the most lofty promises. Snow? Check. Skiing? Check? Parties? Check. Thrilling, top-quality poker? Check, check, check. Next season's schedule has not yet been confirmed, but I'll wear lederhosen for a week if Snowfest is not a fixture. And you wouldn't want to see me in lederhosen.
The next stop on the European Poker Tour is San Remo next month, followed swiftly by the Grand Final in Monte Carlo. But before even that, the PokerStars Blog will be in action to cover the second stop on the North American Poker Tour, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, USA. Join us there.
Take a look back at the final day's play in Saalbach-Himmelglemm with any of the following links:
Meanwhile, back to the top. Was it really Allan Baekke's dream to win an EPT? "No," he said. "Actually I always wanted to win two."
Over. And. Out.