Season 4 of EPT Retro aired on PokerStars’ Twitch and YouTube channels during April 2020. It offered a glimpse of the way the European Poker Tour (EPT) used to be, and added new commentary to old footage. At the same time, we dipped back into our PokerStars Blog archive to find how we reported the same events on the earliest days of the EPT. Here’s everything together: streams, results, reports and pictures. In other words, here’s all you didn’t realise you needed to know about EPT Season 4.
SEASON 4 SUMMARY
Every aspect of the European Poker Tour (EPT) grew massively again during Season 4. Player numbers rose, more destinations were added and prize-pools ballooned — as did the cost of a seat at the table. What started as a €1,000 (or equivalent) Main Event buy-in now hit €8,000 in many of the established stops, meaning seven-figure first prizes became common. Within three years, the EPT developed from a tentative experiment to a supremely well-oiled juggernaut, and there was nothing that could stand in its way.
Even the traditional boundaries of geography no longer seemed to apply. In January 2008, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA), whose location is rather given away in its name, found itself lassoed by the EPT and dragged on to the tour. It’s not that we moved the Bahamas into chilly Europe. That would be foolish. Instead, we all packed our bags and headed west, where they had a tiki bar beside the final table (and a brilliant new champion).
Two more new destinations appeared, and boy did they hit the ground running. In December, the poker world descended on the Christmas markets and chocolate box mediaeval town squares of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Then in the run-up to the Grand Final in Monte Carlo, the tour took a quick pitstop only a matter of a few miles up the coast in Sanremo, Italy. Prague debuted with more than 550 players; Sanremo attracted more than 700.
As for the actual play, it was getting better and better every month and Season 4’s champions are arguably the strongest of any season. This was the year when we got to know a young fellow from Ontario, Canada and a former math teacher from Florida, both of whom had recently discovered online poker and decided to try qualifying for a major live event.
Suffice to say, Mike McDonald and Jason Mercier will have fond memories of EPT Season 4. Here are some more…
EVENT BY EVENT
STREAM 1: Barcelona and London
In July 2007, Jerry Yang won $8.25 million at the World Series of Poker Main Event as the global game continued to go from strength to strength. One month later, EPT action resumed with its customary visit to Barcelona, but with a hefty 60 percent increase in buy-in. Would the €8K entrance fee result in the first ever year-on-year dip in numbers at an EPT event? Absolutely not. A new record 543 players crammed into Casino Barcelona to scrap over a near €4.2 million prize pool, with the winner set for the first €1 million prize of any EPT tournament outside Monte Carlo.The field was stacked with stars right from the outset, including the new face of Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke. Daniel Negreanu, even before he became a Team Pro, made the trip to Barcelona too.
Internet qualifiers came from far and wide — including the Faroe Islands. At the time, there was no real way to know which among them would progress and which had peaked. That’s probably the reason a man named Bryn Kenney only got a couple of paragraphs rather than a full post of his own.This event proved to be the first time that other future stars including Dani Stern, Nikolaus Jedlicka Alexander Zaichenko and Davidi Kitai troubled the EPT cashiers. Stern led at the end of Day 1 but went out in 56th, but Jedlicka went all the way to the final, finishing seventh.
This was a common theme during this series on the EPT: fresh-faced north American and western European qualifiers absolutely destroying the old guard. Jedlicka was joined at the final by fellow internet hotshots Greg Dyer and Adam Junglen, neither of whom were old enough to play in an American casino, but who had already figured out how to profit from the game.
However, the main story quickly became focused on residents of one particular hotel room in Barcelona, booked under the names of Sander Lylloff and Mark Teltscher. Teltscher already had one EPT title to his name, won in London on Season 2, and here in Barcelona he was sharing a room with backgammon pro Lylloff. When the pair ended up heads-up, with a bottle of Cristal champagne ordered to the table, it seemed possible that we’d have our first double champion.
However Lylloff was ruthless in despatching his friend and room-mate, and so another new name was written on the €1.1 million first prize cheque.As an add on to EPT Barcelona, PokerStars also hosted the first World Cup of Poker at the casino in the days after the Main Event. This high-octane fun event afforded us a first glimpse at the live table of future luminaries including Shaun Deeb, representing the United States, and Mike Watson, in Canada’s colours.
