In an interview given by Jan Bendik this morning, before he sat down among the last six of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino EPT Grand Final main event, the veteran rounder from Slovakia described himself as “a gambler”.
About eight hours later, that much was crystal clear. Bendik, 51, is the new champion of the European Poker Tour’s flagship event, sealing the title and the €961,800 first prize, in the most carefree fashion.
Despite what might have been a titanic heads-up duel, where only two men shared the chips of 1,098 entries to this event, Bendik seemed happy to allow the poker gods to pick their horse. He won a series of 50-50 flips against Adrien Allain, his 29-year-old French opponent, before finishing on the right end of an almighty tournament-ending cooler.
“I’ve been trying to win a main event for years,” Bendik said. “Maybe I will play some €10k high rollers. I haven’t played any before. Otherwise, nothing changes. I don’t play professionally, just for my own pleasure.”
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Bendik became the first man to take a coveted title back to Slovakia and it means that from six events on the EPT’s 12th season, winners have come from six different countries. This was one of the most keenly fought, and Bendik consolidates his position at the top of his country’s all time money list.
It would be wrong to dismiss Bendik’s victory as solely the result of those coin flips. Beneath his unflinching facade lurks a keen poker mind; he is a former EPT Player of the Year after all. But after six days, 33 levels of play, and faced with a tricky opponent like Allain, Bendik simply took route one and kept the pots big.
He came down on the right side of most of them, and that’s often the most indelible mark of a champion.
“If you look me up, I think I have just one runner-up result,” Bendik said. “Otherwise, when I’d made it to heads-up, I’d always won. That’s why I didn’t want to make any deal, I trusted myself to beat my opponent heads-up. A lot of luck had to be involved to make that happen but that’s part of the game.”
Take a look at our blow-by-blow coverage to read how it all played out.
For Allain, it will feel like the kind of rough justice for which his €577,800 second prize won’t quite compensate. He will feel he had the title in his grasp, and has strong claims to having made the best plays at this final. One bluff in particular might have sent him home in fifth, but instead gave him the chips to challenge for the title.
Umarov qualified for this event on PokerStars, from a €10 Spin & Go satellite. When he was still involved with only four players left, the R.O.I. calculators came out. Nobody really believed it when they first saw it, but he increased his investment by 3 million percent. Gulp.
All of that is getting a bit ahead of us. Let’s start at the beginning.
When the six players came back to the Salles des Etoiles this afternoon, the field was split into two clear camps: both Allain and Jimmy Guerrero had more than 11 million in chips, while none of the others had even as much as 3 million.
Players on each side of the divide could choose one of two strategies. The big stacks could go all out attack, or sit back and wait for the carnage to take place elsewhere. Meanwhile the shorties could either adopt the boom/bust hectic approach, or stay out of trouble and hope to ladder up.
Whichever way any of them went, we were pretty certain to lose a few players fairly quickly. And it was Oren Rosen, the lone Israeli player in the final six, who took the earliest fall.
There was little he could do. He found A♦ J♦ in the cutoff and moved all-in. Bendik was sitting behind him on the button with A♣ K♥ and picked him off. Rosen took €170,950 for sixth, while that coup gave Bendik the luxury of being able to sit and wait for the right spots to move. (It also helped him to survive when Pierre Calamuso hit a two-outer on the river to double up through him.)
Allain and Guerrero were still exceptionally secure–until, that is, a move from Allain made it distinctly uncomfortable for both of them. After playing snugly for the first hour or so, Allain found 9♦ 6♦ and opened from early position. Guerrero found A♦ Q♥ and three bet to 850,000.
Allain seemed content to joust with the only player who could knock him out and four-bet to 1.8 million. Guerrero seemed a little less happy about things, but called and took a flop of 10♥ 4♥ J♥ .
