The history of mankind has been defined by triumph over adversity. Nobody ever thought you could reach the South Pole, scale Everest or put a man on the moon. All of those “impossible” feats were relatively easy, however, compared with the task facing five poker players in Normandy, France, this afternoon.
Dany Parlafes led the way going into the final table of EPT Deauville, led the way by an enormous amount. Surely a man with 44 per cent of the chips in play, six-handed, could never be overhauled, could he? The others were all playing for second in the Year of Romania, surely.
Well no they weren’t, as it happens. Impossible is nothing. To the role of honour including Roald Amundsen, Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay and Neil Armstrong, it’s time to add the name of Ognyan Dimov.
A calmly-spoken 25-year-old from Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Dimov took on the challenge this afternoon and came out on top. He is the EPT Deauville champion and €543,700 richer. Parlafes fell one place short of the top and will take €338,700 for second.
“I hoped and hoped it would happen,” Dimov said. “I can’t explain. I’m super happy. I can’t believe it’s really happened. I’m really excited.”
It was a classic tortoise against the hare race, with Dimov plodding steadily along for the first few hours of the final table, before attaching a jet pack to his shell. He found the right cards at the time it mattered most and was able to rein in Parlafes, an online PLO specialist from Bucharest, who had seemed set to celebrate his 30th birthday with a first EPT title for his country.
But the crowds who had arrived to Casino Barriere to see either a French victory or a Romanian rampage ended up witnessing a clinic from the PokerStars Supernova from Bulgaria. Parlafes didn’t put a foot wrong, but Dimov’s path was paved with diamonds.
For the past two days, the most visible and audible presence in Casino Barrière — including among all the side events, the high roller and the variety show in the main casino — had been Joseph Carlino. The 49-year-old from Lyon had been on a one-man mission to bring the fun back to the game, singing and round-housing his way to the final table.
But when he came back today, full of confidence, song and martial arts moves, he was reunited with the shortest stack in the room. And despite insisting he was “ready to fight” and that “Jesus is with me today”, it didn’t work out at all well.
On the very first hand of the final table, Dimov looked down at K♥9♥ and put in a standard raise. Benjamin Buhr saw K♠J♠ one seat along. Carlino won’t have been able to believe his luck when he saw his A♣K♦ and, with a short stack, duly shoved it all in, looking good to set his quest on the right track.
“You have to call, my friend!” Carlino jibed Andrius Bielskis, when the Lithuanian took his time to ponder from the big blind. But Bielskis wasn’t thinking about calling. He had found J♣J♥ and he moved all in too.
Carlino had the two kings of Buhr and Dimov dominated, but once those two folded, they had of course discarded two of Carlino’s outs in his race against Bielskis. The board ran 7♦Q♠7♥7♠9♠, and Carlino was out.
“I am very happy to be here, what could I do? I have ace king! Good luck everybody,” he said, as he made his way to the rail, dashing but defeated, taking €115,650 and 90 per cent of the conversation with him.
Bielskis, therefore, took the first meaningful pot of the final table, but things did not go at all well for him after that. With eight players left yesterday, Lithuania had two representatives and hopes were high for a first EPT champion for the country. But Matas Cimbolas bluffed his way out of contention yesterday and Bielskis today, battling fatigue and a hellish cold, fell in fifth, unable to get anything past Parlafes.
First up, he defended his big blind with A♠6♠ and flopped a flush draw. But it didn’t hit, and Parlafes’ pocket sevens stayed best. On the very next hand, blind on blind, Bielskis raised with A♦Q♣ but Parlafes, who defended, hit top pair with his J♣9♥ on the flop. Another jack turned, meaning Bielskis was drawing dead, but the Q♠ on the river probably gave him hope. He called Parlafes’s river bet and was reduced to the shortest stack in the room.
That was soon in the middle when Bielskis had A♠3♠ but this time Benjamin Buhr had A♣A♥ and knocked him out. Bielskis took €147,760 for fifth, the majority of which will be spent on flu remedy.
Parlafes continued to pick up pretty much all the small pots on offer, moving his stack past 10 million and holding about 55 per cent of all the chips at one stage. The others at the table could have been forgiven for having one eye on the payouts schedule; there would be no shame in simply laddering up.
Benjamin Pollak, with the most pedigree of the finalists, clearly knew the most effective strategy despite never having a big stack for the past two days. But the opportunity suddenly presented itself, in the form of a flip with A♦10♠ against Parlafes’s pocket eights, to start moving in the right direction. Pollak’s double up, with a ten on the flop, gave him 4.16 million, and trimmed Parlafes to a “mere” 8.5 million.
That didn’t stop the Romanian, of course. He simply continued his bullying and chipped up again to more than 10 million again. It meant that when Benjamin Buhr called a Parlafes shove with A♣Q♠ (Buhr) versus A♥8♥ (Parlafes), Parlafes could shrug off the tiny dent.
It bought Buhr some breathing space, but Parlafes was relentless. And Pollak was next up to run into the man from Bucharest with a monster hand. This one was cruel on Pollak, especially the way it played out, but Parlafes had enough chips to do what he wanted and get people to pay him off.
