In front of the noisiest crowd ever assembled for a poker tournament anywhere in the world, Germany’s Hossein Ensan defeated Dario Sammartino, of Italy, tonight to claim the 2019 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event title and $10 million.
With an all-European heads-up battle, the stands around the table in the Amazon Room of the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino grew to resemble a soccer stadium, with both players’ names being chanted at sometimes deafening volumes. Supported by a cadre of some of the best German high rollers, Ensan was determined and ruthless in adding he biggest title in the game to his EPT Prague title, becoming the first player to triumph in the WSOP Main Event as well as on Europe’s leading tour.
It took a steely nerve to close it out. Ensan had earlier watched the chip lead he had held for three days vanish during three-handed play, with both Alex Livingston and Sammartino occupying top spot at some point in a topsy-turvy last day. But at 1.20am, and having worn Sammartino down in heads-up play after Livingston was knocked out in third, Sammartino got the last of his chips in with a flush draw and an inside straight draw, but could not beat Ensan’s pocket kings.
Ensan had the word “Kings” on his chest, the name of a casino across the border from his native Germany where he plays regularly and formerly won a WSOP circuit ring. Then the two kings in his hand tonight made him king of poker: he earns an eight-figure first prize and puts his name in the history books forever.
“For me, it is the best moment of my life,” Ensan said, clasping the bracelet in his hand and mobbed by reporters and supporters alike. “Unbelievable. I am so happy I am here. I am so happy, I am so happy…I must go to sleep and then wake up. It’s maybe a dream, I don’t know.”
Ensan, a 55-year-old from Münster, became the second German to win poker’s most prestigious title, following in the footsteps of Pius Heinz, who took the prize in 2011. Ensan’s victory ended five years of American dominance in this event, with all of the last three players from outside the United States. Sammartino took $6 million for second, by far the biggest result of his career, and the best ever by an Italian at the WSOP.
After seven days of play to trim the 8,569-strong field down to a final table, the finale stretched over three days with each of the last nine securing a $1 million minimum pay-day.
Serbia’s Milos Skrbic, the UK’s Nick Marchington and Timothy Su and Zhen Cai of the United States departed on Sunday, with the final two Americans in the field, Kevin Maahs and Garry Gates, knocked out yesterday.
That left the guarantee of a champion from overseas when the last three returned to the Amazon Room today — and with Ensan still holding a commanding chip lead. He had 326.8 million to Alex Livingston’s 120.4 million and Sammartino’s 67.7 million, with plenty of play guaranteed.
Sammartino, who was the overnight short stack, got his final table off to the perfect start when he won a flip to double through Ensan in the early stages of the last day. Livingston then began nibbling away at Ensan’s stack as well, and overtook Ensan to lead. It was the first time Ensan had been anywhere other than the top of the leader board since the mid point of Day 7, but Livingston’s residence at the summit was short-lived.
He had his kings cracked by Sammartino’s 10♠6♦, calling a huge all-in shove (“I probably should have thought about it for more than half a second, considering it’s the Main Event final table,” Livingston said later), and then lost with A♣J♦ to Ensan’s A♠Q♦. That gave him $4 million for third and left the two Europeans.
Heads-up play at the Main Event is always tough and extended. The two-hour levels are not shortened, and there’s usually more than 200 big blinds in play. So it proved here again, but Ensan managed to gain traction more quickly than Sammartino, chipping consistently away at his opponent’s stack. When the dealer put that final hand out, the noise from the bleachers had quelled somewhat as fatigue set in. But neither Sammartino nor Ensan had let their focus slip for even a minute. They can now split $16 million between them and look to a bright future back on the European circuit.
The final hand came about when Ensan raised his button to 11 million and Sammartino called. The flop was the co-ordinated 10♠6♠2♦. Sammartino checked, Ensan bet 15 million and Sammartino called.
The 9♣ came on the turn and Sammartino checked again. Ensan bet 33 million and Sammartino moved all in for 140 million. Ensan called. Sammartino needed help with his 8♠4♠ but didn’t get it on the Q♣ river. Ensan’s K♥K♣ stayed good.
“Now, I don’t feel amazing because I wanted to win the tournament,” Sammartino said. “But for sure tomorrow I will be super, super happy. I have to say thank you to everybody for supporting me. It was an amazing experience…I fight for this. I work for this a lot. And now finally I can live my dream. It will change my life a lot.”
Despite the hurt, Sammartino said he plans to donate some of his winnings to charity. “We need to balance the world,” he said. “Some people cannot eat. Some people do not have water, and we’re playing for millions. So we have to help if we can.”
It’s EPT Barcelona next for all of us, and more of Ensan and Sammartino, I’m sure. Goodnight from Las Vegas.
World Series of Poker Main Event
Dates: July 3-16, 2019
Prize pool: $80,548,600
1: Hossein Ensan, Germany – $10 million
2: Dario Sammartino, Italy – $6 million
3: Alex Livingston, Canada – $4 million
4: Garry Gates, United States – $3 million
5: Kevin Maahs, United States – $2.2 million
6: Zhen Cai, United States – $1.85 million
7: Nick Marchington, UK – $1.525 million
8: Timothy Su, United States – $1.25 million
9: Milos Skrbic, Serbia – $1 million
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive