Seat 1: Denes Kalo, 31, Budapest, Hungary–1,190,000
Denes Kalo was born and lives in Budapest, Hungary. He works as the sales manager of a broker company and has been playing poker for three years with increasingly good results. He came second in the 2006 EPM Vienna for €50,440 and then came 2nd at EPT Baden last October for €375,000. Outside of poker, Denes is a sailing enthusiast. His wife Melinda was here at the weekend but has had to go back to work. She’s a model. He said: “She’s been watching EPTLive and supporting me from home.”
Seat 2: Michael Martin, 23, Washing Crossing, Pennsylvania, USA–1,320,000
Michael has been playing poker for four years and turned pro in January 2007 after graduating in English from Penn State. Originally an athlete, he played college hockey for 2 years. He took up poker at the end of a hockey season and never look back. He said: “I got into it like everyone else, watching Chris Moneymaker at the WSOP. I started playing on Christmas Day and from then on, combined poker with my studies.” His biggest result so far was coming 2nd to Trond Erik Eidsvig at the Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam in November. Although cash games are Michael’s bread-and-butter, he is now getting more into live tournaments. “My parents had different opinions about it all. My dad wasn’t keen on me turning pro at all but my Mom was an enabler. She lent me my first $100 to play online with and when I made my first $1,000, I asked her if i should cash out and she said no!”Michael was virtual bubble boy at last year’s EPT Grand Final — 66th place, just two off the money.
Seat 3: Luca Pagano, 29, Treviso, Italy, (Team PokerStars Pro)–688,000
Luca Pagano: 29. Pagano was a computer programming student. Back then, the young Italian did not have much of a bankroll. When he started playing poker, he decided it would be best to start off playing for play money on PokerStars.com. One day, the man with a mind for computers and stock market trading decided he had honed his skills well enough to play with real money. In the few years that have passed since that fateful decision, Pagano has done what some people can only dream. While the exact number is not one he’s willing to disclose, Pagano has amassed online poker winnings that can be described in two words: “A lot.”
Pagano is also a perfect picture of how online poker success can translate to brick and mortar poker abilities. Since starting to play live poker tournaments, Pagano has put together thousands upon thousands of dollars in winnings. Among his many achievements in the past few years, Pagano has cashed in a record nine European Poker Tour events, and made two final table appearances. Pagano joined Team PokerStars Pro in 2005.
Seat 4: Valeriy Ilikyan, 40, Moscow Russia–1,396,000
Valeriy has been playing poker for nearly ten years and turned pro around three years ago. The former interior designer is already looking at his biggest result to date. He bought himself into last year’s EPT Grand Final, but had little success. He mainly plays cash games, and also some of the big online Sunday tournaments including the Sunday Million. He started today as the one of the short-stacks but got up to 1.1 million when he busted Stig Top-Rasmussen. He said: “I can win this with a bit of luck, and some skill.” It happens lots of times that a small stack wins. Valeriy’s wife Alena couldn’t make it to Monte Carlo but is watching Valeriy on EPT Live along with the couple’s three children.
Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari , 29, Las Vegas – 501,000 chips
Antonio is the first player to reach an EPT Final Table and be in the running for the Grand Slam of poker: a WPT win, an EPT win and a WSOP bracelet. Originally from Tehran, Iran, Esfandiari moved to the US States in 1988. He grew up in the San Jose area but left home at 17. It was while working as a waiter that he took up magic – throwing tricks into his waitering work until eventually he dropped waitering altogether. At that time, Esfandiari also took up poker and has often said how the two professions complement each other. As a magician, he learned to gauge human behaviour and could use that skill when he moved on to cards.
In 2002, Esfandiari made a name for himself at the WPT 49’er Gold Rush Bonanza by placing third for $44,000. A year later he made the final table of the $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em tournament at the 2003 WSOP. And in 2004 he beat out 382 to win the massive $1.4 million first-place prize at the L.A. Poker Classic, the youngest player at the time to win a WPT. A few months later, Esfandiari triumphed in the $2,000 Pot-Limit Event to win a bracelet and $184,860. Esfandiari now lives in Las Vegas where he plays, writes books and appears in video games. He also competes on High Stakes Poker and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Esfandiari, along with his friend Phil Laak, also starred in the reality show I Bet on You.
He is supported here in Monte carlo by his “true love” Victoria. This is only his 2nd EPT but he plans to come to a lot more. He said his best moment so far as when he had QQ and the BB moved all-in with AT. “I ’m not talking about what happened next, but that was my best moment of the tournament,” he said.
Seat 6: Maxime Villemure, 19, Montreal, Quebec, Canada–1,206,000
Despite suffering a fever for the last few days, Max has been forging ahead at the EPT Grand Final, encouraged by the knowledge that Gavin Griffin won last year despite having a really bad cold. Max took up poker just over a year ago after watching the World Series on television. Home games with his friends turned into online play and within a short time he was doing so well, he gave up his law studies to play full-time. This is Max’s third EPT. He busted out of the PCA on Day 2, and San Remo on Day 1. It’s also his first time in Europe. He is being supported here in Monte Carlo by his friends Jason Mercier (who won EPT San Remo two weeks ago) and Sam Chartier.
Seat 7: Glen Chorny, 22, Timmins, Ontario, Canada (PokerStars qualifier)–3,613,000
Glen hails from Timmins, north Ontario but is currently studying business and history at Wilfred Laurier in Waterloo, Ontario – the same city that Mike “Timex” McDonald lives in. He has been a full-time pro since January but reckons he has been playing at pro “levels” for the last 18 months. He mainly plays online cash games and big live tournaments. This is Glen’s second EPT – he came 13th at the PCA for $80k. Straight after PCA he won the Tunica World Poker Open in January 2008 PLO $5k. He took up poker after watching it on TV. He said: “I played live home games, really small; with like $50 buy ins. I had a bankroll before I started playing online so I started playing really big on the Internet because I thought I had the skills already.”
Glen says he’s had to play a lot tighter at the EPT than his usual style but has “managed to hang on and run really good.” He qualified online with PokerStars in the Steps satellites for $700.
Seat 8: Isaac Baron, 20, Menlo Park, CA, USA, (PokerStars qualifier)– 2,853,000
Isaac began playing online poker at age 18 and two years later has established himself among peers as one of the best players in the world. He was Cardplayer’s Online Player of the Year for 2007 and, with 40 players left on day 4 of the Grand Final, Brandon Schaefer said Isaac was the best player left in the tournament, something few would dispute. “Definitely flattering,” said Isaac. “But there are so many good players.”
A journalism student at the University of Oregon, Isaac hails from northern California. He dropped out of college to play poker full-time and see where that took him, and while he intends one day to get his degree, that poker journey has seen him cash six times in live events across North America and the Caribbean, as well as cement a much feared online reputation.
A former Sunday million winner netting $255,000, Isaac, known as “westmenloAA” on PokerStars, has won multiple tournaments online. Also a noted cash player, he plays at stakes anywhere between $25-$50 and $50-$100.
His first EPT was here at the Grand Final last year but he busted out early on Day 1. His first live cash came at the PCA 2006 and more have followed, with his first EPT cash coming in San Remo a few weeks ago where he finished in 11th spot, narrowly missing the final table. The EPT Grand Final will be his biggest cash to date.
All photos © Neil Stoddart