Negreanu was also nominally representing Canada, but seemed to delight in defeat to Romania, the country of his parentage. Greg Raymer, anchoring the United States team, took charge with absolute earnestness and his focus helped ensure victory.
Although the world of poker was in great turbulence, things were all very much as they always had been at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino on London’s Edgware Road as the EPT took up residence at the Vic for the fourth time. Denizens there — stalwarts of Late Night Poker — still took tea and biscuits at the table; staff still wedged tiny side tables in every empty space blocking access; and you’d still likely lose your stack to an obdurate, unassuming middle-aged businessman, no matter what your reputation online.It’s not documented how many of the 392 players did precisely that to Joseph Mouawad, but the property developer from Beirut, Lebanon, was the man left smiling most broadly at the end. He became sixth online qualifier to win an EPT Main Event.
King of the online qualifiers, Chris Moneymaker, played in London, and he picked up his first European cash too. Daniel Negreanu was also back in the fray, and under our forensic attention. Former champions Vicky Coren couldn’t defend her title, however, and was among the early departures.On Day 2, a scoot around the room to put some faces to names of the online qualifiers found three future stars: Yevgeniy “JovialGent” Timoshenko, Joey Lovelady and Josh “Tycoon_Kid” Egan.
Only Egan was among the last eight, but his tournament came to its conclusion in third, at the hands of German star Florian Langmann. But even Langmann, who was the reigning German champion at the time, could not outdo Mouawad.
“It was a great experience,” Mouawad said. “I didn’t expect it at all. It was fun and a big achievement and I went up against some good players. But I never thought I’d win the championship.”
STREAM 2: Baden & PCA
Less than two weeks separated the conclusion of EPT London and a third trip over to Austria for EPT Baden — and one popular Brit will be forever glad he made the effort. The amiable Julian Thew was already one of the best-loved poker players in the country, balancing family life, good humour and genuine friendliness with a formidable, and ever-improving, poker game. There was a growing belief that elite poker required a level of seriousness and commitment that could not exist alongside all other facets of a “normal” human existence, but Thew was a one-man rebuttal to that. When he beat a 282-strong field to win close to €700,000 in Baden, the entire poker world joined in celebration.Thew was sponsored by William Hill at the time, but eventually joined Team PokerStars Pro, which was expanding rapidly. Barry Greenstein, Hevad “RainKhaN” Khan, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Vanessa Rousso, Noah Boeken, Katja Thater, Andre Akkari and Chad Brown all wore the red spade in Baden, and gathered around a chocolate fountain in a pre-tournament party.
On Day 1, as we spied diminutive Dario Minieri peering over an enormous pile of chips, we also wrote what became a regular post: the quest for the first two-time champion. This was based on the presence of Ram Vaswani, Pascal Perrault, Thang Nguyen, Noah Boeken, Sander Lyloff, Andreas Hoivold and Patrik Antonius in the field. The headline was “You Never Win Twice” but we didn’t know how prescient that was.
On Day 2, an enormous outdraw went in the favour of Michael Durrer (and against Phillip Yeh), but Anton Allemann finished on top of the 40 remaining players.That field quickly thinned on Day 3, with Heimo Kraner bursting the bubble and leaving with nothing.
Thew then moved into control, gaining his first major boost when he got jacks to outflop kings, quickly followed by finding aces in the big blind and busting Pascal Perrault. He led going into the final table.
Action on the last day began with great haste, with Allemann knocked out on the first hand, and American WSOP bracelet winner Ted Lawson following quickly in seventh. A Russian named Vladimir Poleshchuk did most of the damage, and we struggled (and failed) not to use the nickname “The Impaler”. Another future Team Pro, Thierry Van Den Berg, was knocked out in fifth, and then American qualifier Thomas Fuller took over the lead.
But that was the last chance anyone else had of beating Thew. The Englishman won an enormous pot against Fuller when he hit a flush draw on the turn and outran Fuller’s flopped set, and then Denes Kalo knocked out both Fuller and Poleshchuk. It took about an hour before Thew relegated Kalo to second place (something he would come to grow familiar with) and Thew claimed the title. (Click for full blow-by-blow action.)Thew had said in a pre-match interview that he wanted to pay off his mortgage by the time he was 40. One hopes this sorted him out very nicely.
By Season 4, the EPT had gathered quite a collection of champions, but there was also a spectacular list of players who couldn’t quite get over the line. When the tour reached Dublin at the beginning of November, and away from the television cameras, the most notorious young phenom of the era joined the latter list.Annette Obrestad’s career started online, where as “Annette_15”, her achievements turned her into some kind of mythical being. When she emerged on the live scene — tiny, silent, impassive — her mystical status only grew. She immediately proved herself to be the real deal, becoming the youngest person ever to win a World Series bracelet when she took down the WSOP-Europe Main Event in September. It meant that Obrestad was the star attraction as she made the trip to Dublin, and was one of only two players, from 221, still seated at the very end. However on this occasion, the last of Obrestad’s chips went in the direction of Reuben Peters, a comparatively unheralded 45-year-old father of two from Colorado, and “Annette_15” missed out on adding an EPT title to her bracelet, all while still a teenager.
“You impressed a lot of people this week,” said Stephen Bartley, our reporter in Dublin.
“I’m not happy though,” Obrestad replied.
The event took place in its entirety at the Royal Dublin Society, with the nooks and crannies of Dublin’s city-centre Georgian casinos finally deemed impractical. And the stars arrived to play, including (perhaps for the first time on the EPT) Erik Seidel. PokerStars qualifiers making early waves included Rupinder Bedi and Phidias Georgiou, the latter prompting a brilliant “Phidias in a Fog” headline as he complained about the stresses of elite-level poker.
An entirely new player named Mike McDonald led the field at the end of Day 1A (we would learn a bit more about him later in the year), but his demise on Day 2 came at the hands of Obrestad. By this point, she was making waves.Dave Colclough was knocked out on the bubble, and all former champions were out by the mid-point of Day 3, by the end of which Obrestad was in charge.
Peters had been the short stack going into the final, and was all in on the very first hand on the last day. He won that, and he also won the very last hand too, the decisive one. “I was not supposed to win this,” he said. “I was down to five big blinds yesterday. I got lucky, but it’s good to get lucky in poker.”
The land-locked Czech Republic sits in the geographical centre of Europe, bordering Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria, and with daily flights to its magnificent capital, Prague, from just about every major city in the continent. A decent stop for the EPT? Err, yeah. The geniuses in the tour-planning department found a decent host venue — the grand ballroom of the Hilton Prague — an amenable casino to provide the licence and we were off to the Czech Republic. And, true to form: if you build it, they will come.
EPT Prague was a smash-hit right from the word go. At that point, the 555 players who stumped up €5,000 to play the Main Event represented a record showing for a debut stop on the EPT. Though the outside temperatures were sub-zero, Prague before Christmas was quickly revealed as a splendid place to watch your nostrils freeze over: the cheap and hearty food, spectacular architecture and charming markets made for a thoroughly blissful stop.Back in the poker room, with a noon start, the usual suspects quickly descended — as well as a press pack corralled by the EPT’s long-serving media coordinator, Chess grandmaster Pavel Blatny played, trading the chequered board for the baize, while the field was swelled with PokerStars qualifiers, as always. Two of them looked remarkably similar, until we unpicked the mystery: before Sam and Luc Greenwood, the EPT had its twins quota covered by Sebastian and Daniel Zink. (The latter fell just short of the final.)
After a quick Day 3, the final table was set with Mikael Norinder, of Sweden, leading France’s Arnaud Mattern. Johannes Strassmann, already well known as one of Germany’s best, also found a seat. Here are the final table profiles.The TV crew didn’t make the trip to Prague for the first couple of years, which meant the action was not recorded for posterity. But stadium seating was arranged around the final, with every seat occupied, as they played to the winner. We followed it blow-by-blow (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4). Italian Gino Alacqua made most of the early running, but Mattern stayed firm and beat him at the last.
