EPT12 Prague: Third time's a charm for champion Hossein Ensan

At 51 years old, Hossein Ensan is not the poster boy for modern poker championships. Nearly no one on the poker circuit had heard of him until 2014 when he won the EPT Seniors Event in Barcelona. He parlayed those winnings into a live satellite that eventually put him in the Barcelona Main Event where he finished third. Just a few months later, he made a final table again at EPT Malta. Now, on his third Main Event final table appearance in 16 months, Ensan can call himself a champion in what many people now think of as a young person's game.

"I think poker is for all people," Ensan said. "I am young too."

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Originally from Iran, Ensan moved to Germany at age 25. He took up poker two years ago, and before today had already won $1.2 million in 23 cashes. The man from Münster defies all current poker stereotypes, and he's found a deep love for the EPT and the people behind it. He revealed exactly what keeps him returning to the poker tables and offered his thanks to the many components that keeps these tournaments rolling.

"I am having fun," Ensan said. "This organization, the PokerStars organization, the camera people, the fans, that makes it fun."

When Ensan began the day, he knew he had work to do. He was fifth in chips out of the six remaining players. A man known for big moves and bigger bluffs was going to have to use every trick in his bag to make it to the top. He did just that. In the end, he would have to defeat a three-time WCOOP champion in Russia's Gleb Tremzin to claim the EPT trophy in a back-and-forth marathon match, but finally, holding a pair of pocket aces, Ensan sealed the deal.

To understand how he did it, you'll have to go back eleven full hours to when the final table began.

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Ilkin Amirov (Azerbaijan) 9,965,000
Gleb Tremzin (Russia) 7,785,000
Thomas Butzhammer (Germany) 5,490,000
Slaven Popov (Bulgaria) 3,640,000
Hossein Ensan (Germany) 2,725,000
Olivier Ferrero (France) 1,715,000

Ensan dropped below a million chips in the first 45 minutes of play, most of which he lost after missing a couple of draws and bluffing into Tremzin's trip aces. So, when later Tremzin raised light to 265,000, and Olivier Ferrero jammed, Ensan got it all in as well. Tremzin conceded the pot, and left Ferrero's pocket fives up against Ensan's A♣Q♦. The board ran out Q♣2♦J♠T♣T♠, moving Ensan back up to 2,225,000 but leaving Ferrero with only 395,000.

A few hands later, Ferrero got the rest of it in with 9♥8♠ to Thomas Butzhammer's A♠K♠. It was never even a contest. Butzhammer flopped trip kings and Ferrero was gone in sixth place for €166,000.

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Olivier Ferrero

The night before making the final table, Butzhammer had gone to dinner at a local Vietnamese Pho house, but barely touched the food.

"I'm too nervous to eat," he said as he walked back into the Prague night.

No matter what Butzhammer may have said earlier, he played fearlessly through the first two hours of the day, and by the time he made it to the first break, he had the chip lead. Looking a lot more comfortable than he let on, he sat back and let the others go to work on each other.

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Butzhammer and his big stack

Over the next couple dozen hands, 40-year-old Bulgarian Slaven Popov, a man who had already been at one EPT final table with Ensan in the past, made it clear how he wanted this tournament to end. Faced with an opportunity to get it all in with ace-jack against Ensan's pocket fours, Popov decided he would wait for another spot.

"I want to play heads up with you," he said. "That is the only reason I don't call. Let's play heads up."

Fate, nor Ensan, would let Popov's wish come true. After another hour of play, Ensan raised the button with A♦J♥and Popov shoved in his last 2,275,000 with A♣2♠. EPT Prague wouldn't end like a buddy film--at least not with these buddies. Popov found no help on board, and he was gone in fifth place for €226,330.

"Ensan is...a crazy player. It's always very difficult to play against him," Popov said afterward. "I'm sure next time we play, I'll beat him."

After that hand and another big one with Tremzin, Ensan moved up to second place in chips. Here's how the final four stood at the time.

Tremzin: 11,275,000
Ensan: 9,280,000
Amirov: 5,875,000
Butzhammer: 4,925,000

There began a protracted discussion of a deal. It came very close to happening after the players set aside €100,000 for the winner and adjusted the rest based on ICM numbers. Butzhammer asked for €15,000 more. Amirov and Ensan were happy to give up €5,000 apiece, but Tremzin wasn't budging. It killed the deal, and opened the floodgates.

