It has long been established on the European Poker Tour (EPT) that Ole Schemion is blessed by the gods. The reigning Player of the Year has won $6.3m in live tournaments since his debut in 2011, and he is as close to unbeatable as a poker player gets.
What we didn’t really know until tonight in Barcelona, however, is just how far his influence extends. Schemion has the power of Midas too. Everything he touches turns to gold.
Four years ago, Schemion stood on the rail in Casino Barcelona, Jägerbomb in hand, and bellowed Martin Schleich to EPT success. This week in the same room, he handed his baseball cap to another German player, Andre Lettau, and the second Schemion horse wore it proudly as he galloped to victory tonight.
Lettau is the latest champion on Europe’s most prestigious tour, taking down the 100th Main Event and dashing back to Germany with the title, €794,058 and a luxury SLYDE watch. It must be noted (if it isn’t obvious enough) that Lettau played all the hands himself throughout the week and is a mean talent in his own right. He needed to keep his wits about him during yet another titanic final table struggle on the EPT.
But Lettau also had one of the most boisterous rails ever assembled, which flirted with the boundaries of good etiquette at times, but also provided the impetus for one of the most hard-fought victories on the tour. Sam Phillips, the solitary North American in the final 16, played near faultless poker throughout, making a couple of jaw-dropping folds in particular.
But nobody ever folded his way to outright victory, no matter how shrewd the plays turned out to be. Phillips’ superlative performance could take him only to second — even if he did pocket the lion’s share of the prize money, having negotiated a three-way deal when chip leader. He will make do with €1,021,275.
“I’m excited to have won,” Lettau said. “I want to say thanks to my rail.” He confessed that he would have preferred the money to the title, but added: “It’s OK to be an EPT champion.”
Lettau deserved it. He was still alert, still composed and still keeping his supporters informed of every twist and turn as the clock in Barcelona ticked beyond 4am. He might be Schemion’s boy, but he has beaten the phenom to the top title, and has done so at his first attempt.
The final table, which convened at 1pm at Casino Barcelona, was more than an hour old before the first player departed — and Slaven Popov (for it was he) dealt with the circumstances of his execution with as good grace as one could hope.
Popov, who came to the final table with a medium-sized stack, had dwindled down to his last 1,750,000 when he found A♠7♠ under the gun. He shoved. It was folded around to Ji Zhang, who managed to outrage a few of the viewers on EPT Live, not to mention the commentators, by first asking for a count and then taking about two minutes before calling.
It was a ten big blind shove and Ji had a stack of 5.3m. Oh, he also had Q♥Q♦.
Ji did call eventually, though, and the flop brought another queen. That was the end of Popov, who left with €121,300 and no real hard feelings. He even made a dastardly, comedic swipe for the trophy as he left the stage.
Ji, as it happens, found queens again soon after and snap called another shove this time. However he was up against Andrey Shatilov‘s kings, so perhaps there’s an argument for caution after all. He lost that coup, and he began something of a downward spiral from there.
Phillips, with $3m in online winnings and the purest pedigree of the eight finalists, seized control of the final. Even the overnight leader Hossein Ensan was powerless as Phillips went through the gears.
As Phillips continued to boss the table, none of the short stacks wanted to tangle. The result was that they all found themselves entering perilous territory: any big pot could be the end of them.
So it was when Ji found A♦K♦ and Ensan had J♦J♣ and they got it in pre-flop. In fairness, this was always going in regardless of stacks — especially after the dealer flipped over J♥A♣9♦ on the flop. An anguished Ji rapped the elbow rail in despair, but this was the end of the road. He took €171,600 for seventh.
Kiryl Radzivonau had been one of the more animated players throughout the past two days, and also one of the most recognisable. He had been sneaking his lucky Barcelona strip, bearing his nickname “Angry Moron”, past the security guards into the casino every day.
He had rarely put a foot wrong in his journey to the final table, and watching experts (ie, Dominik Panka in the commentary booth) also considered it to be a standard play when he called for his last 2m or so with Q♠J♥ after Phillips open shoved the small blind.
Phillips, however, had K♣10♣, which stayed good and sent Radzivonau home. He did enough this week to disprove both claims made by that nickname, and also to earn himself €224,500.
Andrea Dato was the legitimate short stack before coming to the final, but had laddered up thanks to the demise of Popov, Ji and Radzivonau. He knew he had to get his stack in eventually, though, and ended up calling it off with Q♣10♠ after Ensan’s latest open raise.
He wasn’t an enormous under-dog in this spot and hit a ten on the flop. That allowed him to live to fight another day. It also, as it turned out, allowed him to move one more place up the leader board because Shatilov was now the man under threat.
Shatilov got his money in with K♠10♠ but ran into Lettau’s A♠J♥. The German player was immediately delighted, and seemed to be happy even when the first four cards of the board ran out 6♠8♣Q♣J♠ and offered Shatilov 17 outs on the river.
The 10♣ was not, however, one of them and the silent Supernova Shatilov ambled away looking for €286,600, while Lettau sprinted off in orbit of the tournament room whooping and high-fiving his way.
Lettau will also have been doing cartwheels as he looked on for the next passage of play, during which the two dominant leaders at the time, Ensan and Phillips, decided to get involved in two enormous pots.