Mattern booked a win of €708,400 and kick-started a career in which he won a further $1.1 million and was on the Team PokerStars Pro roster for a few years. He made two more EPT final tables, in Tallinn and Warsaw, as well as one on the WPT.“For a new event, the Prague EPT has been an outstanding success,” said PokerStars Head of Communications, EMEA, Conrad Brunner. “Europe’s top players have put on a real show, and great credit must go to Arnaud Mattern for winning against a top class field. His victory in Prague catapults him to the top of the French EPT leader board.”
Prague has remained on the EPT calendar ever since.
Europe made an audacious land-grab in January 2008, extending its tendrils across the Atlantic Ocean to haul the Bahamas to its bosom. The move was so that PokerStars’ flagship north American tournament — the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) — could become one with the EPT, and it made sense in its own geography-defying way. PokerStars has always been a global brand, and this consolidated its pan-continental live offering.The result was immediately startling. The field at the PCA swelled past 1,000 for the first time, each player putting $8,000 in the pot — either from their own coffers or as a result of an online satellite win. The prize pool breached $8.5 million, of which $2 million was allocated for the champion. It was such a grand event that there was a treasure chest and a tiki bar beside the final table, with a bartender positioned permanently behind it. It was the first time I’d reported on a final table while propped on a bar stool.
Everything about the event was bizarre and exhilarating in almost equal measure. First-timers to the Bahamas marvelled that “in place of the familiar grizzled immigration officers at the airport was a guy tinkling a sweet melody on the upturned lid of a trash can, accompanied by a wah-wah guitar”. Then, while exploring the Atlantis resort, “There are towering blocks of hotel rooms, pink and orange against the Caribbean sky — but just because you can see them, it doesn’t mean you can get to them. Not without making a right over the rope bridge, left at the volcano, trudge across the beach, crack a coconut, slurp a cocktail, play a couple of hands of blackjack, swim with a dolphin, clamber up the climbing wall, count your millions on a sailboat, dance a rumba, surf the breakers, and fight a pirate.”All 66 blog posts we wrote from this event are handily available in the PCA 2008 archive. In the early days, we were partying like the PCA was tomorrow, or Making moves with Moneymaker. We found baseball star David Wells as well as a Fossilman beneath a straw boater.
Another former WSOP champ, Tom McEvoy, entertained the field with some stories of old, and we went a full, forensic round with Daniel Negreanu. The World Championship of Battleship Poker was its regular thrill-filled sideshow, before Dustin Woolf beat Vanessa Selbst to the title.In the main event, numerous household names (either present or future) got used to troubling the cashiers. After Frederik Agersnap went out on the bubble in Level 14 Lee Markholt, Andre Akkari, Julian Thew, Sam Chartier, John Dibella, Mike Gorodinsky, Hevad Khan, Peter Jetten, Elton Tsang, Chris Klodnicki, Eric Lynch, Victor Ramdin, Garrett Adelstein, Pierre Neuville, Glen Chorny and William Thorson were among those who cashed.
And then we witnessed one of the all-time tournament fairytales. Seven of the last eight were PokerStars qualifiers, including six Americans (ages 19 to 41) and one Brit. The other player was a former EPT runner-up, a PokerStars legend, a Supernova Elite and a PokerStars Team Pro. His name was Betrand “ElkY” Grospellier, and in this event he proved to be unstoppable.
“When you get second, people forget about you really quickly,” ElkY said, remembering his disappointment from a few years before, and condemning Hafiz Khan to the same fate this time. But no one would forget ElkY now. (The final moment, as well as an interview with ElkY, has survived in our final tournament report.)
Day-end recaps: Day 1A | Day 1B | Day 2
Level-by-level action: Level 28 | Level 27 | Level 26 | Level 25 | Level 24 contd | Level 24 | Level 23 | Level 22 | Level 21 | Level 20 | Level 19 | Level 18 | Level 17 | Level 16 | Level 15 | Level 14 | Level 13.
