PCA 2013: Russia lifts World Cup of Poker trophy ahead of defeated Tajiks

In the best of clichéd senses there was everything to play for when the World Cup of Poker entered its last, critical stage.

Made up of a round of nation vs. nation sit & gos, determined by their standings after the penultimate round, the final stages pitched everyone together in a last ditch scramble for points, and the coveted World Cup.

Captains at work

As is usually the case in a World Cup, it was Germany taking it to the wire. In the final heads-up bout against Canada the scores were tied at two games each. The fifth match would decide it, sort of, with Germany able to wrap it all up and lift the trophy for a second time if they could just beat Canada, and rely on Tajikistan not sweeping the Belgians.

Team Germany was led by their captain Jan Heitmann

But Germany stumbled at the last, leaving Russia ahead on 222 points and Tajikistan needing a win from any of their last two games.

It was a big ask for the Tajik's, who were favourites among those watching by simple virtue of being from a country few people could place on a map. One of their team, Shamshold Niyatbekov had already earned himself Most Valuable Player status and a check for $2,500. But not even Shamshold could win them all.

Most Valuable Player: Shamshold Niyatbekov

It would come down to their last match against Belgium, the last match of the World Cup of Poker IX. A win would seal it. Defeat would gift it to the Russians.

The look on successive Tajik faces told the story better than the cards could. One by one they lost to the Belgians, urged on by their lubricated captain Christophe de Meulder, and to the sheer delight of the Russian team who broke into broad grins and laughter, stark contrast to when asked to smile for their team shot yesterday: "We're Russian, we don't smile."

Champions: Team Russia

But they're smiling now, winners of a combined $90,000, worth $22,500 to each player.

The full results are as follows:

1st. Russia, 222 points
2nd. Germany, 218 points
3rd. Tajikistan, 217 points
4th. Belgium, 215 points
5th. Bulgaria, 215 points (officially a tie, the money was chopped and position determined by one hand of no fold'em hold'em)
6th. Canada, 201 points
7th. Japan, 195 points
8th. Brazil, 178 points

The day's play was peppered with tell-tale signs of good natured rivalry. Team spirit, merely 24 hours old, had become weeklong lifelong friendship. Team chants filled the air. The Germans paid homage to the movie Snatch by calling themselves "Zee Germans!" While Canada routinely cried "Who are you afraid of? Canada!" but with a zeal that could only be taken for irony.

Canada's captain: Adrienne Rowsome

By midnight good spirits had turned to simply spirits. Team Canada were announced as safely in the club house, ("And drinking!" added Captain Adrienne Rowsom), while Japan roared their way through their last matches. Nobuyuki Tanaka was doing most of the roaring. Yesterday he lost all of his matches (and was presented with a limited edition set of playing cards in tribute). Today, he seemed to win them all.

Nobuyuki Tanaka

But the lasting image of the World Cup of Poker 2013 will be that of a couple of dozen people who until yesterday had not met each other, laughing their way through poker that didn't need to sparkle to entertain.

Defeated Bulgarians

It may seem like a trivial event and a difficult one to follow. In fact, when in full swing the worst thing you can ask is "what's going on?" It's simply impossible to say. But when the dust settles it's worth remembering that the money involved is hardly trivial, not to players who will return to micro-stakes games with one hell of a story to tell. To put it in perspective the Tajiks fly home to Dushabe with five times the average salary of Tajikistan in their pockets.

The devastated Tajik team

It brings to an end another World Cup of Poker. Once again it didn't fail, make that couldn't fail, to entertain, inspire and infuriate in equal measure. It was played in a spirit sometimes lost in major tournaments. Just like previous years, defeated teams chose to hang around and see how things turned out rather than get an early night.

Team Russia celebrates

That spirit will live on. Next year the World Cup of Poker will return. The rules will still require a master's degree to understand, the players will still arrive via routes impossible to fathom. And despite promises to the contrary it will still finish at a God awful hour in the middle of the night. And it will be glorious.

Good night from Atlantis.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter