At times it has felt like the first main event of the new season has been headlined by Finnish players from the start. On day one Aku Joentausta held the lead. Then heads were turned by the return of Ilari Sahamies to live tournament poker. Then a third contender emerged in the form of 20-year-old Joni Jouhkimainen, whose recent form tipped us off to a likely final table appearance.
But there was another player, lost in the euphoria and waiting for his moment. That was Mikalai Pobal who tonight confounded everyone to pull off an unlikely win, one of the biggest surprises in tour history. He claimed the EPT Barcelona title, a HD3 Slyde watch, and €1,007,550. But the biggest surprise was that he was from Belarus, not Finland.
Cheers to and for EPT Barcelona winner Mikalai Pobal
“I don’t believe that it’s happened to me,” said Pobal, who may take a while to adjust to his new status as champion. “I’m really excited about it. It is my dream which came true.”
Pobal’s bewilderment may be matched in the morning by both Finns, each of whom looked destined to earn EPT glory at one point.
Mikolai Pobal: The calm amid the storm
Sahamies might have won when he was heads up with Pobol. But Jouhkimainen should have already had it wrapped up by then. But sometimes the story that should be written is spiked never to be read. Pobal did what he needed to do and was faultless in his execution.
Hat tip Sahamies
Those with perfect hindsight will speculate on what caused the Finnish collapse, perhaps wondering whether the dinner break – which Sahamies and Jouhkimainen spent drinking and buying sequined hats for themselves and every Finn in Catalunya – was the turning point. Jouhkimainen perhaps lost some of the sparkle of his play, although not from his hats. He changed them often in what will be a nightmare for the continuity staff on the final TV edit.
“We’ll talk about it for a long time and it’s going to be real fun to watch the episode whenever it is coming on TV,” Jouhkimainen said. “It’s going to be a fun one.”
Joni Jouhkamainen: It could have been him
Before the break Jouhkimainen had 75 per cent of the chips in play. But when play resumed he conceded his lead to Sahamies, who six-bet shoved with queen-eight suited. Jouhkimainen, hat tipped Sinatra style, was forced to fold his ten-six. From this he would never recover, but Jouhkimainen had no regrets about his performance or his dinner time excursion.
“We tried to have fun with Ilari, and this Belarusian guy who won, he was taking it more seriously,” said Jouhkimainen. “But I don’t think drinking changed it too much. We were just trying to have some fun. It’s not too serious. It’s one million, but we just wanted to have some fun.”
Sahamies, who had taken fourth place in the Super High Roller earlier this week, was looking to close this one out. But Pobal was the one who kept finding the hands: finding the nut straight and the nut flush, for instance, which swung things in his favour. It wasn’t all plain sailing. In one incidence, he was forced to serve a one-orbit penalty when he mistakenly checked behind with the nuts.
Ilari Sahamies: Two final tables in a week
The final hand came when Sahamies got aggressive with nine-five. Pobal called with aces, catching another on the flop. The poker world had been turned on its head.
The final table
Much earlier, John Juanda, who had the second shortest stack when play resumed, was first to go, ahead of one of several players setting a personal best, Antonin Duda in seventh.
Antonin Duda: Czech out
Sinel Anton was also in the event of a lifetime, but was more a spectator than willing participant. The Romanian opened the day, winning a pot uncontested. He wouldn’t play another hand for several hours, at which point he was eliminated by Anaras Alekberovas, leaving a few awkward seconds later when he was reminded that his now complete absence of chips meant that he was required to vacate his seat.
Samuel Rodriguez had written his own story this week, mainly because nobody knew anything about him.
Samuel Rodriguez: Home hope
Returning as one of the chip leaders today the amiable Spaniard had the hopes of the local poker community behind him. Could he become the first ever EPT champion? Alas, no. But he had won his seat in a €50 satellite, so this was an exceptional result.
That left four, a quartet that played for several hours before breaking the deadlock. That Anaras Alekberovas would be next to leave says nothing of how much the Lithuanian impressed, impeccable in a jacket and button-down shirt, he was never rattled, always cool despite intense heat under the TV lights, and was in no way outplayed.
The story of the final three will be discussed for some time, and even as Pobal celebrated, the Finns looked at ease with their results, more amused than anything. For now though a non-sequined hat tip to Mikalai Pobal, who becomes the second Belarusian EPT champion.
As the celebrations begin tonight (Sahamies was among the first to leave the tournament room), we can salute the first champion of Season 9, the first event of the Tour which now baosts an enhanced schedule, with high profile national finals preceeding the main event. The Tour now takes a few weeks to relocate the jamboree to Sanremo in Italy. The popular coastal town is the second stop of the season, starting on October 5.
It was a dramatic end to ten days of competition, which started with Dan Smith’s win in the €50,000 Super High Roller and concluded with wins for Laurent Polito in the €10,000 High Roller and now Pobal.
Catch up on the coverage today at any of the following hyperlinks. Read about this final day, how to approach a final table with help from Ivan Demidov, how Spain will have to wait a little longer for a first champion, how two drunken Finns set about bringing life to the main event final and how all this played out 12 months ago.
For now that’s everything from Barcelona. See you in Sanremo.