STREAM 3: Copenhagen & Dortmund
Anybody who had visited Copenhagen for the European Poker Tour thought they already knew everything there was to know about marathon final tables. But during Season 4, the curse of Copenhagen struck even more brutally as the last two of a 460-strong field played one of the most arduous heads-up battles of all time. It weighed in at four-and-a-half hours, the longest the tour had seen to that point, but the relief at its conclusion was doubled by the utterance of a great winning line. Soren Jensen moved all-in and his opponent, Tim Vance, had the nuts. “It’s been nice playing with you sir, I call,” Vance said, and the whole room could finally slump back at the end of an epic.
Vance, a 46-year-old contractor from St Louis, in the United States, collected more than 6 million Danish kroner, then worth around €830,000. Even given the length of the contest, it was a pretty spectacular hourly rate. And, of course, it had started some days previously, with a typical flood of talent to the freezing Danish capital.
Daniel Negreanu was again among them, facing off against Bill Chen and ElkY, in PokerStars colours. This was a 460-strong sell-out, and a local hero — some guy named Peter Eastgate — led after Day 1A.
Vance came to our attention early. He was first interviewed on Day 1B, when we featured him with Dustin Mele, the PokerStars Passport winner, who was playing every event for a year. Mele had a blast on this season of the EPT. He won buy-ins to 10 events, including expenses, and was always in great humour whenever we caught up. Mele died a few years ago at the tragically early age of 28, but his friends and family put on a memorial concert in his honour every year, and we like to remember him in those good old days.
Theo Jorgensen took over the lead at the end of Day 1B, while others hit the rail and could focus on their battleships game.
There was an almighty kerfuffle on the bubble, before Claus Tversted left with nothing.Danny “THE__D__RY” Ryan, at one point the top ranked online poker player in the world, was also a regular on the EPT around this time and he took on Vance, among others, on the tournament’s penultimate day. But Vance’s aim was true and he made a great call to end the day and take the lead to the final.
The final eight lined up ahead of this titanic last day, which we covered in several parts. We had the introduction, then the early levels, then the postprandial action, and then the whopping final stages.
Click through to find out how Vance did it — and how sensibilities gradually unravelled through the longest night. But Vance’s belief was unshakeable, and his victory no surprise to him.
“I knew I was going to win,” he said. “I was the best and I wanted it the most. There were times I made mistakes and times I got lucky. But I outlasted him. I knew that the longer it took, the better my chances were of winning. It was a tough competition, as tough as anywhere I have ever played.”
Mike McDonald, from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, climbed aboard a transatlantic jet within weeks of turning 18 and visited Prague, in the Czech Republic, to play poker. Already well-versed in the internet game despite his tender years, (his friend and mentor Steve Paul-Ambrose was a PCA champion) McDonald finished 14th in the inaugural EPT Prague Main Event. He spent some of January 2008 in Melbourne, Australia, making three final tables at the Aussie Millions, and winning the first tournament of his career, before he went to Dortmund, Germany, for another crack of the whip.
These are the movements of young poker obsessive, of which there were many during the latter part of the 2000s. But McDonald, who already went by the nickname “Timex”, was soon to set himself apart from the crowd. There were 411 hopefuls paying €8,000 to play in Dortmund, but Timex was better than all of them. He won close to €1 million for a peerless display, became the youngest EPT winner to that point, and the legend of Timex was off and running. “It can sometimes feel like a relief when the best man wins,” wrote Stephen Bartley in our final tournament report.
McDonald did especially well to push himself into the headlines when the event had been long-anticipated for the debut on the PokerStars felt of the former tennis ace Boris Becker. But Becker fell ill on what our reporter in Dortmund renamed “Boris Eve”, allowing McDonald all of the spotlight. (That said, Daniel Negreanu went to Dortmund for the first time, so there was some sharing between Canadians.)first feature table, and the glinting in his braces caught our reporter’s eye. He led the last eight to the final table, which also featured Christian Harder going back-to-back, and another deep run for Johannes Strassmann.