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Deal discussion before it broke down

After a few more hands of play, Butzhammer min-raised from the button with A♣Q♣ and Ensan called from the big blind with J♣T♥.The flop hit them both too hard for the chips to stay in place. The 9♥Q♠4♦ board drew a check from Ensan, an all-in from Butzhammer, and a snap-call from Ensan. The drama lasted just one more card. The 8♣ had Butzhammer drawing dead on the turn, and he was out in fourth place for €294,180. The hand moved Ensan up to 17,545,000 in chips.

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Thomas Butzhammer

Amirov had started the day with the chip lead, but hadn't found a way to get too involved at the final table. Before long, he had only 5.2 million sitting in front of him, and when play folded to him in the small blind, he raised with A♦9♦. Butzhammer looked down to A♠T♣ in the big blind and put Amirov all-in. Amirov had little choice. His chips went in the middle, the dealer put out a 8♠K♠3♣7♣6♦ board, and the Azerbaijani dream ended.

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Ilkin Amirov

That left only Germany's Ensan and Russia's Tremzin. It was the battle of a three-time EPT Main Event final table player and a three-time WCOOP bracelet winner. It had all the makings of an epic heads-up match, and it didn't disappoint.

As they went heads up, Ensan held a slight lead, but neither Ensan nor Tremzin wanted to risk a major payday. They chopped the rest of the prize pool evenly and left €30,000 on the table for the winner. They played 16 hands and then took an hour-long dinner break with Ensan holding only a 2.3 million chip lead.

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It's a deal

If anyone thought the deal was going to ruin the quality of poker in the heads-up battle, they quickly learned that wasn't going to be the case. Ensan and Tremzin, both keen to have their name on the list of EPT champions, dug in their heels and played honest-to-goodness champions' poker. That match included one of the most confounding hands observers had seen.

It began when Tremzin raised to 600,000 from the button with T♦8♣. Ensan, holding 9♠7♥ answered with a re-raise to 1.375 million. Tremzin made the call, and the dealer fanned 8♠2♦4♣ in the middle of the table.

It easily could've ended with a single bet, but instead, Ensan checked, let Tremzin bet 475,000, and then raised to nearly 2 million. Again, it was a bet made for ending the hand. But it didn't. Tremzin called, and the turn came as the A♥.

Now Ensan led the action, putting another two million in the middle. Tremzin refused to back down, and he called again. Surely, everyone thought, Ensan would back off and let it go when the K♣ fell on the river.

Nope. He bet 1.3 million.

Tremzin must have picked up something along the way or decided to turn his hand into a bluff, because while he had nothing better than third pair, he raised all-in for more than 10 million.

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Gleb Tremzin

Left with no choice, Ensan folded and found himself at a nearly 3-1 chip deficit.

Ensan, however, was nothing if not tenacious. Over the next seven hands, Ensan again chipped away and nearly evened the stacks again.

It did not end there. In fact, it didn't end for another two hours. During that time, Ensan wavered, battled, and stuck his ground. Before long, he had Tremzin on the ropes. It had to end somehow. This is how it did.

Aces.

Ensign limped the button with A♠A♥ to Tremzin's Q♥J♥. Tremzin made it a million to play, and again, Ensan just called. The flop came Q♠[7♠[7♦. Both players got cagey and checked the flop. On a 9♣ turn, Tremzin bet a million again, and once again, Ensan just called. With 4.1 million in the middle on a 4♦ river, Tremzin bet out, Ensan immediately moved all-in, and Tremzin...tanked. Finally, he shrugged, moved his chips across the line, and it was over.

Hossein Ensan, the smiling 51-year-old self-professed amateur, was an EPT champion.

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Here are the final table results.

EPT12 Prague Main Event
Entries: 1,044
Prize pool: €5,063,400
Places paid: 151

1. Hossein Ensan (Germany) €754,510 *
2. Gleb Tremzin (Russia) €724,510 *
3. Ilkin Amirov (Azerbaijan) €391,910
4. Thomas Butzhammer (Germany) €294,180
5. Slaven Popov (Bulgaria) €226,330
6. Olivier Ferrero (France) €166,080

* Results based on result of heads-up deal

That does it for the EPT in 2015.

Once again, congratulations to the newest EPT champ, Hossein Ensan.

Happy holidays to all. We'll see you at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

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Brad Willis
@BradWillis in European Poker Tour