Picking a favourite to win a high buy-in poker tournament is usually a fool's errand. The vast majority of a 70+ field will have won millions both live and online: they will all be accustomed to the pressure, the big bucks and the winner's enclosure.
However for the past year or so, one man has transformed a pin-sticker's paradise into a bookmaker's bad dream. Fedor Holz has won everything--$16 million in live tournament winnings in 12 months--a heater so scorching that Holz said he might have to retire.
But Holz hasn't retired. At least not yet. At around 6:30pm in Casino Barcelona, where the European Poker Tour has settled for the start of its 13th season, Holz has just won yet another major tournament. This time it was the €50,000 Super High Roller event, the first flagship tournament of this festival. It was worth €1,300,300, which is not a bad pension fund in itself. What was already phenomenal is becoming paranormal--and it all looks so easy to this extraordinary 23-year-old German.
"Today, I didn't have too many tough decisions," Holz said. "I ran really well obviously."
Holz is right. He could do nothing wrong today. He hasn't done anything wrong in about three years, but today was exceptional even by his standards. He sat back as Sam Greenwood knocked out all the short stacks early in today's final, then Holz steamrollered Greenwood when they got heads-up.
Holz chatted with Rainer Kempe on the rail after the winning hand but before the trophy presentation. Greenwood might have wanted a chat with Kempe too: he is the only player to beat Holz heads up since he has been on this remarkable run.
Today's high-octane final was the precise opposite of how the tournament had progressed in the late levels yesterday. Action towards the end of last night was soporific. Players were exhausted from two long days and none wanted to miss the final table. It meant that we returned with nine players today, one more than usual, but also that five of them had far fewer chips than they would have liked.
That particular situation led to a predictable outcome. The opening couple of levels today were as action-packed as the end of last night was sleepy. First Erik Seidel, then Julian Stuer, Daniel Dvoress, Sylvain Loosli and Ahadpur Khangah were eliminated in short order, although it was the former who went out in the most dramatic fashion.
The final day was not even an orbit old when we had a lesser-spotted four-way all-in between Seidel, with pocket nines, Stuer with pocket tens, Sam Greenwood, with pocket kings, and Khangah with a speculative A♠5♠. Greenwood's kings held up and he vaulted into the chip lead. He covered only Seidel, so the veteran headed out the door, while the other three nursed even shorter stacks than what they brought into the day.
Stuer soon lost a flip against Alexandros Kolonios and got his last chips in against Greenwood. Stuer's Q♠2♣ couldn't beat Greenwood's K♠8♠ for the last of his shrapnel. The man who led at the end of Day 1 was out in eighth, for €181,200.
Dvoress managed to stay away from the four-way collision earlier, and also managed an early double-up of his short stack. But he soon picked up red pocket eights when Greenwood had T♥T♦ and there was nothing he could do except go seek €232,600 for sixth.
Pocket eights also accounted for Loosli soon afterwards. This time last year, Loosli won the biggest tournament of his career in this room, earning a maiden Super High Roller title. Having reached the final 12 months later, he had the chance to defend his title and become the first two-time Super High Roller champion. But Holz's A♣K♦ would end that dream.
Loosli was the first player not to be knocked out of the final by Sam Greenwood, but the Canadian soon got back in the saddle by ending the fairytale run of Khangah in fifth. Khangah, an Azerbaijani businessman, is at his first EPT festival and took his idiosyncratic style of play all the way to the top five.
But after limp-losing a pot to Adams, he then got his last chips in with K♦J♦ to Greenwood's dominant A♠7♥. A jack flopped but an ace turned and Khangah picked up €377,100 for fifth. If newspaper reports of his business acumen are accurate, it's a drop in the ocean in financial terms. But it's a pretty spectacular debut from a player new to tournaments of this size.
Kolonias is also relatively new to the high buy-in events at EPT festivals, but this man has a highly respected online game. He has two SCOOP titles and a third-placed finish in a WCOOP event, so is no slouch. He judiciously sat out most of the early confrontations and perhaps fancied he would get his final table properly in motion when he found pocket kings and got it all in against Holz's nines.
But he had picked a poor opponent against whom to try and win an 80/20 chance. Holz spiked a nine on the flop and Kolonias was out, winning €467,700.
Adams came into the final table as the chip leader, but his dominance of thise tournament had lasted far longer than just the late stages of yesterday. Early on Day 1, he had amassed a stack of more than 800,000 before many people had even taken the wrapping from their 250,000 starting stack, and he had had a wall of chips in front of him for the duration.
The final day was different. Largely because of the activity of Greenwood, to his right, and Holz, to his left, Adams didn't manage to use his chip lead to exploit any weakness around him. He had to take an unfamiliar back seat.
He then picked a poor spot to attempt to flex his muscles: he shipped for 5 million over the top of a Greenwood open, but his 2♦2♣ lost the race against his countryman's A♣K♣.
All of this took place in less than three-and-a-half hours. They had gone from nine to two in the blink of an eye (in poker terms). But when Greenwood and Holz sat opposite one another for the final showdown, their chip stacks were only separated by one big blind. With neither appearing interested in deal negotiations, it had the makings of a titanic heads up struggle.
But that couldn't have been further from the truth. In fact, Greenwood barely won a pot of any note against an incorrigible Holz. And when Greenwood got the last of his chips in with a hopeful 6♦5♥ Holz had A♦K♥. Hold hit top pair on the flop and faded a straight draw. And then the tournament was over.
"I think now it's time to go to the beach," Holz said, teasing again with the prospect of retirement. Why would he retire? The way he plays, it's not even like he has to work at all.
Relive all the action on our hand-by-hand coverage page.
EPT13 Barcelona Super High Roller
Date: August 20-22, 2016
Entries: 102 (78 unique players; 24 re-entries)
Prize pool: €4,897,530
1 - Fedor Holz, Germany, €1,300,300
2 - Sam Greenwood, Canada, €903,600
3 - Timothy Adams, €597,500
4 - Alexandros Kolonias, Greece, €467,700
5 - Ahadpur Khangah, Azerbaijan, €377,100
6 - Sylvain Loosli, France, €293,800
7 - Daniel Dvoress, Canada, €232,600
8 - Julian Stuer, Germany, €181,200
9 - Erik Seidel , United States, €137,130
10 - Stanley Choi, China, €105,300
11 - John Juanda, Indonesia, €105,300
12 - Adrian Mateos, Spain, €98,000
13 - Conor Drinan, United States, €98,000