EPT10 Grand Final: Antonio Buonanno outwits and out-waits young guns in record-setting epic

The PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final for Season 10 is over and Antonio Buonanno, a 47-year-old Italian professional poker player, proved that experienced campaigners can still outwit and out-wait the flamboyant youngsters to win the tour's most prestigious prize.

Buonanno, who was at least 14 years older than anyone else at the final table, put on a gritty, tenacious and patient display to dash the hopes of a clutch of poker's young guns. He was out-chipped for long periods, particularly by Jack Salter, the British professional, and had only his wife to turn to for support on the rail, while Salter had a host of vocal fans.

But Buonanno stuck to his game and shut out the distractions for a record 310 hands, securing a series of crucial double ups when he needed them most. Eventually, after 17 hours' play in the Salle des Etoiles, at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, Buonanno ousted his nemesis Salter to secure a €1,240,000 payday and clamp an exclusive SLYDE watch around his wrist.


Antonio Buonanno: New champion

It was among the longest final tables ever known on the European Poker Tour, and the heads up also set a new record, finishing with daylight outside at 6.06am. But Buonanno had showed no signs of flagging as he pushed Salter, 20 years his junior, ever closer to the brink. Until the very last hand, Salter had never been all in and under threat, but Buonanno had forced him many times to fold on the river with fearless shoves.

"It was very hard and very long," Buananno said. "Salter is a good player. It was very difficult to win this EPT. I played five days very short-stacked, but I think I played good poker yesterday and today."

After the extraordinary, star-studded final table of this time last year, when Steve O'Dwyer triumphed from a field of all-timers, today's gathering of the final eight felt like a return to the early days of the EPT. A remarkable seven of the finalists had won their passage to Monaco via an online satellite, and every one ended up securing the biggest single cash of his life -- most more than doubling his total career earnings.


Final table players (l-r): Kenny Hicks (standing), Sebastian Bredthauer, Magnus Karlsson, Jack Salter, Mayu Roca, Antonio Buonanno, Sebastian von Toperczer, Malte Moennig (standing).

It was fitting that Salter and Buonanno would end up in the final two as they had some history together. Salter eliminated Buonanno from the Main Event in Vienna, and the Italian had not forgotten, prompting the two to engage in some verbal sparring in the early stages of the day. By the end of it, after which they had each held the chip lead and had never been too far behind one another, some kind of Stockholm syndrome had developed between the two, without it ever being clear who was the kidnapper and who the prey.

"I would have fallen asleep without the rail, man," Salter told a supporter during a late break, as the heads up alone drifted past eight hours. "It's helping me a lot." Buonanno, for his part, saw out the pauses in play in quiet conversation with his wife, Carmen.


Antonio Buonanno exchanges words with Salter


Jack Salter endures a nervous moment with his rail

The heads up passage of play lasted more than 230 hands (the entire previous action had lasted only 74) during which Salter's fans, including his brother Louis, grew ever more vocal and refreshed. But Buonanno refused to be beaten and seemingly won every all in coup. Eventually, with breakfast being served in the Principality's hotels, the two of them got their chips in with Buananno's A♠4♥ holding against Salter's K♦7♦. We finally had a champion.


Antonio Buonanno: Put your hands in the air

With so many qualifiers at the final table, we knew we were guaranteed several rags-to-riches tales whatever happened. But in order for anyone to win, seven others would also depart with their dreams in tatters; there can only ever be one player holding the trophy aloft.

Sebastian Bredthauer had the potential to write the single most spectacular spin-up story, having paid his way to Monaco via an online satellite costing 100 FPPs. In the end, however, he was the first of the bridesmaids, getting his stack in with A♥8♥ -- as good a time to shove as any -- but finding Salter with A♣K♦.

Bredthauer picked up €128,800, which still represents one of those ROI calculations that breaks most arithmetic machinery. And he also seems likely to be heading to EPT Barcelona at the start of next season, thanks to his fastest lap time in the Ferrari simulator in the Salle des Etoiles lobby.

"It was amazing," Bredthauer said. "I'm looking forward to going home and relax now." What a week.


Salter picks off Sebastian Bredthauer, ending the best spin-up story of them all

Kenny Hicks has played more EPT events than almost all of his final table opponents combined, but his experience at the top level didn't help him win any flips today. There were something chillingly inevitable about the way he and Buonanno got their chips into the middle -- the Italian had pocket tens and Hicks A♣K♦ -- and it went open, then three-bet, then four-bet shove, then call. That's all very standard indeed.

The board didn't help Hicks, however, and he was sent to the rail with €188,500, more than six times larger than his previous biggest EPT cash. Hicks was the last American in the field, and the six players he left behind were all representing countries who had never before won a Grand Final title.


Kenny Hicks exchanges words with Tudor Purice on the rail

It had been a good week to be named Sebastian here in Monaco, but the run-good of the name eventually ran out at the final today. Sebastian von Toperczer had outlasted his namesake Bredthauer but had now assumed the role of short-stack while all other non-Sebastians seemed to be adding to theirs.

