EPT Loutraki: ZZ top as Zimnan Ziyard claims EPT Loutraki title
The European Poker Tour finally made its way to Greece this week -- and didn't the locals seize their opportunity to leave their mark on final table day.
Greeks were outnumbered by six-to-two among the final eight players and neither of them won the title. But most of the action for long periods, both on and off the table, seemed to involve one of either Charalampos Kapernopoulos or John Taramas. Some of it was endearing, some of it less so, but all of it contributed to a compelling climax on the Gulf of Corinth.
More of all that later, but first things first: the latest EPT main event champion is Zimnan Ziyard, a 25-year-old PokerStars qualifier from Eastbourne in the United Kingdom. No one was immune to the buffeting dished out by the poker Gods today, but Ziyard was one of two players who managed to stay calmest amid the many distractions.
He is €347,000 richer for his stamina and great skill, and beat Hauke Heseding heads up after what amounts to an epic duel. The final table lasted 13 hours (including breaks) and they played three-handed for five of those.
That might sound arduous, but that three-handed passage of play was actually among the most fascinating we have ever seen on the European Poker Tour. Zimnan was the architect, toying with his two adversaries as if a puppet master manipulating marionettes.
For that display alone, he deserves all the plaudits -- and the €347,000 -- he will receive. He also ensures that the streak continues of British players winning titles on the EPT. The UK has managed at least one winner on all eight seasons so far.
"I feel great. It was a very tough day," Ziyard said. "I had an easy run the first few days but this was totally different. It was definitely the most challenging table I've ever played."
Ziyard had been the leader coming into the final, having crushed all in his path on day four. But the early stages of the final echoed the first few levels yesterday, when all eyes were focused on Kapernopoulos.
A doctor by trade, his approach to poker suggested he has spent a lot of time speeding around in ambulances. He wanted to play, and play fast, and gradually the approach helped him build on his short-ish overnight stack. But with the exception of Andras Kovacs, all the more experienced (albeit younger) opponents were content to sit back and allow him to injure only himself.
It was a plan that eventually worked -- but only after Mario Puccini had been lost as collateral damage.
Puccini must have been delighted to pick up kings during the period where Kapernopoulos was at his most effusive, but the reality was that his timing could not have been worse. They got it all in pre-flop but Kapernopoulos had found aces. Puccini could not recover and Florian Schleps put him out a while later in eighth.
By the time the final nail was hammered into Puccini's coffin, Kapernopoulos had hit a downswing of his own. So much so that on the very hand after the German busted, it was Kapernopoulos all in for about half a million chips.
Again his opponent -- Heseding this time -- had kings, but Kapernopoulos could not prescribe himself aces again. His jack-ten didn't get there, and we were a Greek down.
No matter. There then began the John Taramas show to entertain the partisan crowd. For four days, he had been one of the most visible presences in the field, chattering away to all his table-mates and frequently regaling them with tales of derring-do from the blackjack felt.
He is close to a legend in Greek gambling circles for his wizardry in that other two-card game, but here he was coming to grips with hold 'em -- and making sure everyone played the game his way.
They were still five handed -- Kovacs' remarkable resurgence derailed when ace-king lost to Heseding's queens -- when Taramas first floated the idea of a deal to split the prize-money. At that point, the most vocal naysayer to the idea was Pierre Mothes, who suggested they talk it over at the next break.
However Mothes didn't make it that long. On the very hand after the discussion, he flopped top two pair against Ziyard's flopped flush, and could barely contain intense disappointment as he hit the rail in fifth.
With four left, Taramas now ramped up his campaign for a chop of the prize-pool, encouraged by friends on the rail who brought a cattle-auction-like atmosphere to proceedings. Schleps insisted "no deal", but much like Mothes before him, he would pay for his dissension with his tournament life.
Schelps had about 1.5 million, and sevens in the hole, when he got all in against Heseding's ace-queen. Two queens on the flop, though, and Schleps was shafted.
That took us to our final three and, of course, Taramas tried once more to broker a deal. The stacks at this stage were Heseding, 5,850,000, Ziyard, 2,775,000 and Taramas 1,520,000 and it seemed for a moment as though they might have succeeded in reaching an agreement.
But then there were issues about how they were going to wire money to one another -- Taramas wanted to get it in cash -- and the talks faltered again. They played on.
This is when Ziyard really showed his class. He slow-played aces to extract maximum value from Heseding's queens, and then his next few moves may have baffled casual onlookers but earned nothing but awe from seasoned poker commentators.
I strongly recommend you look back on the 8pm to 9pm updates of our live coverage to see how this all went down, but rarely has one player had two others dancing to his tune so helplessly.
In short, Ziyard simply made sure to keep the short-stacked Taramas alive so that he could continue to chip away at both Heseding's stack and his patience. With no deal having been done, Ziyard had his eyes firmly fixed on first place and clearly didn't much fancy an even-stacked heads up battle with Heseding.
"There was a big pay jump from third to second," Ziyard said. "So I thought that when I got the chip lead it was important to press and choke the players as much as possible as it was a big advantage to do so."
He deliberately kept the table three-handed -- and Taramas repeatedly doubled up -- until both his opponents were shorties, watching with glee as they nibbled away at one another. All this is taught at the advanced class of ICM poker, but I can't ever remember seeing it in the live environment, at least not so awesomely applied.
The best part, however, is that Heseding also dug in, gained a couple of double ups, of his own and then he was the big stack when Taramas pushed for the final time.
Taramas was down to less than ten big blinds and only had low, suited one-gappers when Heseding had a big ace. It stood up and we were eventually down to the heads up battle we had seemingly been destined for from the outset.
This, too, was wonderful. It lasted close to two hours during which barely a toenail was put out of place by either player. Ziyard looked like having ground out the victory, then Heseding won a big flip that put him back ahead.
When they finally got it all in for the last time, Ziyard had top two pair but had clearly considered folding to his opponent's shove. Heseding had done a spectacular job of making it look like he had made a flush.
"It would have been very hard for me to call if I didn't make two-pair on the river there," Ziyard said. "Wow, he had a lot of heart. He bluffed me a few times and made great calls."
When the two embraced at the end both looked drained, proud and fully respectful. This really was a terrific final table.
There we have it, then, a fine week of poker in a fine new destination for the EPT. We also have a fine new champion, whose performance here will fuel many conversations for weeks to come.
It's chilly Prague next, in early December. But from chilly Greece, it's goodnight.
All photos on PokerStars Blog from Loutraki are © Neil Stoddart.