The first showed amazing gumption from Ensan, who raised from the button with J♠10♥ and then called Phillips’ three bet to 1.65m. Phillips had A♣Q♥. The flop only really favoured one man when it came A♠8♥8♠, but there was enough there to encourage Ensan to get tricky.
Phillips bet 1.5m, Ensan raised to 4.1m and already Phillips seemed to be in a tough spot. Jake Cody had now arrived in the commentary booth and decided Phillips could only call, a decision with which Phillips eventually concurred. But Ensan wasn’t done with this and after the 3♣ bricked the turn, which Phillips bet, Ensan bet another 3.25m.
Phillips tanked for as long as anybody at the final table, eventually finding a fold after five minutes of statuesque pondering. Ensan had suddenly regained the lead he had at the very start.
Unfortunately for Ensan, but gleefully for Phillips, there was still some adrenalin coursing the veins after the audacious bluff. On the very next hand, Ensan found himself five-betting all in with A♥2♦, but Phillips had again found a big ace. This time he went nowhere with his A♣K♦ and picked up an enormous pot to put him back into the huge chip lead.
Even Lettau was momentarily silenced.
With matters taking a bit of a turn for the random, the three players sagely started talking numbers. Tournament variance was starting to play a dominant part in proceedings, prompting players (and players’ backers) to want to lock up their profit.
It took two lengthy confabs, including some judicious tournament directing from Toby Stone to stop things getting out of hand, before they came to an agreement. Ensan’s short stack was worth €652,667; Lettau was getting €704,058; and Phillips had locked up €1,021,275. There was €90,000 to play for, plus the 100th EPT Main Event trophy.
The period immediately following final table deals is one of the most peculiar in major televised tournaments. One might expect a lot of shoving and calling light, but it can often actually become quite cagey. In this case, players started limping and Phillips even made a pretty sensational fold — again with top pair aces — when the river brought a flush card.
However, Ensan had a short stack and had to get it in. He did. He doubled up. But yet again, the chips went back to their former owner almost immediately, when Lettau doubled back through Ensan. They then went to dinner with Lettau in command of the biggest stack.
With deals done and food in bellies, the post-prandial phase could have gone in many different directions. We have seen final tables become soporific affairs in such circumstances while others turn into crazy adventures. With Lettau’s rail having taken on even more refreshment, and Phillips even now removing his Jedi hood, it seemed we might be heading more towards Mercier/Lellouche territory than Buonanno/Salter.
But the aforementioned duo first had to shed the third party, and Ensan couldn’t find the cards to haul himself back into contention. Holding K♥9♥, he flopped second pair on a board of A♥K♦6♠, but Lettau had done similar with his K♠Q♣. The queen played when they got it all in, and that was the end of Ensan.
He could have few complaints from a pretty sensational festival. He kicked off this week by winning the first seniors’ event on the tour. He then cashed in the Barcelona Cup and won his Main Event seat in a satellite. En route to his €652,667 payday for third, he also showed some exceptional game, making some of the most dauntless bluffs and shrewd calls of any player. He may be 50 years old, but there are 20-year-old whizzes who could learn a lot from Ensan.
Ensan’s departure left them heads up, and Lettau had something like a five-to-one lead. But before anybody could really get settled, the chips were in the middle. Lettau found an ace, but Phillips found two. The pocket pair held up and Phillips was back in the game.
The American player had run into aces during late stages of this tournament himself — Ji’s when they were down to two tables yesterday — but had patiently re-built his stack. This latest coup gave him the springboard to do the same again, and it wasn’t long until he retook the chip lead through some superlative heads up play.
But it wasn’t even close to being over yet.
The best way to relive all the hand-by-hand action, particularly in this extended heads up period, is to go to the main EPT Barcelona page and take a look through the coverage in the panel at the top. It was all logged there, every blind steal and every small pot, through the night and into the early hours and beyond.
We lost count of the number of double ups as the blind levels were shortened and the edges started to fray. Lettau, to his credit, seemed conscious of his supporters overstepping the mark every now and again, and did his best to quieten enthusiasm. He also made a point of being the first to console with Phillips when the final card was dealt.
That came after the two of them had got their hastily dwindling stacks (there were fewer than 40 big blinds in play) in the middle, with Lettau holding K♣10♠ and Phillips 7♦8♦. It was the 275th hand of the final table and the board ran K♦5♦2♥9♥K♥. The day was finally done.
“I played a very tough opponent heads-up, it was up down, up down,” Lettau said. “Can I go home now?” he added. Not before you’ve talked to Sarah Grant, of PokerStars.tv:
EPT11 Barcelona, Main Event
Date: August 21-27
Places paid: 240
Prize pool: €7,255,600
1 – Andre Lettau, Germany, €794,058*
2 – Sam Phillips, USA, PokerStars qualifier, €1,021,275*
3 – Hossein Ensan (Germany) €652,667*
4 – Andrea Dato (Italy) €362,000
5 – Andrey Shatilov (Russia) €286,000
6 – Kiryl Radzivonau (Belarus) €224,500
7 – Ji Zhang (Germany) €171,600
8 – Slaven Popov (Bulgaria) €121,300
*denotes three way deal