Among 671 poker players there are countless unique stories. The overall narrative of a major tournament can become desperately tangled. But from a remarkably early stage of EPT Deauville this week, two particular tales stood out from the page–and they were still being written right until the very last card.
Eugene Katchalov was one of only a handful of Team PokerStars Pros making the trip to northern France, but he seemed almost uniquely determined on securing his Triple Crown. Meanwhile Sotirios Koutoupas, who finished second to Ramzi Jelassi in Prague a couple of years ago, had told us at a very early stage how determined he was to become Greece’s first EPT champion.
Sure enough, after 669 players had departed, including six from a final table at Casino Barriere this afternoon, it was Katchalov versus Koutoupas for the title, €614,000, an exclusive SLYDE watch and ultimate vindication for their confidence. It was just a terrible shame that one of them had to come second.
In the end, it was Katchalov who came up short, unable to stop the awesome momentum of Koutoupas. The 31-year-old Greek player cracked aces twice along the way and came from behind on countless other occasions, including a cruel final hand against Katchalov. But he came to the final table with the chip lead and never surrendered it. When he got his chips in, he knew he always had plenty more to spare.
After a long road to the final, that, folks, is how you win a poker tournament.
“It was my time now, it was my time to win,” Koutoupas said. “I was very lucky today in some situations, but that’s poker. Everything went well for me.”
Katchalov, of course, also played a huge part of this. He admitted that the quest for the Triple Crown was always at the back of his mind, but took an admirably balanced line in defeat. “I realise how hard it is to win a tournament,” Katchalov said. “I’m satisfied with second place. I’ve got a lot of money to soothe my wounds.” It was €379,500 to be precise.
We had reconvened at noon in Casino Barriere, where the stiff winds continued to blow even if the sun had cracked through the gloomy grey skies. Spectators had the choice of two final tables to watch: the €10,000 High Roller or this, the Main Event. And by some measure, most chairs we turned towards the arena on which Katchalov took centre stage.
For all the initial anticipation, there was a really slow start to the final table, with the short-stacked Carlo De Benedittis showing no inclination to get his chips in and risk elimination. Meanwhile Eli Heath, Koutoupas and Harry Law, in particular, were putting their big stacks into play (to admittedly mixed results).
The lone Frenchman at the final table, Anthony Lerust, had also seemed circumspect during the opening stages. However finding aces in the big blind is a pretty good reason to get your stack in, and his rail went berserk when he was called by Koutoupas’s K♦Q♦.
But they had celebrated too soon. The flop brought an inside straight draw for Koutoupas. The turn brought him a pair. The river made two pair for the Greek player. Lerust never improved on his aces and the spectator seats emptied as he headed away, looking for €63,900.
De Benedittis’s caution through the first few orbits had been vindicated by his laddering up to at least seventh. But he knew he would need to get busy sooner rather than later and didn’t hang around at all. On the very hand after Lerust was eliminated, De Benedittis found A♦10♦ and shoved over the top of Oliver Price’s A♥Q♠.
Price called, De Benedittis was under threat and was out within the minute or so it took to deal a flop, turn and river. The online qualifier, in this event for €20, had earned €93,000. He was happy enough with that.
When they went six-handed, the short-stack spotlight fell on Rustem Muratov, another online qualifier to this tournament. He was already free-rolling after winning the Skrill last-longer contest, but now knew his time would be up if he didn’t start winning some chips.
Having dressed for the occasion in his best floral shirt, Muratov set about putting on a memorable cameo, shoving all in over opening raises with any two cards. It meant he actually managed to grow his stack to two antes bigger than that of Price, but was left with precisely that amount (10,000) when the two tangled and Price won.
Muratov’s 5♥5♣ couldn’t beat Price’s Q♠Q♣ and the Russian was left on life support. He found kings the next hand, more than doubled up again, but the magic ended when his 6♦5♥ couldn’t out-run Price’s A♦8♦.
The three short stacks from the start of play had been dispatched in short order, but there was plenty of play left in this thing for the remaining five. All of them had chips to play with.