Final table coverage came in two parts: part one, in which McDonald knocked out Harder before Strassmann knocked out Thibaut Durand. Then part two, in which McDonald knocked out Strassmann, Diego Perez, Torsten Haase and Andreas Gulunay (with Gulunay ending Claudio Rinaldi’s tournament before that).And that was is: McDonald was champion. In 2020, McDonald’s tournament earnings stand at more than $13 million, even though he essentially retired a few years ago to focus on other pursuits. His star quality was obvious right from the start. “There was something special with this win, the realisation that perhaps we’d seen something more than simply a new tournament champion,” wrote Stephen Bartley. “[This was] a tournament that will be referred to again and again in the future as the start of a career to be followed closely.”
Warsaw was a relatively new destination for the EPT, and it continued to introduce new names too. Of the 32 players who made the money in Season 4, from a starting field of 359, only a handful had any established pedigree. Thierry van den Berg had been to a final table before, as had Dan Pedersen, Fredrik Haugen, Trond Eidsvig, Sebastian Ruthenberg, Craig Hopkins and Andy Black (Juan Maceiras had had a near miss), but five out of the last eight were recording the first five-figure cashes of their careers.
For some of them, including the eventual winner Michael Schulze, they never again got anywhere near the business end of a major tournament.
Schulze, a 40-year-old recreational player from Germany, is a member of a tiny sub-section of poker players who actually did what many claim they want to do: he had a big score and then essentially vanished. His 2.2 million zloty winner’s cheque was the equivalent of more than $925,000 in 2008. His grand total of documented winnings since then is $3,102.
“I only play for fun, the money doesn’t really matter to me,” Schulze said, and admitted he had never expected to get anywhere near the final table. In fact, he re-booked his flight and hotel room over and over again, and only purchased a dinner ticket at the last minute, refusing to believe he would need any of them beyond the very next session. But he ground it out, after a final table of around 10 hours, and remains one of the EPT’s great enigmas.
The tournament began only about two weeks after the conclusion of the event in Copenhagen, which meant many familiar competitors were enjoying a kind of 20th century Grand Tour around Europe and playing everything. James Honeybone, on the other hand, had jetted in from New Zealand, and PokerStars qualifier Mark “Quasifiction” Hirleman was over from the US because he was near the top of the PokerStars online leader board.Meanwhile, the absence of a TV production meant Kara Scott could take a seat at the table rather than hover by the rail waiting for interviews. She was joined by Liz Lieu, Johnny Lodden and Andy Black on Day 1B, as well as French actress Alexia Portal and a Polish R&B star named Liroy. (He would go on to be a politician.)
Kenny Hicks was another of the many PokerStars qualifiers who jetted into Warsaw from the United States (he went on to make a Grand Final final table), while Joe Serock was another. These days, Serock is a big deal, typically in US-based poker, with more than $4 million in live winnings to his name. Back then, he was just a kid from Albuquerque finding things different in Warsaw.
Hicks was on the right side of the flip that burst the bubble, knocking out Cristiano Blanco, and the time the final table was set at the end of a day lasting only two hours and 40 minutes, the shortest on the tour to date.
Of the eight at the final, the hottest talent was clearly Trond Erik Eidsvig, who was at his third final of the season, but he ended up suffering a bad beat and was the first out during early sparring.
Schulze had the biggest stack but played pretty tight, allowing Maceiras to knock out Eidsvig; Mehdi Ouakhir to knock out Niclas Svensson and Mathias Viberg to knock out Maceiras before the dinner break. Schulze eliminated Christian Oman and Ouakhir in quick succession, then also took out Viberg. It set up a long heads-up battle with Ricardo Sousa, who had the chance of becoming Portugal’s first winner.
But that turned out to be quite a long way off the decisive tournament moment took place a little after midnight. Sousa had pocket sevens and Schulze A♠6♠ when they got everything in the middle. An ace on the turn sealed Sousa’s fate and handed the title to Schulze, allowing him to take his money and run.
