EPT11 Barcelona: Ihar Soika beats Jason Mercier heads-up to win first high roller of the season
It started today with 21 players, fatigued from a late finish the night before. Their task had been to whittle a record breaking field into something that looked manageable for the course of a single day. The result was what took place today, a quiet yet masterful demonstration of class and talent. No jumping up and down, no hollering or celebrating with refreshed pals on the rail. Just poker, expertly played by some of the best in the world.
The winner tonight can arguably claim to be just that, and few would have any case against Ihar Soika's win. He prevailed after a brief heads up contest against Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier.
"It's amazing," Soika said, describing a confidence he felt once he had the chip lead, seeking a big live win after success online. It's certainly the case that "omgitshunt", as he is known online, has now broken through to the mainstream. Indeed, as Mikhail Semin, one of the commentary team on the Russian feed of EPT Live put it: "In Russian speaking community he's considered one of the best."
As we reported earlier, the steady reduction of the field down to a final table took some time, with the blinds creeping up as players hung on for a bigger payday. Best at this for some time was Alexander Roumeliotis, who clung on valiantly with some sort of magic act, until he crashed out in tenth place. Then, with everyone united around one table, Maxim Panyak departed in eighth to leave a final table of eight.
Seat 1. Ismail Erkenov, 3,550,000
Seat 2. Jason Mercier, 1,450,000
Seat 3. Benjamin Pollak, 1,430,000
Seat 4. Marc-Andre Ladouceur, 1,105,000
Seat 5. Carlos Chadha, 900,000
Seat 6. Stephen Chidwick, 1,800,000
Seat 7. Ihar Soika, 6,700,000
Seat 8. Ami Barer, 2,700,000
(chip counts are approximate)
Carlos Chadha was first to go, out in eighth for €90,900, falling to Stephen Chidwick's pocket sixes. As Soika was moving up towards 9 million chips, Marc-Andre Ladouceur was heading in the other direction. But Soika turned benefactor, allowing both Benjamin Pollak and Ami Barer to double through him.
Actually everyone was doubling. Even Mercier, who like all the best players got a bit of luck when he most needed it. He shoved against Barer with ace-ten. Barer had aces, but the Team Pro caught two more tens on the flop.
Chidwick was unable to mimic this. He went in seventh for €125,600, sent to the rail by Erkanov whose ace-queen got the better of Chidwick's king-queen. Team Online's Ladouceur followed in sixth place, ace-jack versus the tens of Barer. Ladouceur found no help on the board and was out, collecting €168,600.
Pollak followed in fifth, with nine-ten of spades no good against Soika's pocket aces, leaving a final four looking like this:
Ami Barer - 5,415,000
Ismail Erkenov - 4,670,000
Ihar Soika - 4,670,000
Jason Mercier - 2,825,000
Chipleader with 8 mill now. 3 left. Doubled JJ vs 77 vs ami then knocked him out AA vs AJ. Put a terrible beat on him earlier at the FT. GG— Jason Mercier (@JasonMercier) August 27, 2014
Somehow though Mercier always managed to remain in control. He may have occupied fourth place and Barer first, but Mercier set off on the offensive, relentlessly applying pressure. Soon enough the hard work began to pay off. With the tables turned Mercier found aces, while Barer found ace-jack. The result was predictable. Barer was out, and Mercier was suddenly in front.
But Mercier had no control over what happened next, an enormous hand that would leave Soika with an unsurmountable advantage. The hand itself was worth a page turner in its own right, serving as the final act to a compelling tournament.
With the flop dealt, ace-jack-ten all diamonds, the people began to gravitate. First friends, then staff, then anyone who could crowded round.
Erkanov kept betting, Soika kept calling, up to the five turn. But on the jack river, it was Soika betting. The board had something for everyone, with potential boats, flushes, straights, everything. Mercier watched, standing a few paces back but engrossed, confirming all the numbers when staff paused momentarily to double check. Then Erkanov called. Soika tuned over king-queen for the flopped straight. Erkanov was beaten.
Soika's girlfriend said: "Yeah" in the manner of someone who desperately wanted to scream but knew it was neither the time nor place. Erkanov stood from his chair and pushed his chips forward in gracious defeat. There was a count but he knew his high roller campaign was at an end.
Mercier looked over at his heads-up opponent, who would be stacking chips almost for the duration of the heads-up phase, and wished him good luck, spotting Max Lykov watching on the rail.
"You know Max?" Mercier asked with a grin, before turning to Lykov. "No wonder he's good. School of Max. School of Lykov."
It didn't take long for Soika to put what he'd learned to good use. With a four-to-one advantage it was Mercier under intense pressure yet again, both from Soika and the blinds. When he found sixes he took his chance, getting his chips into the middle. Soika paused briefly for a count and then called, turning over ace-nine. The ace on the flop wrapped things up.
As Soika took the applause of his friends, who had loyally stayed by his side from the start, Mercier remained upbeat. He'd already admitted that second place was enough to get him unstuck for the year. But speaking afterwards he was also happy with the result, particularly given the circumstances.
"It's a huge score," Mercier said. "I had pretty much all of myself in this tournament. I was at risk of bubbling, I was all-in with queens against ace-nine three off the money. I could easily have lost that one and I was all in a million times. Obviously I would have loved to get first, but I'm very happy to get second."
Mercier had played almost the entire tournament without a big stack, something that, on reflection, he was pragmatic about.
"I just try to keep it positive, try to stay in the moment and make sure that I'm playing well and not giving anything away, not titling or making bad decisions and just looking for a good spot to get the money in.
"I feel that I maintained a good level of focus and picked some good spots. I was just a lot of times short on chips and needed to win when I was all in. Luckily I did that a bunch of times."
Mercier rightfully let Soika take centre stage, who took the congratulation of his friends on the rail and whoever called him on his phone immediately after winning. The expression on his face said it all. He was a high roller champion, and a good one at that.
EPT11 Barcelona, High Roller
Date: August 25-27
Places paid: 55
Prize pool: €3,851,400
1. Ihar Soika (Belarus) €747,200 and a SLYDE watch
2. Jason Mercier (United States) Team PokerStars Pro, €473,500
3. Ismail Erkanov (Russia) €342,400
4. Ami Barer (Canada) €276,900
5. Benjamin Pollak (France) €219,000
6. Marc-Andre Ladouceur (Canada) PokerStars Team Online, €168,600
7. Stephen Chidwick (United Kingdom) €125,600
8. Carlos Chadha (Canada) €90,900
Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the main EPT Barcelona page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top, including chip counts, and feature pieces below. There's also EPTLive, which is streaming action from the final day of the Main Event.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.