Wednesday, 6th December 2023 13:43
Home / News / Giuliano Bendinelli storms back from one big blind, wins biggest EPT Main Event ever for €1.49M in Barcelona

This European Poker Tour stop in Barcelona will not only go down in the history books as the biggest Main Event of all time. It will also go down as one of the craziest, rowdiest, most thunderous events in EPT history.

I mean, the building was struck by lightning, for crying out loud.

While a storm surged on the Catalonia coast throughout much of today’s action, inside the Casino Barcelona, one man was storming to victory.

Giuliano Bendinelli was down to just one big blind during this six-handed final table but rose like Lazarus–with vocal support from a boisterous Italian rail (and his mother, who was in his cheering section)–to finish in first place for €1,491,133. Twice today the 31-year-old–who has been playing at EPTs for more than a decade–was one card away from elimination. But he prevailed, outlasting the colossal 2,294-entry field.

“I can’t believe it,” said Bendinelli. “It’s the best day of my life. Never stop chasing your dream.”

After more than 13 hours of play, Giuliano Bendinelli is the champ

And what an event to win. Again, this was the biggest in the EPT’s 18-year history.

Throughout today’s final table, we witnessed some of the best poker rails we’re ever likely to see. The play had to be paused for over an hour when lightning struck the building, outing the power. We saw players hit miracle rivers to survive. And we saw not one, not two, but three deal-making discussions.

Around 11 pm local time, Bendinello found himself heads-up against France’s Jimmy Guerrero with 43 million to 25 million. Despite two failed attempts to make a deal three-handed, the pair came to agreement heads-up and left just €68,653 of the €11,125,900 prize pool to play for.

You might think it would come to a swift end after that. But both of these players simply refused to get eliminated.

Guerrero almost won it quickly in the first pre-flop all-in of heads-up, when his queen-ten hit a pair against Bendinelli’s pocket nines. But the board ran out with Bendinelli making a straight on the river (the second time today Bendinelli hit a miracle river to survive).

The Italian then started to pull away but Guerrero pulled off a courageous triple-barrel bluff with jack-high and got Bendinelli to lay down two pair. Then Bendinelli got paid big when he rivered a flush against Guerrero’s top pair. Then Guerrero’s pocket fives held against Bendinelli’s ace-jack to double him up.

Guerrero shows the bluff

Yup. It was going to take something special to bring this special tournament to a worthy end.

The blinds were 600K/1.2M/1.2M (the starting stack was 30,000!) when one of the sickest final hands in EPT history took place.

Bendinelli opened with 88 and Guerrero defended with J7. The J89 was an action flop and Guerrero check-called to see the J turn, improving him to trips but giving Bendinelli a boat. Guerrero check-called once again and the 8 river gave Bendinelli quads.

“It doesn’t get any colder than this,” said Nick Walsh in the commentary booth.

Bendinelli shoved. Guerrero called. And it was all over. Guerrero finished second for €1,250,337.

“What an insane end to the most insane EPT I have ever been a part of,” said Joe Stapleton.

One of the loudest rails we’ve seen in some time

This final table had big shoes to fill as the penultimate day of action yesterday was undoubtedly one of the most entertaining we’ve ever witnessed, all 12 hours of it. Emotions ran high, the rail was louder and rowdier than ever, and a magnificent hero call from Fabiano Kovalski to end play for the evening rightfully brought the house down. Michael Pinto was out in seventh and Kovalski, fittingly, was heralded a hero.

The EPT Barcelona Main Event Final Table


Patrik Jaros (Czech Republic) – 14,975,000 (60 big blinds)
Kayhan Mokri (Norway) – 14,575,000 (58)
Fabiano Kovalski (Brazil) – 12,925,000 (52)
Giuliano Bendinelli (Italy) – 10,700,000 (43)
Neville Costa (Brazil) – 10,550,000 (42)
Jimmy Guerrero (France) – 5,100,000 (20)

To make the final table of the biggest EPT Main Event in history, you not only have to play exceptionally well, but quite simply, you also need to run hot. At certain points in this tournament, all of the finalists had lady luck on their side.

Patrik Jaros got off to a good start

Patrik Jaros entered this final table as the top dog and maintained a significant advantage throughout the first few hours of play. The other five, however, seemed to switch positions every other hand and could only watch as Jaros continued his ascent. We started noticing the impact of the long day yesterday and the stacks became increasingly shallow. It wasn’t that the players were playing cagey, far from it. We just didn’t see any big clashes.

Until we did.

Guerrero opened with AK only for Bendinelli to jam for 24 big blinds with AQ. Kayhan Mokri was in the big blind and he too had an ace and a queen but opted to let it go. A king and a ten on the flop gave Bendinelli a broadway draw, but Guerrero’s big slick held, leaving Bendinelli on fumes with just a single big blind remaining.