Parlafes raised to 225,000 from under the gun. He had A♦K♣, so why not? Pollak found K♦7♦ in the big blind and valued it highly enough to call. There was a silent explosion when the flop fell: Q♠J♠10♥. Parlafes had hit broadway and Pollak was drawing only to a chop.
The 9♥ on the turn was brutal. It meant that Pollak now had enough to call the turn and then lead the 10♦ river, before calling all in when Parlafes shoved. The second-best straight sent Pollak to the rail, leaving only one Frenchman in the house. Pollak won €187,500, pushing his live tournament earnings past $2 million.
Pollak’s exit meant that Buhr now assumed the mantle of home hope, and this young qualifier, playing in his first EPT Main Event, has shown this week that he has the game to move up the rankings and try to chase down the likes of Pollak and ElkY.
It is difficult, actually, to remember when he put a foot wrong, but he still lost an enormous chunk to Dimov shortly after they went three handed, betting top pair on two streets and then correctly folding on the river, by the time his opponent had backed into a straight.
That left Buhr with only slightly more than a million chips, and he didn’t hang around very long before getting them in. The only debate was whether it would be Dimov or Parlafes to knock him out, potentially setting up a long heads up duel or a super short one.
As it happens, it was the former — but not in the way you might think. Buhr had a double up in him, spiking an ace when he found A♣4♥ in the small blind. Dimov had cheekily flat-called with queens on the button and thought he had trapped Buhr, before the Frenchman slithered out. But Dimov was undeterred and found aces — A♥A♣ — on the very next hand.
Again Dimov limped from the small blind and Buhr picked up A♦K♣ in the big. They both thought they were trapping each other with small raises, but it was always going to go in. So Buhr had doubled through on hand before, but gave the chips straight back to Dimov on the next, when the board ran A♠K♠J♦5♠2♣.
Buhr took €242,390 for third, which is not a bad return on his €1,050 online satellite investment.
Dimov’s late run meant that by the time they went heads up, Parlafes had some competition for perhaps the first time in two days. Dimov, railed by his countryman, the former PCA champion Dimitar Danchev, had built his stack to 6,375,000 against Parlafes’s 11,390,000. It was still a two-to-one lead, but it was far from a foregone conclusion.
Indeed, almost the very moment only two players were left, the poker gods switched their allegiance entirely. Parlafes, who had been connecting with every board for three days, suddenly couldn’t hit a cow’s ass with a banjo. Dimov, on the other hand, was smashing it and pulled himself into sight, then equal and then gradually pulled away.
This was one of the all-time best heads up battles, even though it was distinctly one-way traffic. Dimov pushed his edge with unquestionably the best run of cards, but Parlafes made a handful of sensational lay-downs, always beaten, to lose the minimum.
One in particular, when Parlafes rivered a straight with Q♣8♦ on a board of 7♣9♠2♠6♣5♥ was remarkable. Dimov had the bigger straight with his 10♥8♥ but Parlafes’s spidey sense allowed him to lay down the second nuts.
Parlafes was down to his last 1.5 million at one point, but battled back to about 4 million to stay in contention. But then, as can often be the case in heads up battles, they both found big hands at the same time pre-flop. Parlafes had A♣K♣ and was more than happy to get all his chips in. Dimov had A♥J♥, which was plenty big enough for the big stack to try and end the tournament.
In fact, it was the dealer who did that. The flop came Q♥3♣6♥, which gave Dimov a flush draw. And the 6♥ on the turn completed it. By the time the inconsequential J♦ came on the river (winning the hand another way too), Dimov was hugging Danchev and Simeon Naydenov, his two countryman, having taken down the biggest title of his career.
This was genuinely one of the most exceptional final tables this tour has ever seen, even though the players were hardly household names. Each has the potential to do this again; there was some tremendous play out there. Parlafes probably can’t quite give up the day job as an online grinder just yet, but his €338,700 will ease the blow.
“I’m crushed right now,” Parlafes said at the end. “I’d been grinding back and I finally get the best hand and I lose.”
Dimov, however, takes that half a million euros, plus an exclusive SLYDE watch, a big trophy, and the first EPT title won on European soil for a Bulgarian. It was richly deserved. “The cup!” yelled Danchev and Naydenov as Dimov hoisted the trophy aloft. Dimov already had designs on something bigger.
“I want to be the first Bulgarian to win two EPT titles,” he said. “They [Danchev and Naydenov] might disagree.”
Goodnight from Deauville. It’s Malta next. See you there.
EPT11 Deauville, €5,000 NL Hold ’em Main Event
Places paid: 87
Prize pool: €2,841,600
1 – Ognyan Dimov, Bulgaria, €543,700
2 – Dany Parlafes, Romania, PokerStars qualifier, €338,700
3 – Benjamin Buhr, France, PokerStars qualifier, €242,390
4 – Benjamin Pollak, France, €187,500
5 – Andrius Bielskis, Lithuania, PokerStars qualifier, €147,760
6 – Joseph Carlino, France, €115,650
7 – Massou Cohen, France, €85,530
8 – Matas Cimbolas, Lithuania, €58,820
Relive all the action from the EPT Deauville festival on the main EPT Deauville page.