There’s a phrase you hear a lot in poker that is almost always uttered ironically: “Easy game,” they all say, through the most gritted of teeth. Yet to watch the final table of the EPT Prague main event this afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking that it takes nothing more than showing up in your best green hoody and sitting around for a couple of hours before someone hands you a cheque for close to €1 million.
The way Stephen Graner did it in the Czech capital today, it is truly a very easy game.
Graner, 26, is the latest champion on the European Poker Tour, having emerged triumphant from one of the quickest final tables we have ever seen. His prize for performing a most ruthless dissection is €969,000, a luxury SLYDE watch and the satisfaction of having made a very smart move to sacrifice the warmth of Las Vegas for the chill of Europe this winter.
“I planned and prepared for this tournament for several months,” Graner said, and now knows what it feels like when hard work pays off. “I played well and ran very well,” he continued. “I’m ecstatic, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure I’ll wake up feeling pretty good tomorrow.”
The final table got off to an explosive start, with Bjorn Wiesler moving all in on the very first hand. Simon Mattsson opened the pot from the hijack with pocket nines and Wiesler, finding K♥ Q♣ in the small blind, shoved for 3.27 million, covering Mattsson. One suspects that if this had happened a few hours later, this would have been a call. But nobody wants to go through a full night of fitful sleep, dreaming of holding aloft an EPT trophy, then going out first. Mattson folded.
(Ironically, Wiesler too seemed a little shaken by the experience, as Mattsson had dwelled a long time before releasing. Wiesler picked up the same two cards on the very next hand, but this time folded to Graner’s open raise with pocket tens.)
As mentioned in last night’s day-end report, the final table of EPT Prague officially began yesterday. We reached eight players at the very beginning of level 29, but decided to play on until the end of that level in a bid to end an unhappy streak of final days stretching into the wee hours.
It made for a strangely cautious period of play for that last hour-and-a-bit, never more apparent than when Remi Castaignon folded pocket tens to a check-raise from Wiesler on a board of 8♠ 9♥ 3♣ . That fold left Castaignon with 14 big blinds in his stack and although he laddered up thanks to the elimination yesterday of Miltiadis Kyriakides, Castaignon came into today with a mountain to climb.
The former EPT Deauville champion would have to spin up a stack of only ten big blinds in order to claim a second title. It was beyond him. He went out in seventh when he open shoved from under the gun with 7♦ 6♦ and Anton Bertilsson picked him off with A♠ 10♥ . Castaignon took €129,390 for seventh and assured us that a new champion would be crowned.
Graner had played the role of big-stack bully with exceptional acumen ever since he first starting piling them up yesterday. And as his towers of chips began spreading out of control in front of him, he clearly realised he needed to make a bit of room, so knocked out his neighbour Wiesler next.
Wiesler was not in any immediate danger at the start of the hand. He had close to 4 million in his stack, but took it upon himself to try to push back at Graner, who was running the table. Graner opened from the small blind, his standard move, but Wielser three-bet shoved over the top from the big. Graner called instantly and tabled A♥ K♥ , which was set racing against Wiesler’s 9♠ 9♣ .
It was a standard flip, and Graner has proved very accomplished at those. This one was no different. The board ran A♣ Q♦ 2♣ 6♣ 4♠ and Wiesler was out, earning €172,340 for sixth.
Nobody, least of all Graner, would deny that he had run well at the business end of this tournament. But it is churlish to suggest that there’s nothing more to his game than picking up hands and getting them to stand up. He made an excellent call against Jonathan Wong, with fourth pair (sixes), and he was also regularly pushing players off better hands with far weaker holdings — revealed to us via the EPT Live hole-card cameras.
Mattsson was the next player to attempt to stem the tide of chips flowing in Graner’s direction. But it simply meant he was the next to add his last holdings to the torrent. Mattsson made his last hurrah with A♦ J♥ and just about 2.5 million left, but Graner had 7♦ 7♣ and masses more. Shove, call, low flop, turn and river, out. Mattsson won €235,700 and could beat an honourable retreat.
Fabio Sperling, who led this tournament at the end of Day 4, had never been threatened for two days despite occupying the same tables as some of the fiercest opponents in the game. He came to the final with the third biggest stack, but there was no place to hide when we got short handed. He lost a chunk of his chips to Graner when both players made a straight, but the American’s was bigger, and even though he subsequently doubled up with A♣ K♦ against Graner’s A♠ 2♦ , it was merely a stay of execution.
After Graner opened, Sperling three-bet shoved for 2.1 million. However Bertilsson found red aces in the small blind and there would be no outdraw when Graner got out of the way and the two of them saw the dealer run through flop, turn and river. Sperling took €308,180 for fourth.
Wong, a cash game pro from London, has been out of poker for several years but still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Chief among them, at least at this final table, was the ability to ladder up with a short stack. After his bluff went awry against Graner, Wong tightened up and let the others vanish before him, eventually getting it in with 3♦ 3♥ from the button.
Graner, as had often seemed to be the case, had a hand at the right time. His jacks stayed strong and Wong’s run ended. Although he has previously played some of the biggest online cash games in the world, his €410,190 prize for third is not to be sniffed at.
As is often the case, the two biggest stacks at the start of the day were now left to do battle heads up. An eager rail representing the Venn diagram intersection of Swedes and EPT champions gathered to watch their man, but this was a tough ask. Such was the lop-sized nature of today’s play that Bertilsson’s 4.25 million at this stage was actually about half of what he had at the beginning, while Graner’s near 29 million stack was 17 million more.
Bertilsson battled gamely, and did pull off one double up. But it was simply too big a task to overcome the extraordinary player at the other end of the table.
“I’m satisfied with how I played,” Bertilsson said. “Heads-up it felt like I had a shot even if I didn’t connect with the board. If I would have doubled up again, I might have been able to beat him but even now with a second place finish I am happy.” Bertilsson took €582,720. There was of course no talk of a deal.
Graner picked up a great selection of cards towards the end – kings, aces and sevens, to name but three – but the crushing blow was eventually made with 4♥ 4♦ , which were not threatened by Bertilsson’s K♠ 5♣ .
“I woke up with a lot of premium hands and won a lot of critical flips,” Graner said. “It was as much the dealers’ work as my own…It was tough competition but a dream in how it played out. I ran very pure.”
Graner’s excursion to Europe with his girlfriend Nicole had originally been planned to take in three cities — Prague, Munich and Paris — and although the deep run here means that the bierkellers of Munich will miss out this time around, I hear Paris before Christmas is very nice. And nicer still with nearly a million euros in your suitcase.
“Hello Mum, Dad, Sarah, Dan and Dave,” he added. Thanks for watching and supporting me. We did it.”
Congratulations to Stephen Graner, and happy Christmas to all of PokerStars Blog’s readers. We’ll be back for the PCA in 2015.
EPT Prague Main Event
Dates: December 11-17, 2014
Prize pool: €5,535,000
1 – Stephen Graner, United States, €969,000
2 – Anton Bertilsson, Sweden, €582,720
3 – Jonathan Wong, United Kingdom, €410,190
4 – Fabio Sperling, Germany, €308,180
5 – Simon Mattsson, Sweden, €235,700
6 – Bjorn Wiesler, Germany, €172,340
7 – Remi Castaignon, France, €129,390
8 – Miltiadis Kyriakides, Greece, €92,610