Viktor 'Isildur1' wins $1.25m at PCA Super High Roller
It's the mark of a true champion: to master online poker, almost redrawing it in your own image, before transferring that gift to the live poker stage while the eyes of the world are watching. Not only that; only a true champion could do this against the best opposition, themselves labelled with the accolades of greatness, and on one of poker's biggest arenas.
Among observers of the Super High Roller event this week many thought they could see a noticeable difference in Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, a more measured style and a boldness in his play; as well as a new look.
Gone was Blom's matted sweep of hair, replaced instead by a neat and washed trim. It was enough to make some players look twice. Was this the kid so feared online? Well yes it was, but suddenly he didn't seem like such a kid anymore.
In the 12 months since Blom was unveiled as "Isildur1" in this very room, the young Swede took to the live scene in much the same way he tackled it online, with a reckless, often casual abandon that was almost impossible for opponents to counter. But it was a strategy with weaknesses, and 2011 proved scant on reward.
Now though, like a golfer taking time to perfect a new swing, or a Major League starter adding a new pitch to his repertoire, Blom has developed a new method that may now conquer this new domain of his.
Comfortable in this polished aptitude, Blom was crowned winner of the $100,000 Super High roller event tonight, defeating former EPT winner Mike McDonald, a former PCA winner in Galen Hall, a former World Champion Jonathan Duhamel and Daniel Negreanu who has, like Blom, shaped modern poker. Today you might say the Swede stepped out of the Isildur shadow, becoming Viktor Blom, and picking up $1,254,400 and a Shamballa Jewels bracelet in the process.
"It feels really good," said Blom. "I have never done this well in any tournament before, and I'm really lucky to do so well in this specific tournament. I have worked on my tournament play. In all the tournaments I played last year, I played bad. It feels good to succeed.
"I really appreciate this win, and I love the Bahamas," he said, before adding. "It's sick."
"It feels even better to win here, at this time, at this place. After the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, I'll be taking it easy for awhile, and then I'll travel to a few upcoming EPT's. I'm looking forward to it. After that, I'll take a vacation for awhile."
To Negreanu it must have served as a chilling reminder of how the game is changing. To his credit (Negreanu himself is the player of his generation) he'll likely adapt in any way he has to in order to keep his edge. But it will be the likes of Blom showing the way.
It was a final that proved typical of high stakes events such as this.
In the first session nobody wasted any time making their intentions clear. The three remaining pre-bubble players - Humberto Brenes, Mike McDonald and Scott Seiver- swiftly despatched.
The day then continued with gusto; Negreanu went in fifth before Duhamel, who if you remember had been one of two players to re-buy, departed in fourth (making $113,600 on his initial $200,000 investment).
It left the final three, a trio who chose to dig in and prove themselves immoveable for the hours following.
Play goes three-handed
With the clock striking 8.30pm the deadlock was finally broken. The lead had been slowly shifting; first into the hands of Blom and then to Dan Shak. Hall, who was looking to add 2012 Super High Roller success to his main event title of 2011, was left the short stack and got his chips in when he found pocket nines in the hole.
Having started the day as chip leader he'd at least made it to the money, but now his day was at an end, owing partly to Blom's momentum and partly to the aces he'd just found.
Hall had fallen two places short of a remarkable back-to-back, but this was proof enough that the reigning main event champion is on top of his game with some thirty-odd events left to play at this year's PCA.
Shak himself would be no mere formality for Blom to despatch.
The American is a regular figure in high roller events and has 'previous', winning the $100,000 at the Aussie Millions back in 2010. Would it be a fight of age over youth? Perhaps it would be more about gritty determination against the flash and bang of the internet generation?
Play goes heads-up
Either way their heads-up was brief, the chips going in within minutes of play restarting.
With a board showing 9♦7♣6♥Q♥, Shak shoved with A♥5♥ while Blom called with K♣Q♠. With just a river to come there was nothing to challenge Blom's destiny, the 4♠ delighting Blom's supporters on the rail.
How did Blom react to what would serve as a coming of age moment, and one of vindication? It was like watching old footage of the sportsmen from the fifties, those refreshing clips of Super Bowls being won and perfect games pitched, marked by nothing more than a handshake and a pat on the back. There were no histrionics. Blom simply smiled, stood up and shook Shak's hand.
Shak congratulates Blom
Blom seemed taller somehow, older perhaps, but showed no sign of relief or exhilaration. He plays poker to win, something he does regularly. Why should this be any different?
Grinning broadly, he looked at his friends and pointed at the door, the tiredness across his face, leaving the stage to the random congratulations of strangers, all of which he seemed genuinely grateful for.
A hug for Viktor
For Shak the sizeable consolation of second place and a cheque worth $846,700. For Blom a trophy, some (perhaps unwanted) attention, and a turning point. We may have seen something special today, witnessed a paradigm change for a game constantly evolving.
Super High Roller champion Viktor Blom
For now we'll settle for the first champion of this year's PCA - Viktor Blom
Thanks for following the Super High Roller coverage on the PokerStars Blog, more of which can be looked back on from today. If this isn't enough don't forget that coverage of the Main Event continues elsewhere on the blog.
Goodnight from Paradise Island.
All photography © Joe Giron/www.joegironphotography.com