Every year, PokerStars TV commentator Joe Stapleton describes it as the ‘year of Romania’. But he’s not just cracking wise; for the past two years he has actually been spot on. Whenever PokerStars holds an event in the capital city of Bucharest, things seem to get bigger and bigger.
Following on from the success of the first and last Eureka Poker Tour stop here in 2016, the 2017 edition was a PokerStars Festival, and the €1,100 Main Event became the biggest live tournament ever held on Romanian soil.
After five days of play, there could only be one champion, one trophy winner, and one recipient of the massive €133,400 first place prize. He turned out to be the most well known and respected player at the table.
You may know him from his commentary duties on certain poker league streams. You may know him as ‘SamSquid’ from his years crushing the online felt (almost $5 million in online earnings). At PokerStars Blog, we know him from the pub the other night.
After Day 1B (in which Grafton had cracked aces, made a straight flush, and bagged a stack worth 134,200), he joined the PokerStars Blog for a post-work beer. We talked about his plans after Bucharest (which he qualified online for in a last-minute satellite), and at one point he said: “Who knows, maybe I’ll just win this.”
Three days later and that’s exactly what he’s done. And from here on in, you’ll always know Sam Grafton as the inaugural PokerStars Festival Bucharest Main Event Champion.
Rewinding back to Wednesday, this Main Event kicked off on Day 1A with 177 runners, followed by a massive Day 1B which saw the €500,000 guarantee smashed after only two levels of play. Another 401 hopefuls entered that day, before the popular turbo Day 1C flight started later that evening. Open only to those who had already played and busted, that session added another 158 entries to proceedings.
In total we had 736 entrants in this one, creating a juicy prize pool of €706,560 and leaving €133,400 up top. Only 111 of them would make the money though, and we got there late into Day 2 after 325 had started the day. The unfortunate soul who left with nothing was Petre Ionescu, whose A♠K♥ couldn’t hold up against 8♦7♦ after a pre-flop all in against long-time chip leader Nandor Solyom. The board ran out 2♥4♣7♣K♣8♠, meaning Ionescu was outdrawn on the flop, then re-took the lead on the turn, only to get outdrawn again on the river. Harsh.
Here’s a reminder of the atmosphere in the room in the fateful bubble hand:
Only 58 returned on Day 3 to play down to a final table of eight. We ended up losing Solyom after the local ran pocket kings into pocket aces against another huge stack. Still, that didn’t knock Solyom out; it would take him losing with the A♠A♣ against the J♥8♥ a few hands later to get that job done. The board ran out J♠4♥9♥2♠8♠, and sadly for Solyom, two pair beats one.
As we approached the final table, we lost Paul Ciacain (14th), Cristian Neicu (13th), Marius Gicovanu (12th), Samuel Goje (11th) and Ionel Tanase (10th) in quick succession, before finally losing Razvan Cetanas in ninth to bring us down to the official final table. Anil Ozdemir held a large chip lead at this point (one that he’d ride all the way to heads-up play), followed by Grafton in second.
A decision was made to continue playing through one last level before the bags were brought out, and in that time it got down to seven players. Yuriy Kudrynskyy’s K♣J♣ couldn’t find any help against Johann Eclapier’s pocket eights.
So, onto the final day. The final seven returned at 1pm Sunday afternoon, and while Sunday mornings are meant to be easy, Sunday afternoon here was quite the opposite. We lost three players in the opening 45 minutes!
In the second hand of today’s action, Romania’s very own Traian Bostan open-shoved for around 725,000 (with blinds at 30K/60K) and was called by Sam Grafton in big blind with the K♥9♣. Bostan held the 10♥8♦ and would need to hit, but found nothing on the 5♦5♣7♠A♠6♠ runout.
And then, in the very next hand, France’s Johann Eclapier was felted. This time it was Eclapier who open-jammed with the K♦Q♦ and was called by Patrick Bueno with the A♣K♥. There would be no queen and not enough diamonds on the 4♣7♥6♣9♠6♦ board to save him.
