Sow tops Wheeler as PokerStars Championship Prague turns frosty and feisty

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All the chips to Kalidou Sow

For all the vast sums of money and high levels of tension, major poker tournaments are often pretty serene, even at the very end. But the finale today of the PokerStars Championship Prague Main Event--the last ever tournament in this series, and the final major event of 2017--was a feisty affair, especially after all but two of the 855 players were out.

It ended in a frosty heads-up battle between Jason Wheeler, of the United States, and Kalidou Sow, of France, two players who had exchanged a series of verbal barbs throughout the day.

Wheeler in particular had gone on the attack after a major cooler went in favour of Sow. It underlined just how much it meant to Wheeler. The 40-year-old Chicago pro, recently relocated to Prague, has won nearly $8 million online and $3 million live, but had never been further than 18th in a flagship PokerStars Main Event.

Beating the table with his fist and proclaiming, "It's still mine. I'm still the one to beat," Wheeler fired himself up for the tilt at the title.

But reader, he did not win. The one to beat was beaten.

That's down to the remarkable composure under extreme pressure of the 37-year-old Parisian Sow. Although not a total rookie, Sow did not have the tournament experience of Wheeler and needed help from the rail when the two discussed a not entirely friendly deal after they went heads up. Eventually they agreed to chop the prize money, with the required extra to play for, and hostilities could continue with the cards.

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Hostilities resume in Prague

It did not last much longer. The one-way heads-up traffic went in the way of Sow. There's no disputing Wheeler played some superb poker this week, in particular at the final today. But Sow kept his cool and then got T♥T♦ to hold up against Wheeler's A♥9♠ in the tournament's final hand. (Hand history.)

Sow wins €675,000 to Wheeler's €570,000. It was certainly a dramatic way to round out the year.

"I'm very happy!" Sow said. "I am happy, thank you very much, fantastic."

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Ran Sow good!

READ HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN --- OR --- WATCH FULL REPLAY

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At the start of the day, the chip-count leader board of the returning six players had a firm line drawn through its middle. While Sow, Wheeler and Michal Mrakes had more than 60 big blinds apiece (and the former pair more than 100), the bottom three of Gabriele Lepore, Colin Robinson and Harry Lodge didn't have that much between them.

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The final six (l-r): Michal Mrakes, Harry Lodge, Kalidou Sow, Jason Wheeler, Gabriele Lepore, Colin Robinson

It meant that those shorties were able to add an either/or clause to their prayers to the gods. "Please either double me up, or knock out the other two first," was the gist. But as it turned out, none of them managed a double up as all shoves went uncalled.

In fact, the early exchanges all featured the big stacks playing most of the pots and spreading the chips around the three of them. It meant that the big blind crept up to 100,000, and that the waiting game had to end.

Robinson was the first to go when the dam finally burst. His A♦7♣ couldn't overtake Sow's 8♥8♥, but he was happy with his week in Prague and his €147,000 pay-day. (Hand history.)

"This is my biggest score, so I'm really happy," Robinson said, vowing to return next year. "I can build on this and learn."

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Robinson at risk

Lodge was similarly happy despite busting soon after with A♠5♥ against Wheeler's A♥J♦.

"The positive is that I came in [to today's play] in last place, and I got the ladder," Lodge said. He won €196,000. (Hand history.)

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Harry Lodge - 5th place

Lepore stuck around a little longer, but mostly he was a spectator as Sow, Wheeler and Mrakes stayed at each other's throats. Indeed, Lepore's final hand came about because Wheeler and Sow had apparently wanted to battle one more time between themselves, but priced Lepore in from the big blind with J♦7♦.

Lepore flopped a flush draw and then got his chips in. Wheeler had a measly small pair, but it didn't cost him much more to call, and then Lepore missed his outs. (Hand history.)

The week's work earned Lepore only €1 short of a quarter of a million. He'll take it--even though he is a reported cryptocurrency millionaire, so real money means nothing these days.

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The end of the line for Lepore

There was a predictable certainty about the identity of the three remaining players, but now the big stacks had to sort out between them who was taking gold, silver or bronze--and whether or not it would come to blows.

Wheeler entered three-handed play in the box seat, but lost an enormous pot to Sow when they both flopped a straight. Sow's was queen high, while Wheeler's was ten high, and it swung the pendulum in Sow's favour. (Hand history.)

It was remarkable actually that Wheeler was still such a strong force in the tournament, having been on the wrong end of the deck for most of proceedings to that point. The only other double up before they got three-handed was another cooler: Mrakes's aces beat Wheeler's queens, all-in pre.

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Wheeler lays down the law

Though Mrakes had similarly played a near-faultless tournament to this point (his ace-high call in a whopping pot on Day 4 one of the highlights), he dwindled to the short stack today and couldn't double it when he found aces again.

It meant that Wheeler couldn't really think about folding pocket sixes when Mrakes shoved a short stack with A♣Q♣. A six on the river ended local hopes. (Hand history.)

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Michal Mrakes - 3rd place

So there we were, with the heads-up duel destiny had seemingly prescribed. They asked to look at the numbers, but they weren't especially interested. Wheeler had other ideas about how they might want to arrange a deal, even though Sow had the bigger stack.

"Very simple, we either say yes or we say no," Wheeler said. He was proposing an even chop, with €105,000 on the side, despite having 3 million fewer chips. He added: "I'm not interested in entertaining any 'I want more'."

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The deal is done... shuffle up and deal!

Sow sought some advice, but agreed to it. They shook hands and played on. Then very soon it was Wheeler's chips in the middle with the inferior hand, and Sow was the champion.

That's that for PokerStars Championship Prague, and indeed for the PokerStars Championship. Join us in the Bahamas in a couple of weeks for the welcome return of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA)!

Merry Christmas one and all.

PokerStars Championship Prague Main Event

Dates: December 12-18, 2017
Buy-in: €5,300
Players: 855
Prize pool: €4,146,750

POSNAMECOUNTRYSTATUSPRIZE
1Kalidou SowFrance €675,000*
2Jason WheelerUSA €570,000*
3Michal MrakesCzech Republic €332,000
4Gabriele LeporeItaly €249,000
5Harry LodgeUK €196,000
6Colin RobinsonUSA €147,000
*denotes heads-up deal

Click for full payouts

Howard Swains
@howardswains in Prague