On Saturday, May 6, 2023, Mike Watson took down the European Poker Tour (EPT) Monte Carlo Main Event for €749,425, becoming only the third player in poker history to win two live EPT titles.
Here are four crucial hands that led the Canadian high-stakes veteran – known online as “SirWatts” – to the title.
CHANGING PACE AT THE PERFECT TIME
6 players remain
Level 30 : Blinds 60,000-120,000, 120,000 ante
Once he’d grabbed the chip lead with six still remaining, Mike Watson began three-betting relentlessly throughout the early stages of this final table, particularly from the small blind. So when he picked up J♠ J♦ in that position facing an open from Arnauld Enselme, we expected more of the same.
But no. Whether it was gut feel or just something about the stacks and positions that erred him towards the side of caution (Enselme was in the hijack), Watson elected to just call and play it slow, a decision that worked out very well indeed for the veteran.
He called Enselme’s 250,000 open with 10♦ 10♣ and the two went heads-up to a 3♦ 6♦ 9♣ flop – a fantastic one for both players who each held overpairs.
The fact that Watson didn’t three-bet pre-flop, having done so so frequently up to this point, suddenly became very important. Enselme’s pocket tens are performing very well against Watson’s small blind calling range, as you’d expect him to always three-bet with his bigger pocket pairs. Sets were a possibility, though, as were some suited-connector combos that hit this flop, such as eight-seven suited.
Watson checked and Enselme continued for 375,000. Now Watson’s plan kicked into gear. He check-raised to 875,000 and Enselme would have run through all of the possible hands Watson might do this with. As Maria Ho pointed out from the commentary booth, a hand like ace-nine suited is one Watson might call from the small blind then check-raise on a nine-high flop. Flush draws with two overcards, too.
Enselme decided to get it in, targeting those exact holdings and hoping to get Watson off any equity he might have. He shoved for 4.32 million and now it was Watson’s turn to make a big decision. Enselme could easily play pocket queens, kings or aces this way, so jacks wasn’t a snap-call.
After some consideration, Watson made the call and was a huge favourite – 90% – to extend his chip lead further and take it down to five players. The K♥ turn and 6♥ river changed nothing, and Enselme was eliminated.
GETTING AWAY WHILE THE GETTING’S BAD
5 players remain
Level 31 : Blinds 100,000-150,000, 150,000 ante
It’s not just Mike Watson’s ability to get his opponents’ chips into the middle when he has it that makes him so potent. It’s his knack for seemingly always knowing when to let the big ones go, too.
Leonard “Grozzorg” Maue opened to 275,000 from the cutoff with A♥ Q♥ and it folded around to Watson in the big blind. He defended with A♠ 7♣ and they went heads-up to the flop.
It came A♦ Q♠ 2♣ giving Maue top two pair and Watson just the top. Maue continued for 250,000 when it checked to him and Watson stuck around.
The 4♥ hit the turn and when Watson checked again, Maue put out a two-thirds pot bet of 1.075 million. PokerStars Team Pro Sam Grafton pointed out that while he’d usually expect Maue to either bet the pot or overbet in this spot, sizings against the chip leader tend to get reduced to maintain some pot control.
Watson called again and a seven on the river would have been very bad news for him. It was the 6♠ though and when he checked a final time, Maue fired for 2.2 million, around two-thirds pot.
“The A♠ 7♣ is really reduced to a bluff-catcher,” Grafton said on stream. “Most of [Maue’s] value comes from ace-deuce, ace-four, ace-queen, so [Watson] is blocking value. Does [Maue] ever value bet worse [than ace-seven]?”
Watson was clearly not excited about the situation and after some thought, he folded the worst hand. “Bravo, Mike Watson,” said Grafton. “He essentially lost the minimum.”
He lost the chip lead though. That was now in Maue’s possession.
RUNNING HOT IN THE COOLER
2 players remain
Level 32 : Blinds 100,000-200,000, 200,000 ante
The first few hands of heads-up play all went Leonard Maue’s way. That was until both flopped top pair. (It’s worth noting that Maue started this hand with 21 million chips to Mike Watson’s 12 million).
Leonard Maue was dealt Q♥ 6♠ in the small blind and completed, hoping to see a cheap flop. Mike Watson wasn’t going to let that happen with his K♥ Q♦ and he bumped it up to 1 million (five big blinds). Maue wasn’t going to call. But he didn’t want to fold either.
Maue three-bet to 3 million as a bluff. “This is the Grozzorg I know and love,” said Grafton on stream.
Watson made the call and the flop came Q♠ 7♠ 10♣ giving both top pair. The fireworks would have to wait though as both players checked, bringing the 3♣ turn.
Watson knew he had to start building this pot and getting some value. He led out for 3.6 million, a little over half pot, leaving himself an easy shove should an inconsequential river fall. Maue used a time-bank chip but made the call. This pot was now massive.
The 8♦ hit the river and could have potentially completely such straight draws. Undeterred, Watson jammed for 5.45 million and was snap-called by Maue, who then saw the bad news.
“Credit to Mike Watson for getting the chips in the middle over two streets,” said Grafton. “Unfortunate for Maue. Really just not much he could do about it once he flopped the top pair.”
This was a huge swing in stacks and Watson took a commanding chip lead of 24.3 million to Maue’s 8.6 million.
THE FINAL HAND
2 players remain
Level 33 : Blinds 125,000-250,000, 250,000 ante
Mike Watson: 21.5 million
Leonard Maue: 11.5 million
Watson had shown us just about everything on this final table. He demonstrated patience, aggression, precision, and how to capitalise on good fortune. To cap things off, he showed us an excellent hero call, one that one him the title.
Watson raised the small blind to 650,000 with 10♣ 9♣ and Maue looked down at 4♠ 3♣ . With more players at the table and ICM considerations, this one would often be a fold. But heads-up, ranges widen and the need to play pots increases.
So Maue made the call to see the 10♥ 7♥ 5♣ flop, giving both players a piece. Watson’s was the most immediate; he’d flopped top pair. But Maue had a gutshot and some sneaky plans up his sleeve.
Watson continued for 1.2 million into a pot of 1.55 million when checked to, and Maue once again check-raised as a bluff. He made it 3 million to go, but Watson was going nowhere.
He called and the A♦ hit the turn. With a pot-size bet behind, Maue slowed down and checked, hoping to see a free river with his double-gutshot. Watson chose to keep the pot small and checked back.
The 7♠ hit the river, pairing the board. With Watson checking back the turn, Maue saw an opening. If Watson had an ace, wouldn’t he bet the turn with so many draws out there?
Watson went into the tank and used two time-bank chips. They were well worth it though.
He made the call and it was all over.
“Wild hand,” Watson told his wife on the rail.
Mike Watson demonstrated today exactly why he’s one of the most successful poker pros of his generation. And when your generation is arguably the most-skilled and dominant in poker history, that’s really saying something.
Congratulations to Watson who becomes only the third player to win two live EPT titles, joining Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Mikalai Pobal.
More about EPT Monte Carlo
- Main EPT site
- EPT Monte Carlo coverage hub
- The complete guide to Monte Carlo
- PokerStars Travel
- All Monte Carlo Blog coverage