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Home / Poker / Padraig O’Neill returns Ireland to EPT’s top table after epic defeat of Jon Kyte in Prague

Ireland has waited a very long time to find a champion on the European Poker Tour (EPT) to follow Steve O’Dwyer’s victory from 2013. But cometh the hour, cometh the Smidge.

Tonight in Prague, the incredibly popular Padraig O’Neill — “Smidge” to his friends — took down the record-breaking EPT Main Event, beating a field of 1,285 entries and banking €1.03 million.

This was a performance worth waiting for from the 34-year-old from Drumlish, who came to a five-handed final table with the shortest stack and sitting to the immediate right of the soaraway leader Jon Kyte.

But while many were expecting Kyte’s victory to be a mere formality, O’Neill had other ideas. He played the best poker of his life when the pressure was at its highest, wowing commentators and viewers alike with immaculate timing and precise reading of pretty much every situation.

“I was hoping to come fourth or third at best,” O’Neill admitted during the winner’s presentation. “I didn’t think I’d get heads up. This is surreal.”

Kyte’s stack gradually ebbed away, much of it into the hands of the eventual third-place finisher Umberto Ruggeri. But after Ruggeri departed, O’Neill was in the box seat. Kyte, however, wouldn’t give up. The remaining duo played one of the all-time great heads-up battles, with the lead swinging this way and that and neither man ever backing down.

O’Neill locks it up after an epic

ALL-TIME CLASSIC

But as the clock ticked past 11pm, on a final day that many thought could last only a couple of hours, O’Neill was the man in whose stack all the chips eventually landed. He becomes only the second Irish champion on the EPT, despite numerous near misses through the tour’s near 20-year history.

It came at a great time for O’Neill, who was making his first overseas trip since the birth of his son Fionn, only six months ago. This will make an epic story for the kids and grandkids one day.

“I’m relieved the heads-up is over, that’s all,” O’Neill said. “I’m tired. It’s going to hit in the next few days.”

Kyte was sensational too, not just in the way he bludgeoned to the lead that he held for three days, but by the way he also fought back from adversity at the final. He took €643,000 for second.

But tonight, it’s all about the man in the emerald green shirt, from the Emerald Isle.

READ “8 HANDS THAT LED PADRAIG O’NEILL TO VICTORY”

A brilliant show from Jon Kyte

TOURNAMENT RECAP

Play resumed five handed after swift conclusions to the two previous days. That was almost entirely owing to Kyte’s complete dominance. He brought an overwhelming chip lead to the final, with the last five lining up as follows:

Seat 1: Cheng Zhao, China, 8,125,000
Seat 2: Adam Wagner, Czech Republic, 2,760,000
Seat 3: Padraig O’Neill, Ireland, 1,265,000
Seat 4: Jon Kyte, Norway, 22,875,000
Seat 5: Umberto Ruggeri, Italy, 3,410,000

Last five in Prague (l-r): Jon Kyte, Padraig O’Neill, Umberto Ruggeri, Cheng Zhao, Adam Wagner.

O’Neill was right up against it, and was all in in consecutive hands almost immediately. The first, he three-bet shoved A8 and got Kyte to make a disciplined laydown of Q10. But on the very next hand, O’Neill had pocket fours against Kyte’s AK and the chip leader wasn’t going anywhere.

That turned out to be good news for O’Neill because although Kyte flopped a king, O’Neill turned a four and faded a flush draw. It put the Irishman back in contention.

HOME HOPE OUT IN FIFTH

This pot was significant for someone other than just O’Neill. It also gave the Irishman the chips to eliminate Adam Wagner when the opportunity arose.

Wagner managed one early double up at the final, but he was still a short stack when he also made consecutive shoves. The first time, with a suited ace, he got the opening raiser Kyte to fold his garbage, but the next hand Wagner pushed with A5 and O’Neill was behind him with 1010.

There was no outdraw and the pocket pair held. It sent O’Neill into second place but dispatched Wagner to the cage. He picked up €271,660 for fifth.

Umberto Ruggeri was now the shortest of the short stacks, but found pocket kings and doubled up. It was a lovely spot for him, sitting with the massive pair and watching Kyte open shove with 78. Kyte flopped a gutshot, but it didn’t fill.

Moments later, it got even better. Ruggeri this time had pocket sixes in the big blind and Kyte again open-pushed. Ruggeri called, saw Kyte’s pocket deuces, and won another pot — even though both of them flopped a set.

CHINA’S WAIT CONTINUES AS ZHAO HEADS HOME

Kyte was of course still the dominant player, but O’Neill was also dazzling in his rise up the ranks. He made a huge bluff shove on the river in a pot against Zhao, with the blocker ace to the nut flush on a paired board. Zhao was persuaded to fold his top pair of tens.

It didn’t get much better for Zhao and the next major hand he played was his last. Looking to become the first Chinese player to win an EPT Main Event, Zhao peeked down at AQ in the small blind after Kyte open-raised for the umpteenth time. This time, however, Kyte had a real hand. His AK remained better than Zhao’s hand and that was the end of the road.

Zhao perished in fourth for €353,240. He says he wants to play more regularly on the EPT from now on, and this is a very good start.

Cheng Zhao’s tournament finished in fourth

Kyte now had 26 million, to O’Neill’s 8 million and Ruggeri’s 4 million. But there was trouble ahead for the previously untouchable leader.

Ruggeri found a very quick double up when Kyte shoved again blind-on-blind and Ruggeri’s A2 beat Kyte’s 105. But that was only an appetiser for a thrilling hand that followed soon after that resulted again in Ruggeri doubling his stack.

This one pitted Kyte’s K10 against Ruggeri’s A6, with the latter filling a full house through the J636J run-out. Kyte check-shoved the river, putting Ruggeri to a tough decision for his tournament life.

His boat wasn’t the biggest one available, but after a long sip on his gin and tonic, Ruggeri made the call and scored a massive double up. It suddenly brought all three stacks very close, with Kyte a little less than 15 million, Ruggeri at 12.5 million and O’Neill sitting with 11 million. They were still all deep as well.

PADRAIG O’NEILL AND UMBERTO RUGGERI SURGE

O’Neill then moved up some more. He had A5 against Kyte’s A2 and they went to an interesting flop of J74. The 2 turn swung momentum to Kyte, but the 3 river put advantage back with O’Neill. It then went bet, raise, three-bet, with O’Neill aiming for the maximum with his straight. Kyte folded to that last bet, but saw his stack trimmed again.

By the time the next break came along (by which point O’Neill had taken another decent pot from Kyte with a flush, and Kyte had again tried to bluff Ruggeri off a hand, unsuccessfully), we were looking at a major turnaround. O’Neill had more than 20 million, Ruggeri was in second with 11 million and Kyte was now the short stack, with 7.5 million.

The length of the levels was cut at this point as stacks were so deep. But even so, this was turning into an epic three-way battle.

Umberto Ruggieri played a big part of the three-handed battle

Ruggeri dwindled a little, but then watched on as O’Neill increased the pain on Kyte. The Irishman won a huge pot with K8 against Kyte’s A9. Ruggeri had also been involved pre-flop but folded to O’Neill’s bets on a 10KK56 run-out.

Kyte, however, couldn’t be persuaded away from his ace high and made a crying call of O’Neill’s near 3 million river bet. It sent the 10 million pot to O’Neill and put him close to 30 million.

NO LUCK FOR THE ITALIANS

The least experienced of the three players was Ruggeri, but Prague has been a kind place for Italians, all the way back to the year of Bonavena (Salvatore, in case you didn’t know). However, Ruggeri was struggling to keep up with his two seasoned opponents and was accidentally folding out of turn, as well as miscounting his stacks.

With €459,240 already locked up, this was a sensational result for him regardless, and he ended up out in third after busting to O’Neill. Ruggeri got is last chips in with 109 and O’Neill’s KQ held.

That brought them heads-up, with O’Neill’s incredible run earning him a stack of 31,075 million to sit with, while Kyte had 7.375 million. That was 124 big blinds to 29, but this tournament had seen imbalance before.

Umberto Ruggeri leaves

HEADS-UP EPIC

The players beckoned Toby Stone and his laptop to the table and talked about a deal. But O’Neill wasn’t prepared to give Kyte a big enough slice of the pie, so they played on.

That decision looked like it might end up costing O’Neill as Kyte went on a surge. Most small pots headed to the Norwegian’s direction as he came back from around 12 big blinds to draw equal and then ahead. The most notable pot came when both players went to a flop for the minimum, with O’Neill holding 94 to Kyte’s J7.

The Q28 flop brought a flush draw for both, and Kyte check-raised, taking them to the J turn. Kyte now led for a near pot-sized bet and O’Neill called with his pair of jacks. The 2 river was a whiff for both of them, but Kyte barrelled again, pretty much all-in.

O’Neill didn’t think too long before folding, leaving Kyte to rake a huge pot with a bluff. They went off to a dinner break with Kyte now back in front.

Players opted not to deal

But there was still plenty of play in this one yet. The next pot of huge significance came shortly after dinner, when O’Neill and Kyte both had a jack and another one flopped. There was no snug play. They bet/raised it all the way. And after O’Neill shoved the river and Kyte called, it was all about the kickers. O’Neill had a jack and Kyte only an eight.

O’Neill retook the lead with 55 big blinds. Kyte had 20. But, you guessed it, the lead switched around again soon after.

PADRAIG O’NEILL BLASTS TO TITLE

This one was all about Kyte’s willingness to seize on any perception of weakness and he barrelled three streets with 95 on a board of 3Q[ab]2J. O’Neill check-called the first two with his Q9 but couldn’t call the last pot-plus sized bet. Kyte’s bluff went through again and he retook the lead.

O’Neill now found his aggression and blasted a massive river bet with 53 to win a pot of 16 million. He had no pair, but Kyte only had king high.

By this point, stacks had shallowed so much that any non-tournament ending pot pretty much altered the chip lead regardless. Kyte moved back ahead, but then O’Neill snatched back the top spot.

To and fro. To and fro. The momentum continued to switch, but spirits remained high. The two were chatting merrily and agreed that they were taking part in a brilliant heads-up battle whichever way it went.

By the time they went to another break, the tournament had already lasted two levels longer than early estimates. They had seen more than 230 hands. But Kyte was critically short and had to commit the last of his chip with 105. O’Neill had K10 and called and there was no miracle.

There was another world in which Kyte blasted through this final table in les than 90 minutes. It really was possible, given the size of his lead at the start. But O’Neill managed to rewrite the parallel history, with both players contributing to a journey that was altogether more exhilarating.

With that, EPT Prague is done for another year, as is PokerStars live offering for 2023. See you next year for much more of the same!

Padraig O’Neill’s eyes on the prize

READ “8 HANDS THAT LED PADRAIG O’NEILL TO VICTORY”

RESULTS

Event 23 – €5,300 EPT Prague Main Event
Dates: December 12-17, 2023
Entries: 1,285 (inc. 349 re-entries)
Prize pool: €6,232,250

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