The European Poker Tour (EPT) crowned its third two-time champion tonight as one of the modern game’s leading lights completed an emphatic victory in the 2023 EPT Monte Carlo Main Event.
Mike Watson, a 39-year-old pro from Toronto, Canada, outlasted a field of 1,098 entries here in the Salle des Etoiles, Monte Carlo, to claim a payday of €749,425.
But more than that, Watson added this EPT triumph to his victory in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure of 2016, joining only Victoria Coren Mitchell and Mikalai Pobal as owners of two EPT Main Event winners’ trophies.
Neither of those two also has the seven SCOOP and three WCOOP titles that Watson, playing as “SirWatts” online has also achieved.
“Couldn’t be happier with the accomplishment,” Watson told Joe Stapleton in his winner’s interview. “It’s definitely something that I’m really thrilled with. I’m going to keep trying to build on it, of course. But it’s definitely a huge result.”
An all-time great
Watson is an all-round great — and capped off this title winning performance with a sensational hero call in what turned out to be the final hand.
Watson, who now has close to $20 million in live tournament earnings, was the most experienced player at a tough final table, and would have been most commentators’ pick to win this one when six players returned overnight.
But he had to fight off the challenge of rising star Leonard Maue, in particular, to complete the victory. The pair agreed an ICM chop of the prize money when they were heads up, and Watson then had to dig deep to prevail.
Maue, one of the game’s breakout stars, picked up €697,175 for his second place. But Watson was his customarily calm and assured presence at the final table, putting in a flawless performance on the grandest stage.
“I think any time you’re playing a big final table like this, you’re going to feel pressure. I don’t know how you’d be human if you didn’t,” Watson said. “As much as you do it, it never goes away entirely, at least not for me.”
He added: “Certainly I felt some stress, I felt some pressure. I don’t know if I’d say I expected to win but in some part of your brain I think you do because you’ve been winning every hand for four days to get here.
“You just think it’s going to keep on happening. But I’ve been close enough times to know that’s not always the truth of it.”
Watched by his wife Sarah, alongside friend and fellow super high roller regular Sam Greenwood, Watson was able to shake off Maue’s challenge — as well as those of two Frenchmen, and two strong players from the UK and Norway in today’s final.
It seemed effortless for Watson until right at the end, when Maue put him to a huge test with a gutsy all-in bluff. Watson only had second pair and no kicker, but Watson sniffed out what was happening and made the brilliant call to win.
“Winning two Main Events on the same tour is really, really hard thing to do,” Watson said. “I think it’s definitely right up there, maybe the biggest accomplishment of my poker career and I’m really happy with that.”
THE FINAL SIX
Action ended last night with the elimination of Jason Wheeler in seventh place, a coup that put Leo Leese a nose ahead of Watson in the counts. When they returned today, they sat with the following stacks:
Seat 1: Samy Boujmala, France – 3,675,000
Seat 2: Mike Watson, Canada – 8,135,000
Seat 3: Leo Worthington-Leese, UK – 8,270,000
Seat 4: Leonard Maue, Germany – 4,305,000
Seat 5: Arnaud Enselme, France – 3,415,000
Seat 6: Joachim Haraldstad, Norway – 5,130,000
ENSELME TRAPPED BY WATSON IN SIXTH
The final table was more than two hours old before its first elimination — testament to a perfectly-designed structure and six players who knew how to play the stacks they had.
Leonard Maue was the dominant force in the early proceedings, chipping up from fourth in the counts to draw closest to Mike Watson at the top. His chief benefactor was the overnight leader Leo Leese, who slipped down into shoving territory.
A couple of well-timed pushes from Leese kept him afloat — at least long enough to see Arnaud Enselme land on the wrong side of a cooler. Enselme, one of two French players at the final, had a packed rail here in Monte Carlo, including his father and girlfriend who were following him for the first time.
But they were all powerless when Enselme picked up pocket tens when Mike Watson had jacks — particularly dangerous on a low flop. This was a huge pot. Enselme still had more than 4.5 million in his stack but fell into a trap set by Watson.
Enselme opened from early position pre-flop and Watson just called with the jacks in the small blind. Watson then checked the nine-high flop. Enselme bet and Watson used a time bank before raising. Enselme went for it all with a huge shove and Watson snapped him off.
Turn and river were blank and Enselme hit the rail first. He won €180,900 for sixth. Meanwhile Watson stacked up 12 million in chips.
ANOTHER LATE-LEVEL BUST
Enselme’s elimination was the final hand of the level and players took their first break of the day. When they returned, they played through almost another full 90-minute level before things went nuts at the end.
Joachim Haraldstad hadn’t managed to get much going at the final, and found himself all-in and at risk with A♠ 7♠ against Leese’s A♥ 7♣ . But the dealer came to Haraldstad’s rescue and he had the nut flush by the turn. That gave the Norwegian some breathing room and put Leese on the ropes.
However, Leese soon picked up pocket queens when Samy Boujmala had jacks, and he doubled back to stay alive.
