A clinical display from Razvan Belea delivered Romania its first ever European Poker Tour Main Event title tonight as the 34-year-old poker coach from Târgu Jiu won EPT Paris for a career-best €1.17 million payday.
Belea was a dominant chip leader at the start of the final table today, and never surrendered that position as he cruised past challengers from Estonia, the UK and France, before beating Sweden’s Peter Jorgne heads-up.
Romanian players have been a fixture on the EPT for its near 20-year history, but none has ever previously managed to hoist a Main Event trophy. But Belea, who qualified for the event under his PokerStars screen-name “razvyQQ”, seized control of the tournament on Day 4 and never looked back.
He turned a $530 satellite buy-in into a score that is 10 times as much as he has previously won in live tournaments, and roughly the same as his documented tournament earnings from online poker too.
Even his clothing proved to be prophetic this week. Wearing a cap bearing the single word “ICON”, Belea will now occupy that status in Romanian poker, triumphing where so many of his countrymen have previously fallen short.
“This is unreal,” Belea said in an interview on the PokerStars live stream. “It’s all I ever dreamed of since I started playing poker. I was watching EPTs and now I am a champion. I don’t know what to say. I’m a bit emotional.”
He added, “I followed my dream from the beginning. I studied a lot, a lot of hours behind the computer. Everything is possible.
“I feel amazing. It’s the best day of my life — maybe the second, because I got married last year. I want to say a special thanks to my wife. She has always supported me. She always said to me, ‘I know you’re going to win it.’ She’s just so supportive. I love her so much.”
As for Jorgne, his second life as a poker player earned a €780,100 fillip thanks to his performance here. Previously the owner of a financial technology business, he sold that in 2018, ostensibly to take early retirement. However, he discovered poker as he put his feet up and, at 50, has proved that this pastime may end up being as lucrative as his first.
Jorgne was rarely fazed by the size of the event and the expertise of his opponents, only ending second best to the superior firepower of Belea.
RAZVAN BELEA STARTS FROM THE TOP
An enormous field of 1,606 entries had been whittled to its final five for the last day, and there was already a distinct disparity in the standings.
While Razvan Belea was sitting very prettily at the top, Henri Kasper had his back against the wall, despite yesterday’s late double up.
FINAL DAY STARTING STACKS
1 – Razvan Belea (Romania) – 16,125,000
2 – Peter Jorgne (Sweden) – 10,775,000
3 – Brian Delaney (UK) – 10,425,000
4 – Fabrice Bigot (France) – 9,625,000
5 – Henri Kasper (Estonia) – 1,725,000
Kasper had been intending to fly to Barcelona today for a family holiday, but the rest of the Kasper clan rerouted to Paris for the final day’s action — even if it proved to be a shorter day than they might have liked in the French capital.
Kasper sat out the earliest exchanges, but then found A♣ 6♣ and a chance to open the pot. He shoved with less than 10 big blinds — there’s not a tournament poker player who wouldn’t have — but Jorgne was sitting in the small blind with A♦ K♥ .
Jorgne called, flopped a king, and Kasper’s deepest EPT run was over. He took €317,050 for fifth.
DELANEY SUFFERS AS BELEA BUILDS MORE
Razvan Belea’s enormous stack meant he could make all the moves he wanted, while the others had to pick their spots more carefully. However, there was nothing wrong at all when Brian Delaney picked up pocket kings and got all his chips in against Jorgne. The call, with pocket tens, was fine from Jorgne too.
There was no help for the underpair and Delaney doubled up.
It proved to be a false dawn for Delaney, however, because both Bilot and then Belea were waiting with cruel outdraws to knock him out soon after.
In the first of those hands, Bigot’s Q♣ 3♣ ended up rivering a flush to beat Delaney’s A♦ 10♠ . Most of the chips went in on the turn, at which point Delaney had had top pair and Bigot had a draw. But when that draw completed on the river, they swapped places on the chip ladder.
Not long afterwards, Delaney looked down at A♣ [K♥ and made a standard raise. Belea found K♦ Q♠ and moved all in with the covering stack.
Delaney called off, but a queen on the flop game Belea the pot and left Delaney looking for a €412,200 fourth-place prize. It’s a pretty awesome haul for an EPT first-timer, but the back-to-back stinging defeats will have hurt.
FRENCH CHALLENGE ENDS AS BIGOT BUSTS
Razvan Belea’s stack was enormous now, but he took a back seat for the next significant pot.
Jorgne, with K♠ J♥ , went to battle with Bigot, who had 6♠ 5♠ . Bigot flopped a six but Jorgne turned a jack. Jorgne shoved his last 5 million — about a pot-sized bet — and Bigot called.
That doubled up Jorgne and left Bigot in trouble. And there was one last knife being sharpened to end Bigot’s run. He got his last 1.5 million in with A♣ Q♣ and Belea called with 7♠ 5♠ . (He had more than 30 million, so it was just a drop in the ocean.)
The board ran K♥ K♦ 6♥ 8♦ 9♣ and that nine on the end gave Belea a straight. The final French player, Bigot, took €535,850 for third.
And then there were two — although Belea must have felt he had one hand on the trophy. The Romanian was sitting with 33.3 million chips to Jorgne’s 15.7 million. But they were deep: 129 big blinds versus 62, so we knew it could go on for a while.
The early stages of heads-up play were cagey, and the players went to their first break with almost no change in the stacks. Levels were now 45 minutes long, but with deals prohibited in France, there was still a huge amount of money on the line.
For all that, they returned from the first break and got busy immediately. It was all due to one enormous cooler.
Jorgne had 10♥ 6♥ and Belea had 7♣ 6♠ . Jorgne flopped top pair on the 5♠ 3♣ 10♠ flop, but Belea had a straight draw. When the 4♥ came on the turn, Belea was now massively ahead and took a few time banks before raising Jorgne’s bet with the nuts.
The river was the 4♣ and Jorgne now took the initiative, shoving all in for his last 9.3 million. Belea paused for a moment — he’d now be losing to a full house, of course — but eventually found the call.
He saw Jorgne’s hand and pumped the air, a champion.
With more than $7.7 million in the prize pool, and a startling number of players, the inaugural EPT Paris has been a resounding success. The EPT moves next to more familiar surroundings of Monte Carlo and Barcelona, before breaking new ground again in Cyprus.
And now the dam has broken for Romanians, maybe here comes the flood.
EPT Paris €5,300 Main Event
Dates: February 20-26, 2023
Entries: 1,606 (inc. 447 re-entries)
Prize pool: €7,708,800