EPT11 Prague: Stephen Graner in box seat to finally make himself that million
In Las Vegas, Nevada, this summer, Stephen Graner was one of nearly 8,000 hopefuls who sat down in the inaugural "Millionaire Maker" tournament at the World Series of Poker. The concept was pretty straightforward: although the buy in cost only $1,500, the winner was guaranteed a seven-figure score.
Graner didn't win. He finished in sixth, which earned him $273,854. But he spent some of those winnings on a trip to Europe this autumn, and €5,000 of it on a buy-in to the EPT Prague main event. And after five days of superlative play in the Czech capital, there's more than just a small chance that he could yet be made a millionaire.
The 26-year-old, who was born in Hawaii but now lives in Las Vegas, is the dominant chip leader heading into the final day. They pay their champions in euros in this neck of the woods, but €969,000, the first prize money, is $1.21 million. Let's call it delayed gratification.
"I'm confident but I've been in this spot before and definitely did not seize it," Graner said after bagging the chip lead. "I'm excited for tomorrow but there's more work to be done...There's no pressure, I'll just try to make the most logical, calculated decisions that I can and whatever happens, happens."
That's some cool wisdom coming from the baby of the Graner family. His three older siblings Dan, Dave and Sarah have been watching the action from America via EPT Live, alongside their father, Steve, and mother, Mary. Graner's girlfriend Nicole is here in Prague.
To win the life-changing sum tomorrow, Graner will first need to navigate his way past the following final table. But having today survived skirmishes with the likes of Vanessa Selbst, Davidi Kitai and Sam Grafton, who are all notable for their absence from the final seven, Graner will be in confident mood.
Seat 1 - Anton Bertilsson, Sweden, 7,740,000
Seat 2 - Simon Mattsson, Sweden, 2,130,000
Seat 3 - Jonathan Wong, United Kingdom, 1,900,000
Seat 4 - empty
Seat 5 - Stephen Graner, United States, 12,405,000
Seat 6 - Bjorn Wiesler, Germany, 3,285,000
Seat 7 - Remi Castaignon, France, 1,030,000
Seat 8 - Fabio Sperling, Germany, 4,710,000
So, yes, let's get back to Selbst, Kitai and Grafton. The expectation was, when play began at noon, that we would be in for a final table featuring the fearsome Team PokerStars Pro, the fearsome Triple Crown winner and the fearsome, garrulous Brit. But Selbst had an accident with A♥J♥, running into Bjorn Wiesler's kings -- ("Not actually too bothered about that, made a read and went with it," she said) -- Kitai dwindled then bust against his countryman Remi Castaignon ("Busto 10ieme. J'ai tout donné! Merci à tous pour le soutien!" he said) -- by which point Grafton had already slammed into Graner's kings with A♠7♥ ("Dream over," he said, before posting a photograph on Twitter eating a dessert.)
So it was that the only really well-known player among the final group is Castaignon, a former EPT champion, who took down his title in Deauville in season nine. It's fair to say Castaignon has not been one of the most prolific players since then, but he is now in with a shot of becoming the first man to win two EPT titles.
For all Selbst and Kitai's disappointment, this has actually been a pretty good tournament to be a front-runner. Simon Mattsson and Fabio Sperling led this tournament at the end of days three and four, respectively, and have managed to take their stacks to the final.
You'll notice also, perhaps, that for the first time in the European Poker Tour's 11-year history, we're starting the final day with fewer than the customary eight. After titanic battles around the final tables of the PCA, the Grand Final and Barcelona, and without the demands in Prague of making a television show, they played down to eight today, took a few snaps, but then played on for the best part of another level.
During that period, Miltiadis Kyriakides was eliminated by Graner and now becomes the toughest answer to an EPT trivia question you're likely to see. Just remember his name (write it down) should anyone ever ask you, "Name the only player to make the final table on the EPT but not play on the final day."
Anyway, that's for the pub quiz bores. What you want to know is that coverage of the final table begins at 1pm CET, when you'll also be able to watch it all on EPT Live. The €10,000 High Roller event is continuing until midnight, so head to the High Roller page for coverage of that.