A little later, following a Daniel Nietrzebka double up through Anil Ozdemir, we lost Patrick Bueno in fifth courtesy of a cruel ace on the river. He was all in with pocket tens against Nietrzebka’s ace-king, and the Barry Greenstein delivered the KO to Bueno.
Things slowed down from here, but an hour or two later the craziness returned in a double elimination.
After Ozdemir opened to 250,000 under the gun, Daniel Nietrzebka flatted, Grafton folded his small blind and then…things got wild. Farehdin Mustafov announced he was all in for 2.48 million, then Ozdemir announced all in, and finally Nietrzebka said all in too!
Mustafov had jammed with the A♥10♠, Ozdemir jammed with the J♦J♣ and the biggest stack, and Nietrzebka called off his chips with the K♠K♦. “The jack is coming, I’m not even worried,” Ozdemir said confidently, and you know what? He was right.
A Q♠J♠[2♠ flop was spread, meaning Nietrzebka needed a spade, and Mustafov needed a king that wasn’t a spade. The 5♠ then landed on the turn giving Nietrzebka a flush and eliminating Mustafov in fourth, but things weren’t over yet. The 2♥ river paired the board, giving Ozdemir a full house and the double KO.
When heads-up began, Ozdemir held a dominating 16.4 million to Grafton’s 5.6 million, but if anyone could forge a comeback in this event it was Grafton. With extensive knowledge and skill garnered from years of winning online tournaments (and the odd live one too), SamSquid was always going to put up a good fight.
He got off to a good start, doubling up early after a bluff gone wrong from Ozdemir. He put Grafton all-in on a 9♦6♠2♥8♥ board with the 10♥2♣, and Grafton snap-called with the Q♥Q♦. The A♠ river secured the Brit the pot.
Just a hand or two later and it was Grafton who took a dominating chip lead. He check-called three streets on a 6♥10♥2♦3♥A♠ board with the 2♥5♥, and his turned flush was good against Ozdemir’s 6♣6♦ for a flopped set. That gave Grafton 15.4 million to Ozdemir’s 6.5 million, but Ozdemir clawed a few back.
It was at this point, with blinds at 80K/160K, that the two paused the clock to discuss a deal. Grafton held 13.5 million to Ozdemir’s 8.95 million, and here are the numbers they agreed on: €110,007 for Grafton, €97,993 for Ozdemir, and €7,700 plus the trophy and title left to play for.
Grafton began to grind down Ozdemir gradually, and a crucial pot was played which would help this one edge towards an ending. On a K♦8♣7♥ flop, Grafton made a 600,000 c-bet which was called, taking them to a 10♣ turn. The Brit fired again for 1.6 million. Call.
He then put Ozdemir all in on the 5♦ river, and the Turkish player went deep into the tank. He was there for around five minutes, continually talking to himself. Eventually he laid it down, making the stacks 19.3 million against 2.8 million. With nowhere left to hide, Ozdemir got all his chips with the Q♠J♣ against Grafton’s K♠9♦. The flop came 10♠3♥2♣, before the J♦ turn gave Ozdemir the lead.
But this event has been full of drama. The Q♣ river gave Ozdemir two pair, but also gave Grafton a straight. And with that, we had our champion.
“I feel very proud,” Grafton told us afterwards. “I’ve been playing PokerStars events for a long time, trying to win one for around six years. To finally win one feels amazing.
“Back then, I didn’t really realise what it takes to win a tournament, how rare it can be in your career. In the past, I didn’t value the runs I made, but now I know how difficult it is to win a live tournament. It feels amazing.”
Grafton gave a shout out to all of the PokerStars staff, and in particular our reporters like Nick Wright, who rooted for him and wrote about him countless times over the past.
Congratulations Sam. Let’s go for another beer and let you make another premonition that will then come true. The Barcelona Main Event, perhaps?
PokerStars Festival Bucharest 2017
€1,100 Main Event
Buy-in: €1,000 + €100
Dates: August 2-6
Prize pool: €706,560
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