STREAM 4: Sanremo & Monte Carlo
There had not yet been an Italian winner on the European Poker Tour by April 2008, but the game was gaining great momentum in the continent’s boot. Luca Pagano and Dario Minieri were already stalwarts of Team PokerStars Pro, while others such as Dario Alioto, Andrea Benelli and Gino Alacqua had all been to final tables. Italians were swarming every tournament and cash game on PokerStars too as the boom began to take hold.It made sense to find an Italian home for the EPT, and as soon as the Ligurian town of Sanremo, specifically its 100-year-old Art Nouveau casino, won that particular lottery, it made sense to position the event in the run-up to the Grand Final. Sanremo is only around 25 miles from Monte Carlo, and players could therefore take an extended break in the French or Italian Riviera and play two of the most prestigious tournaments in the world almost back-to-back.
Everything was well set for Sanremo to become one of the hottest destinations in the game — we took a tour and were immediately smitten — but even we were surprised at just how brilliant this stop became, and just how quickly. More than 700 players rocked up for this first event, setting another new mark for debuts on the EPT.
The star quality came from Alberto Tomba, Italy’s great downhill ski champion, while Team Pro welcomed Raymond Rahme to Europe for the first time, fresh from a third-placed finish in the WSOP, and New Zealand’s Lee Nelson, who had come even further. Meanwhile Daniel Negreanu was on characteristic form: we found him calling the clock on an opponent late on Day 1.Luca Pagano, who had been instrumental in organising the EPT trip to San Remo, was knocked out ahead of the bubble, with Evert Jan Dongergoor the unluckiest finisher one off the cash. At this point, Minieri was setting the pace and was sitting (or standing) at the feature table.
A quiet South American named Felipe Ramos became the first Brazilian to cash on the EPT, but he was knocked out by Antony Lellouche. However, it was about this time that a quiet North American named Jason Mercier first came to everyone’s attention, sitting behind a chip-leading stack. “Mercier’s journey through day two was less showbiz,” our reporter Stephen Bartley wrote, comparing Mercier with Dario Minieri. “[He was] playing instead with a more workmanlike approach – playing his own game for only the second time live.”Mercier was second in chips as a high-quality final was set. Minieri was above him, set for the fairytale Italian win on the first Italian EPT. William Thorson, the powerhouse Swede in his pomp, had made another final. So had Dag Palovic, the talkative Slovak. Lellouche was looking to become the third Frenchman to win in the season. (Here are the full player profiles.)
But really there was no place for anybody else after Mercier got some wind in his sails. The final started at 3.15pm and at 5.55pm it was done: Lellouche, Minieri, and Mercier got rid of Marcus Bower, Palovic and Thorson, respectively, and then Mercier made one of the greatest calls in EPT history to knock out Eric Koskas. Koskas jammed on a jack high, paired board and Mercier pondered long and hard with his bottom pair of fives. Eventually, Mercier called and saw Koskas’s ten-high bluff. Mercier’s judgment was perfect.
The Floridian then hit his flush draw with A♦4♦ to beat Minieri’s queens and send the last Italian to the rail. And then Mercier won a flip to knock out Lellouche. Mercier’s steam-roller got going quickly in Sanremo, earned him €869,000, and barely stopped trundling for the next decade as Mercier won close to $20 million.It nearly hadn’t happened. Mercier had been planning a trip to Amsterdam and was looking to sell his seat to the Sanremo tournament. But a friend backed out, so he joined his poker-playing friends in Italy instead. They railed him all the way to the title and the start of a very special career indeed.
The preeminence of the Grand Final had gone unthreatened through the first three seasons of the European Poker Tour. Its €10,000 buy-in was usually more than double what it cost to play at any other stop and so the prize pool in Monte Carlo dwarfed everywhere else. Although the appearance on the Season 4 schedule of the PCA — with a $8,000 buy-in, and a certain vast field — had the potential to create an even bigger prize pool than the Grand Final, Monte Carlo came out fighting. A record 842 players headed to the Mediterranean principality and the cash registers only stopped ringing when close to €8.5 million landed in them. It put a figure of €2.02 million on the winner’s cheque — a decent chunk more than what ElkY picked up in January.The search for the name to put next to that total was typically hard fought. At least it was once the partying, and the welcoming of new players to Team Pro, including last year’s champion Gavin Griffin, was over. Greg Raymer sat next to Sorel Mizzi. Phil Ivey rubbed shoulders with Masa Kagawa. Andre Akkari (playing his first EPT) was opposite Luca Pagano, while Noah Boeken sat with Marcel Luske. The Day 1B table of death featured Daniel Negreanu, Chad Brown, Fabrice Soulier, Paul Testud and William Thorson. There were tons of brilliant match-ups like this, but no one hogged the limelight quite like Boris Becker. The former tennis great had to postpone his EPT debut after falling ill on the eve of the Dortmund event, but Becker began his poker career beneath the flash-bulbs in Monaco.