Allain kept up his aggression through both flop and turn. So much so that he actually shipped for his entire stack. Guerrero didn’t like that. He was clearly suspicious. But after five minutes in the tank he folded and gave up his chip lead. He would never see it again.
All the short stacks will have been delighted to see the big dogs go at it, but even though the balance of power shifted, none of Calamusa, Umarov or Bendik could really sit back. And it was Calamusa who was most vulnerable, especially after he moved all-in with A♥ 4♣ and slammed into Allain’s A♦ J♦ .
There were no dramas on this flop and Calamusa hit the rail in fifth, winning €233,800.
And so, inevitably, that brings us back to Umarov. Whatever happened this week, Umarov was a huge winner. He played a €10 Spin & Go back home in Kazakhstan and won a trip to Monaco. He then will have considered getting into the money to be an extraordinary result, even before he then went on to make it to the final table of eight.
After the late-night drama that took us down to six, Umarov was still involved. And it was only when he got to the last four that the dream ended. He got his short stack in with A♦ 9♦ and lost to Guerrero’s K♣ K♠ , but having turned €10 into €305,660 there was little surprise when he told EPT Live: “I love this. I love poker.”
There were 121 Spin & Go qualifiers in this main event, of whom nine made the money. It’s not confirmed that they will return as a qualification method for future EPTs but if they don’t, then I’m the king of Kazakhstan.
Down to three after Umarov’s elimination, this became the Jan Bendik show. He defended his big blind with K♦ 7♥ to Guerrero’s button raise, and was delighted to flop two pair. It was especially great for Bendik because Guerrero had pocket aces and couldn’t let them go. Bendik scored a full double up and leap-frogged Guerrero in the counts.
Guerrero made some really shrewd lay-downs during the course of this final table, but he seemed to lose some of his composure after the huge hand against Allain. The deck also seemed to conspire against him, and it soon became clear that there would be no way back.
Guerro ended up getting it all in with 2♥ 2♣ against his countryman’s A♣ J♥ . Guerro was only a 51 percent favourite in this spot, and he lost the flip. There was both the A♦ and the J♥ on the flop and that sealed the deal for Guerrero.
His fiancee Thi Xoa Nguyen took €47,980 for 14th place this week. He won €406,850 for third. Get an invite to their wedding if you can.
As heads-up play started, seasoned Grand Final spectators knew this was far from certain to be over any time soon. People still remember leaving the titanic heads-up struggle between Antonio Buonanno and Jack Salter and going straight to breakfast.
Allain had more than a 2:1 chip lead when matters began this time around, and he had Bendik on the ropes and all-in pre-flop within the first hour of one-on-one play. But Bendik dodged the first knockout blow when his Q♥ J♣ beat Allain’s 8♠ 8♣ . He got bruised again, but bounced back once more when his A♦ K♠ beat Allain’s 6♥ 6♦ .
It took them to the dinner break almost even and, after they returned, they mostly kept things small.
That was before those pesky poker gods got involved again and pitched medium pocket pairs to both men. Bendik had tens and Allain had eights. But Allain must have been overjoyed when an eight appeared on the flop.
However, it all went in on the river, and by then another ten had also appeared on the board. Set over set is a bummer at any time during any level in a tournament of this size and will almost certainly result in an elimination.
During the heads-up stage of a tournament like this, it’s positively gross. But the result is the same.
That wraps up our coverage of Season 12 of the European Poker Tour. Who’s coming to Barcelona, huh?
EPT12 Grand Final Main Event
Buy-in: €5,000 + €300
Places paid: 159
Total prize pool: €5,325,300
|1||Jan Bendik||Slovakia||Live satellite winner||€961,800|
|3||Jimmy Guerrero||France||Live satellite winner||€406,850|
|4||Asan Umarov||Kazakhstan||PokerStars qualifier||€305,660|
|6||Oren Rosen||Israel||PokerStars player||€170,950|
|8||Dario Sammartino||Italy||PokerStars qualifier||€91,860|
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