Regular readers of our live coverage will be familiar with our fascination of the EPT5 Prague final table. It’s was a ground breaking event for various reasons, not least the emergence of a new champion, the blossoming of a new poker nation and a cast of characters the tour soon grew to respect.
Exactly four years ago today Salvatore Bonavena won that Prague title, its second year on the tour, with a field of 570 providing Bonavena a first prize of €774,000, a figure yet to be beaten in the Czech Republic.
It proved a breakthrough for Bonavena, who swapped modest scores in local tournaments in places like Sanremo and Venice, for the international stage. But more than that, as the first Italian to win a EPT title, it proved a watershed for Italian poker which embraced the game, and its winner, with typical aplomb.
Four years on and Bonavena is still a regular on the tour. Playing tomorrow, he was spotted earlier taking in the scene of his past triumph, to which he has since added the Sisal Italian Champions of Poker and IPT Venice to his resume, not to mention a third place in a WSOPE hold’em event earlier this year.
But what of the others? What of his opponents that day who made it all an unpredictable yet memorable occasion?
In second place that day was Italian Massimo di Cicco, who turned his €445,000 second place prize money into something of a career, adding €200,000 to that with further cashes across Italy, on the IPT and at the WSOP. Di Cicco still plays the EPT.
In third place was Andrew Chen from Canada, who at the start had been most people’s tip to win. There was no mistaking Chen’s natural talent, and the edge he had over the relatively inexperienced Bonavena and the other Italian finalists. What he couldn’t count on though was the unstoppable momentum of those draped in the Italian tricolor, and his efforts ultimately proved fruitless.
Still trying to work out what happened: Andrew Chen
He’d later add an NAPT Bounty Shootout, as well as a 6-max shootout and a second place at EPT Berlin last season. Of all the finalist that year he has been the most successful since, with $2.8 million in live tournament earnings.
In fourth place was Greek player Konstantinos Alexiou whose unconventional, non-specific style earned him the chip lead for much of the latter stages. He’d seemed a contender for top honours until things began to unravel. Of all the finalists, Alexiou has been the most quiet since, with a couple of small cashes in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
In fifth place was another Italian, Francisco “Franco” Cirianni. Unknown at the time, Cirianni, distinguished by his brown scarf and distinctive glasses, had, like Bonavena, been nothing more than a local player before Prague, with moderate success across Italy before travelling north to play the EPT. Restricting himself to local events Cirianni has had cashes in Nova Gorica and Sanremo since but nothing more, with career earnings of $262,000.
Representing Finland at the final was Fredrik Nygard. Six months after his sixth place finish he would win the 2009 Midnight Sun event in Helsinki, but aside from a minor cash in an EPT Warsaw side event in 2009, he has not appeared on the EPT since, with career earnings of $250,000
Nasr El Nasr, however, has racked up more than $550,000 in earnings. The German poker player they named twice followed up his Prague result with a deep run in Dortmund, three cashes in the WSOP and in 2010 he won the Spring Poker Festival in Vienna. Later that year finished second in the Swiss Poker Championships. He still plays the EPT.
Finally there was Raul Mestre in eighth place. One of the most highly rated players in Spain, Mestre would struggle on the day, busting on the second hand of play. Almost exactly a year later he would win the Full Tilt Poker Series in Spain and, in 2011, finish fourth at EPT Barcelona. In November 2011 he won the IFP World Championships for a further $250,000 and this year came second in the WPT National in Madrid, taking his career earnings to more than $900,000.
They were just a few stories from a memorable event. Yet the overriding image was that of the Italians. Never before had so many people celebrated on behalf of so few. As Bonavena posed for his winner’s shot, joining him on stage came a hoard of travelling Italian poker players, even those who he had defeated at the final, such was the national pride in their first EPT winner.
Salvatore Bonavena, accompanied by Italy
The legacy of that was a major increase in the number of Italian player registering for EPT events and ultimately the birth of the Italian Poker Tour, So far that same crowd, now several times larger, has yet to repeat the success of Bonavena, but have made up for that in spirit, occasional histrionics and emphatic declarations of joy. The EPT is richer for it.
The EPT5 Prague result (with career earnings)
1. Salvatore Bonavena, €774,000 ($2.5m)
2. Massimo Di-Cicco, €445,000 ($773,000)
3. Andrew Chen, €257,000 ($2.8 million)
4. Konstantinos Alexiou, €199,000 ($442,000)
5. Franco Cirianni, €166,000 ($262,000)
6. Fredrik Nygard, €130,000 ($250,000)
7. Nasr El Nasr, €99,500 ($558,000)
8. Raul Mestre, €71,800 ($916,000)
Follow hand-by-hand coverage, plus latest chip counts, in the panel at the top of the main EPT Prague page.