Salter had been opening almost every single pot at this stage of the game, which is why there was probably little surprise to see Malte Moennig, on the button, move all in over the top of Salter's 125,000 raise. Von Toperczer looked down at pocket sevens in the big blind and was in a horribly tough spot.

Von Toperczer thought a while but called, even with fewer chips than Moennig. Salter folded, but Von Toperczer's hope that Moennig had been shoving light wasn't to come true. Moennig showed [10h][10s] and the bigger pocket pair remained ahead through flop, turn and river.

Von Toperczer wandered into the snack-bar, where he found a group of online wizards relaxing after their hard week of tournament play. Von Toperczer related the circumstances of his elimination and should, one hopes, be gratified to learn that the general consensus was that his call was correct. Even if there's not much solace in that, there certainly is in the €258,300 prize he picks up for sixth.


Sebastian von Toperczer: Could not escape his certain fate

Magnus Karlsson, from Sweden, was the lone Scandinavian representative at the final table -- odd, as this is the kind of environment in which they usually thrive. He too had dwindled to the shortest stack at the table when he found pocket threes and open-shoved for a little more than a million.

Not long after he had knocked out Von Toperczer, Moennig again found himself with the chance to claim another scalp. He peeked down at pocket eights and re-shoved from the cut-off--but the hand wasn't over yet. Salter had wandered away from the table already (and would earn a two-hand penalty for the breach of etiquette) but Mayu Roca was not only still in his seat, he had found a hand: pocket nines. He called too.

Roca had both of his opponents covered, both in terms of chips and cards. But Moennig was the only one celebrating a flop of Q♥7♣8♣ and nothing changed through turn nor river. Moennig tripled, Roca was crippled and Karlsson was out, winning €332,000 for fifth.


Magnus Karlsson: Only saw the bad news

The established story of smaller pair coming up against bigger pair continued a few hands later, but Roca couldn't muster the kind of outdraw that Moennig had managed before. Roca got his chips in with 5♦5♣, four-bet shoving over Salter's re-raise. Salter's fast and loose style meant he would always likely get paid with his big hands, and he had picked up Q♣Q♥ this time.

There was a queen on the flop for good measure, and Roca was roasted. His €419,000 prize put significant breathing room between him and everybody else on the Colombian all time money list.


The end of the road for Mayu Roca

Salter and Buononno had never been without a big stack for any length of time during the final, which meant that when there were only three players left, the other guy was by necessity the shorty. That was Moennig again, who ended up making a bold four-bet jam over Buonanno with A♦5♦. His timing was off, however, as Buonanno had A♠K♦ and this time sent Moennig packing.

Third place was worth €547,000.


Malte Moennig: Tripled up once, pictured, but couldn't do it again

That took us to the heads up duel, which far outlasted anything since the epic between Mike McDonald and Dominik Panka at the PCA -- and soon outstripped even that. Salter mostly had his nose just in front, and may have won it all if he'd have managed to get A♥9♦ to hold against Buonanno's K♣2♣, A♥J♦ to hold against K♦J♥ or [10h][10s] to out-race A♥K♣. But Buonanno won all of those coups.

When they got it all in and Buonanno had Salter covered for the first time, the Italian's remarkable streak continued. He becomes only the second Italian winner on the EPT, following Salvatore Bonavena's triumph in Prague during Season 5.

Buonanno turned to his wife, who had watched him throughout, and earned a final hug of success. Salter, meanwhile, retreated into the arms of his boisterous followers, taking €765,000 for second. (Deal negotiations broke down three-handed and several times when they were heads up.)


Antonio Buonanno, with his wife (pink scarf) watching from the rail behind him

With that, Season 10 of the European Poker Tour draws to a close. In Main Events alone, there have been 6,663 entries and players on the tour have contested prize pools totalling close to €37.7m. Antonio Buonanno joins the ranks of Tom Middleton, Robin Ylitalo, Julian Track, Dominik Panka, Sotirios Koutoupas, Oleksii Khoroshenin and Vicky Coren Mitchell in the winners' enclosure -- the latter of whom made history by earning her second visit to the ring.

The most prestigious poker tour in the world will of course be back again later this year, kicking off Season 11 in Barcelona on August 16. Before that, there's action on PokerStars Blog from the UKIPT and the World Series, so don't go anywhere.

For now, however, goodnight -- and congratulations again to Mr Buonanno.

EPT10 Grand Final, Main Event
Date: April 26 - May 2, 2014
Buy-in: €10,600
Game: NLHE
Players: 650
Prize pool: €6,500,000

1 - Antonio Buonanno, Italy, €1,240,000
2 - Jack Salter, UK, PokerStars qualifier, €765,000
3 - Malte Moennig, Germany, PokerStars qualifier, €547,000
4 - Mayu Roca, Colombia, PokerStars qualifier, €419,000
5 - Magnus Karlsson, Sweden, PokerStars qualifier, €332,000
6 - Sebastian von Toperczer, Germany, PokerStars qualifier, €258,300
7 - Kenny Hicks, United States, PokerStars qualifier, €188,500
8 - Sebastian Bredthauer, Germany, PokerStars qualifier, €128,800