At this stage it was actually Katchalov who had slumped to the shortest of them all, but you simply don’t get within even a sniff of Triple Crown without knowing precisely how to cope with all tournament situations. Katchalov picked his spots expertly, getting unlucky to chop a hand against Koutoupas with a dominating ace. But he was back and fighting when he managed to get pocket tens to stand up against Harry Law’s A♠J♦.
However Law then went on the sharpest and swiftest of roller coaster rides. He was all in with K♥J♠ but flopped a come-from-behind straight against Eli Heath’s K♦Q♥. Bullet one dodged. On the next hand, though, he got one between the eyes. His A♣A♠ weren’t going in the muck, even after Koutoupas moved in with A♥K♥. The flop was as cruel as it gets. It came all hearts, giving Koutoupas the flush.
Law was finally broken, out in fifth for €164,600. It was the second time during the final table that Koutoupas had cracked aces.
Heath was now on the ropes, still bloodied after tangling with Law. He got the last of his chips in with A♠8♠ but ran into Koutoupas’s J♠K♥. Yes, Heath was ahead, but this was Koutoupas we were talking about. The flop brought a jack and Heath was out.
“I’m obviously super disappointed with the way things ended,” Heath said. “I lost a four million-chip pot there and that was basically my shot at winning the tournament, I felt. But I had a great time… and winning over €200K is always a great score, so I can’t complain. The experience was awesome.”
Heath also won the €1,000 Random Bounties tournament earlier in the week and now says he he’ll be back at both Vienna and Sanremo, and so we’ll keep an eye out for the Cardiff University grad.
Two of the final table’s three Brits had thus fallen back-to-back, and Price, the third, was now short. Even though Price had the backing of the German pro Dominik Nitsche, he couldn’t outmanoeuvre the Greek and Ukranian sandwich.
Price was eliminated with K♠9♣ against Koutoupas’s K♦Q♠, earning €271,200 to share between him and his backers. The Brits were out of here.
That took them to heads up, with destinies now to be decided. Koutoupas had about a two-to-one chip lead and simply kept applying the pressure on Katchalov, and kept being blessed by the poker gods. In a serious of unavoidable coups, Koutoupas simply ended with the best hand and Katchalov couldn’t catch a break.
Even when Katchalov got it in with A♠K♣ against Koutoupas’s A♥3♠, there could only be one winner. The flop came 3♦3♥5♣ and Katchalov couldn’t go runner-runner.
“Everything was on my side today, but I never sucked out on anybody the whole tournament, five days,” Koutoupas said. “All the good things happened to me today.”
Again, Katchalov was level-headed. “There were certainly a couple of big bad beats, the aces and ace-king and my hand was a little painful to bust out at the end, but it’s okay, it’s poker,” Katchalov said. “I’ve been there and it’s happened a million times. I’ve done it to other people. It is what it is.”
Koutoupas said: “I think I played very smart this tournament to extend my chip lead every day. You know how difficult it is with so many good players who have the same target as me.”
As for Katchalov, he now has a third place and a second place from his two visits to EPT final tables. First next time? “That’s how I’m thinking about it as well,” he said. “I want to improve on today’s finish, so that’s what I’m hoping for next time.”
That will be in Vienna at the end of next month. We will all see you then.
EPT10 Deauville Main Event
Date: Jan 26 – Feb 1, 2014
Prize pool: €3,211,200
1 – Sotirios Koutoupas, Greece, €614,000*
2 – Eugene Katchalov, Ukraine, Team PokerStars Pro, €379,500
3 – Oliver Price, United Kingdom, PokerStars player, €271,200
4 – Eli Heath, United Kingdom, PokerStars player, €207,800
5 – Harry Law, United Kingdom, €164,600
6 – Rustem Muratov, Russia, €128,200
7 – Carlo De Benedittis, Italy, PokerStars qualifier, €93,000
8 – Anthony Lerust, France, €63,900
*Prize also includes SLYDE watch, worth €5,000 and a €2,000 clothing voucher from French poker clothing brand JAQK.
Click through to read about Dominik Panka’s victory in the €10,000 High Roller.