All roads may have led to Rome, but all street signs in Baden, Austria point a weary traveler to Casino Baden. It sits on a small hill backed by several larger rises. The grass is green, the flowers are somehow remain in bloom, and fountains shoot water in the air in every direction. A small river, smelling of the region’s famed sulphur springs, runs through the middle of the shopping district.
At first, a casino might seem out of place in this sleepy little village. The hamlet is a place where elderly ladies walk their dogs, men sit reading newspapers in Tabak shops, and most of the stores close down by sundown. It is bucolic and urban simultaneously. It is not the place you would expect to find a luxurious casino. And yet you do.
Somehow, the casino blends in with the town-scape and welcomes a pedestrian directly inside. It sits and exists in harmony with the rest of the hamlet. Inside, chefs cook filets, and sea bass, and stir fry, and creme broulee. Bartenders poor champagne, beer, coffee, and wine. There is rarely a dinner break during a card tournament because the players are eating gourmet food at tableside.
This is Baden, home of the European Poker Tour’s Baden Classic.
When the tournament began, it was said that Finland’s Patrik Atonius was late. Something in his travel had set him back and his blinds were being taken faster than filet mignon from the kitchen. The man had been on a rush in recent months, winning the Scandinavian Championship and taking third place in the EPT Barcelona event. Perhaps the players thought it best to scoop up his chips before he had a chance to defend them. Somehow, though, he stepped up and worked his way back over two days and came to the final table with nearly the chip lead.
Here’s how the final table players stacked up as the final table began:
Seat 1: Gunnar Osterbrod (NOR) 184,300
Seat 2: Patrick Antonius (FIN) 308,400
Seat 3: Torstein Iverson (NOR) 179,500
Seat 4: Edgar Skjevold (NOR) 90,400
Seat 5: Peter Muhlbeck (Austria) 247,700
Seat 6: Ingemar Backman (SWE) 294,500
Seat 7: Christian Grundtvig (DEN) 180,000
Seat 8: Abel Meijberg (NL) 315,100
It took nearly an hour before the first of the final table players said auf wiedersehen. Edgar Skjevold made a stand with AQ and ran into Patrik Antonius’ pair of jacks. Edgar got all in pre-flop and the board didn’t help him out. He cashed for 20,520 euros. A former financial analyst from Oslo, Edgar burst onto the poker scene last year when he won $425,000 in the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker. After a quiet year following that success he placed well in the WSOP main event this summer (winning more than $100,000).
The rail was full of Nordic men cheering for Edgar. The Norsemen is a group of players bent on showing the world that Norwegians are a force with which to be reckoned. When Edgar left, the Norsement didn’t stop cheering. Why? They had two players in the final eight. Any accusations (which there were none I heard) that they were working together were quickly dispatched with when the players got in a major pot together on Day 2 holding aces and kings.
Once Edgar was gone, the Norwegian crew was left to root for Torstein Iverson. Unfortunately, he was the next to go. He got all in with an over-pair of sixes on a baby board. That board held two hearts and Gunnar Osterbrod had the heart flush draw. The heart fell on the river. Iverson cashed for 27,360 euro. Father-of-two, Torstein has been playing cards from a young age and has always believed he had a special skill. He’s been supporting his young family from Oslo as a poker pro for the last two years, mixing live and online action.
Though this tournament was held in the heart of Austria, only one countryman made the final table. Peter Muhlbek lives in Vienna with his wife and two kids, graduated with an MBA and had a job offer from international accountancy firm, but his poker earnings were such that he couldn’t afford the pay cut. After gradually getting chipped down, he got all in with KQ on a king-high board. It was no good against Abel’s pair of aces. He cashed for 41,040 euros.
With the blinds moving up to 5000/10000/1000, the remaining five players stacked up like this:
G Osterbrod 471.5k
P Antonius 212k
I Backman 381k
C Grundtvig 133.5k
A Meijberg 608k
During a break, the rail started to notice what the only Swede at the final table had done with his chip stack. He’d turned it into his country’s flag.
Ingemar Back was at home in the mountains, having been a professional snowboarder for 12 years, representing Sweden at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. He also is also a founding partner in the successful ‘We’ chain of street fashion wear. Poker has been a hobby for the last two years, and although he has never played at this level before, he looked relaxed among the pros.
After the break, though, he might have gotten a little too relaxed. He pushed with AKs and got called by Abel Meijberg who had pocket jacks. The massive 650,000+ pot got pushed to Abel and Backman headed out in fifth place, cashing for 41,040.
Edgar Skjevold, you’ll recall, won the 2004 PokerStars.com World Championship of Online Poker. In a strange twist of fate, the second place finisher in that same event was sitting across the table from him. Christian Grundtvig, a one-time stamp collecting enthusiast, had ended day one with a large stack and rode it all the way to the final table. He found pocket jacks and pushed in. Osterbrod called with AK and by the river had made a full house. Grundtvig was out in fourth place earning 47,880 euros.
The Netherlands had pinned their hopes on 22-year-old Abel Meijberg. The young student of industrial engineering from Groningen in Holland started playing poker around two years ago, mostly online. He has no superstitions and relies on his analytical skills to give him an edge. Abel had a refreshing attitude towards this final table: “I’m already a winner. This is the biggest prize money of my life, so any extra is just for fun.”
And the extra money built up and up until he was three-handed. Then things took a turn for the worse. He got AQ all-in against Antonius’ AK. The ensuing loss crippled him. After doubling up once after that, his ace was no match for Atonius’ pair of fours. Miejberg was out in third place, cashing for 61,560 euros.
Heads up play begins
That left Antonius and Osterbrod to fight it our. At the beginning of heads-up play, Antonius had a 2-1 chip lead. He would not look back. It would take just aobut hald an hour (including a five minute break) for Antonius to chip away at Osterbrod. The Antonius flopped two pair, eights and fours on a ragedy board. Osterbrod didn’t believe Antonius’ bet, pushed all in, then discovered he was all but finished, holding only queen high. Osterbrod cashed for 120,384.
Antonius may have been late for the party, but like all good revelers, was the last to leave. When he walked out, he had another 218,990 euros to his name.
EPT Baden Classic Champion, Patrik Antonius