It left Boujmala now in deep trouble — and he wasn’t able to mount a comeback. Both Boujmala and Enselme grew up playing small stakes in French-facing online cardrooms and were delighted to make an EPT final table together, close to their home country.
But it was a wretched time for both of them on the final day and Boujmala followed his friend out the door in fifth. Boujmala’s final hand was K♦ Q♣ against Leese’s A♥ Q♠ and they both flopped a queen.
Boujmala won €235,150, his biggest career score, but not the title-winning performance he had desired. It took them to another break.
ANOTHER PAUSE, THEN A DOUBLE KNOCKOUT
While Watson and Maue were cruising, Leese was yoyo-ing and Haraldstad was on a bit of a slide. He tried a couple of bluffs and got them picked off, and then found himself in the big blind with only eight blinds in his stack.
Maue moved in from the small blind, Haraldstad folded, and that left Haraldstad with only six bigs. He got it in with K♥ 6♠ and was ahead of Watson’s 10♠ 8♠ . But the board came 10♥ 10♣ 9♥ and the turn and river bricked.
Haraldstad hit the rail in fourth, banking €305,750. He first came to Monte Carlo exactly a decade ago, but this was his first Main Event cash. He made it worth the wait.
Leese was now the short stack three-handed, but he still had 30 big blinds to play with. However, his tournament came to a grinding halt in a blind-versus-blind encounter very soon after Haraldstad’s elimination.
Leese completed with 10♦ 5♦ and then Maue, in the big blind, found J♠ J♦ and raised. Leese called and hit a flush draw on the 9♣ 7♦ 3♦ flop. Leese checked and Maue bet. It then went very fast. Leese check-raised to 3 million, Maue shoved and Leese called it off.
The turn was the 5♣ , which gave Leese some extra outs, but the 6♠ came on the river and that no good for him. Sitting to the right of Leonard Maue had been very, very tough and there might even have been some relief for Leese on his departure.
With €397,450 coming his way, that’s understandable.
HEADS UP, DEAL DONE QUICKLY
With Watson and then Maue responsible for the two quick eliminations, the stacks of the last two were pretty even. Watson sat with 17.5 million to Maue’s 15.425 million, and they beckoned Toby Stone over with his laptop.
About 1 minute later, Stone was heading away celebrating the “easiest deal ever”. Both players agreed instantly to an ICM chop, which gave Watson €716,085 and Maue €697,175. They left €33,340 and the trophy on the side.
There were tons of chips still in play and the potential for a long heads-up battle. The players showed a willingness to play some big pots immediately, though, and there could be no predicting just how long it would go on.
Although Watson began heads-up as the chip leader, Maue quickly turned the tables. He won the first 4 million pot, bluffing with the best hand holding K♠ 8♠ on a board of 3♣ 3♠ 7♦ 5♣ . Watson folded his queen.
Maue pummelled away on the next three hands too, and built his stack to more than 100 big blinds, with Watson down to a little more than half of that. However, they both then made top pair on a board of Q♠ 7♠ 10♣ 3♣ 8♦ , but Watson’s K♥ Q♦ had Maue’s Q♥ 6♠ crushed.
Watson got a full double up and took a chip lead of 24.3 million to Maue’s 8.625 million. All this within only five hands of heads-up play.
Watson continued to turn the screw, with Maue dipping below 4 million. (There were 33 million chips in play.) However, he built back once again and scored an important double with A♦ 4♠ against Watson’s K♦ Q♠ . They got the money in pre-flop and Maue flopped a wheel.
It meant they went to a break with near even stacks once more: Watson had 16.775 million to Maue’s 14.15 million.
A RUSH TO THE TITLE
After they returned to do battle again, Watson was suddenly able to turn the screw. Watson rivered a straight in a crucial pot, with J♦ 8♠ against Maue’s 5♠ 3♥ through a board of 5♥ 7♣ 9♠ 7♥ 6♦ . Watson semi-bluffed on the turn, then bombed a polarising pot-sized bet on the river. Maue folded, but looked frustrated.
The hand that finished it off was tremendous. Watson had 10♣ 9♣ to Maue’s 4♠ 3♣ and Watson made it 650,000 to go. Maue called.
They saw a flop of 10♥ 7♥ 5♣ . Maue checked, Watson bet 1.2 million and Maue now decided to check-raise. He put in 3 million. Watson called, and both players then checked the A♦ turn.
When the 7♠ came on the river, Maue was convinced this was a decent bluff spot and moved all-in for his last 7 million.
It was indeed a good spot. Watson needed five time-bank chips as he pondered what was going on, but he then tossed out the chip that mattered: the calling chip.
Maue tabled his four-high and Watson’s pocket 10s were good. It was an exception end to a spectacular final. Watson was the champion!
EPT Monte Carlo Main Event
Dates: April 29-May 6, 2023
Entries: 1,098 (inc. 323 re-entries)
Prize pool: €5,325,300
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