He managed to triple up two hands later but was still a long way from posing a threat. Then it folded to Kovalski in the small blind and the Brazilian set the Italian all in with Q2. Bendinelli found some suited connectors–54–and called off his 3.5 big blinds, but found himself in dire straits when two kings and two sixes were on the board by the turn. Bendinelli needed a miracle to chop it, and that miracle arrived with an ace on the river. 

And Bendinelli’s wild ride wasn’t over. 

Two hands later he shoved with K8 before Mokri moved all in over the top for with AJ. The KK8 flop gave Bendinelli a full house and the Italian rail erupted as he went on to double up again.

End of the road for Kayhan Mokri

Mokri then found himself the table shorty and unfortunately for the Norwegian, his run good had run out. Brazil’s Neville Costa opened with pocket kings and Mokri jammed for with AJ. The board changed nothing and Mokri was the first to fall, collecting €334,480 for his efforts, while Costa took the chip lead.

At this point in the tournament, it truly was Bendinelli’s world and the other players were just living in it. He remained the shortest stack but was getting every shove through, often getting better hands to fold, and he’d somehow managed to ladder up despite being down to that solitary big blind. A rapturous rendition of the Italian national anthem bellowed from the rail and Bendillini’s corner of the table.

Giuliano Bendinelli forged an impressive comeback

Throughout all of this hubbub, Guerrero manoeuvred into the chip lead while Jaros could only watch as his stack dwindled down to the second shortest. But with stacks so shallow, it took just one pot against Costa for him to move back into second.

We were due another big clash and boy, did we get one when the two biggest stacks collided. Guerrero opened with pocket nines in the cutoff and Jaros shoved with pocket sixes on the button, applying maximum pressure as he had done throughout these latter stages. It folded back to the Frenchman and after some calculations, Guerrero slammed down a call, much to Jaros’ chagrin. The nines held to give Guerrero a monster chip lead and Jaros was out in fifth for €434,850.

Start-of-day chip leader Patrik Jaros says goodbye

And that’s when lightning struck the building and the power went out.

We took an unexpected break while the technical issues were resolved, and when we returned, the PokerStars stream caught us up on the action we’d missed.

What we hadn’t seen was Bendinelli doubling up through Costa in a seismic pot that left the Brazilian in big trouble. Bendinelli limped the small blind with KQ and Costa woke up in the big blind with KJ. He shoved and Bendinelli quickly called and saw the good news: he was in a dominating position. The runout changed nothing and Bendinelli’s comeback was officially complete. Costa, however, now needed one of his own.

Not a problem. It didn’t take long for Costa to double up through Guererro, pocket fives holding against ace-queen offsuit.

Neville Costa celebrates with his rail

But that meant it was now Kovalski’s turn as the short stack. He must have felt invincible having seen double up after double up on this final table, each one costing him a pay jump. But he lost a healthy pot to Bendinelli (one which almost tied the Italian with Guerrero for the chip lead) and ultimately, it was just his time.

Guerrero opened the button with the K6 before Kovalski three-bet with 88 from the small blind. Bendinelli woke up with 1010 in the big and slid out a four-bet, forcing Guerrero to fold. Kovalski called but couldn’t hit, and we lost one-half of the Brazilian rail.

Kovalski’s mother was on the rail having flown out to Barcelona to take a post-poker holiday with her son. This was her first time out of Brazil and she got to witness her son finish fourth in the largest EPT ever for €565,280. Incredible.

Fabiano Kovalski gets a commiseration hug

Not long into three-handed play, the clock was paused while the players discussed a deal. Their stacks were double-checked and the numbers were crunched before Tournament Director Toby Stone presented them with the potential prizes they could procure.

The chip counts were as follows:

Guerrero – 27,825,000
Bendinelli – 26,200,000
Costa – 14,800,000

It was an interesting negotiation to watch. From Guerrero bringing up Davidi Kitai as his advisor to Bendinelli’s outrageous flexing (“My family is really rich, I don’t care about poker. We have 30 million,” he told his opponents), it only added to the spectacular show.

Toby Stone presents a deal to the players

Ultimately, however, the three couldn’t come to an agreement and play continued. They got through one hand of poker before play stopped for a second time, and again, no deal was agreed upon.

Bendinelli then took a sizable pot from Costa when both flopped top pair, giving the Italian a big chip lead. In the very next hand, Bendinelli opened with QJ on the button and Costa shoved from the small blind with 99. Bendinelli made the call and the flip started well for Costa, but a queen on the turn sealed Costa’s fate. The remaining Brazilians made their exit, cheering Costa on as he walked down the hall to collect his €734,470.

Bendinelli and Guerrero say GG to Costa

And you know what happened next.

The two finalists cut a deal and now that all is said and done, it’s Giuliano Bendinelli’s name that will be etched into the EPT history books.

He’s the champion of the biggest EPT of all time.

€5,300 EPT Barcelona Main Event
Dates: August 15-21, 2022
Entries: 2,294 (inc. 608 re-entries)
Prize pool: €11,125,900

*Indicates a deal was made

Click through the table for full results

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