Becker was playing his first few hands at the same time that George “jorj95” Lind III and Shaun Deeb were likely playing about their billionth. Those two sharks of the online tables found themselves next to one another, and under our microscope too.As the Main Event played into the money, a particularly special invitation-only side tournament took place: a single-table event with prize-pool of $100,000. Half of that would go to the winner. This made-for-TV event was called Stars of Poker and was stacked with Team Pros, plus a Supernova Elite, who won a satellite to get in.
Joe “bigjoe2003” Michael won that, but he couldn’t win the tournament itself. Instead, after Daniel Negreanu, Noah Boeken, Dario Minieri, Vicky Coren, Michael and ElkY were knocked out, Katja Thater came third and won $20,000, John Duthie came second for $30,000 but Barry Greenstein outlasted them all. He won the $50,000.
Back in the main tournament room, the bubble was approaching — and Andreas Hagen took ten minutes over one decision, pondering for his tournament life. This bubble period lasted nearly three hours, which set a new record for the tour, until Surinder Sunar’s jacks lost a race to Ricardo Sousa’s king-queen and 80 players were in the money.
Luca Pagano locked up his ninth EPT cash, the most of anyone, and his father Claudio also made the money. More cash headed to young sensation Trond Eidsvig too, along with plenty of other stars of the era, or the future. Felipe Ramos, Benjamin Kang, George Lind, Jan Heitmann, Sorel Mizzi, Gordon Vayo, Tomas Brolin, Anders Berg, Freddy Deeb, Raymond Rahme and Peter Traply all banked a small return on their investment.
All of the blow-by-blow details are available in the level-by-level posts below, but Day 3 ended with Antonio Esfandiari at the top of the chip counts and 40 players left.
During Day 4, and the race to the final, several more big names rose to the top. Isaac Baron, then known as “internet hotshot Isaac Baron”, made his moves. As did Michael Martin, then “only” a PokerStars qualifier, but with a second-place finish at the Master Classics in Amsterdam already on his resume. Familiar faces such as Johnny Lodden (17th), Robin Keston (12th) and Joe Hachem (11th) perished, and played paused for the night at 1.15am with ten players left.
Luca Pagano was still involved. So were Esfandiari, Martin and Baron. Denes Kalo, a former runner up, was closing in on another final. But they were all standing in the shadow cast by Glen Chorny, a 22-year-old PokerStars qualifier from Timmins, Ontario, Canada. Chorny had a strong chip lead as Day 4 began.Essentially, Chorny never let that lead go. Stig Top Rasmussen and Henrik Gwinner were quickly out in 10th and ninth, and that took them to the final. Chorny watched on as Pagano doubled, then knocked out Esfandiari, his dreams of a Triple Crown extinguished. Martin then doubled through Valeriy Ilikyan, and shortly after knocked Ilikyan out. Pagano went next, beaten by Kalo. Then Chorny knocked out Martin with a pair of jacks versus top-pair tens.
Four-handed play lasted for three hours, before Chorny knocked out Baron with aces against ace-queen. This hastened the end of the tournament. Chorny then made the nut straight while Maxime Villemure (who did once edge slightly into the lead) had the bottom end. Villemure was out in third.
With a 10 to one chip lead, Chorny’s steam-roller could not be stopped. Kalo came up one place short for the second time, as Chorny, who qualified via a steps tournament on PokerStars, banked €2.02 million for the win.
“It was the longest, the biggest, some of the best poker the EPT has ever seen,” Brad Willis wrote in our tournament recap.
“There’s no better way to feel right now than like this,” Chorny said. “It feels like you’re a rock star.”
And with that, Season 4 drew to a close.