EPT Season 5
Recap of the 5th EPT Season
The 2008 season of the European Poker Tour, like the four seasons before it, started in September in Barcelona, Spain, at Casino Barcelona. Since the beginning of the EPT, the buy-in at this initial event increased annually, and Season 5 saw the cost to enter the initial event at an all-time high of €8,000. The kick-off event's hefty first place prize of over €1.3 million went to German Sebastian Rutherberg, who beat out several strong opponents, including American Jason Mercier, who had won Season 4's San Remo event only five months earlier. 2008 was a good year for Rutherberg, who had captured a World Series of Poker bracelet in Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better in June.
Season 5 of the EPT had two events in London, England, unlike all of the other seasons. The first event was the 2008 European Poker Championships, held at Grosvenor Victoria Casino in the beginning of October. This five day event drew 596 entrants, although American Michael Martin would lay down a final hand with pocket fours to take the ₤1,000,000 prize, a considerable step up from his fifth place finish at the Grand Final the previous season. This would be Martin's last final table at the EPT to date, but it was a hard-earned victory; he beat out Irishman Alan Smurfit, who had won a WSOP bracelet the year before, as well as Johannes Strassmann and Antony Lellouche, both high ranking players on the EPT leaderboards.
At the EPT London ₤1 Million Showdown, the second London event of Season 5, Jason Mercier was able to overcome his previous loss and come back with a first place win over some of the best poker players in the world, including John Juanda (second), Scotty Nguyen (fifth), and David Benyamine (eighth), all of whom have won bracelets at the World Series of Poker (Juanda and Nguyen have both won multiple). This two day bonus event extended the play at Grosvenor Victoria Casino and carried a hefty ₤20,000 buy-in, the highest in EPT history, but Mercier walked away with the best of the nine payouts.
In Season 5, Budapest, Hungary was added to the lineup for the first and only time in the history of the European Poker Tour. At the end of this five day event at the Las Vegas Casino Sofitel Hotel, Englishman Will Fry held pocket jacks and took the €595,839 first place prize away from his other 531 competitors, including Ciprian Hrisca, who was the second man left sitting at the table and the first Romanian to make it to a final table at the EPT (Ovi Balaj would become the second later in the season at San Remo). While the majority of the competition in Budapest was made up of relative unknowns, Johnny Lodden, a member of Team PokerStars Pro, came in eighth place (one of his eight money finishes in the EPT to date).
Two weeks later, in the middle of November, 2008, Casinos Poland Hyatt Regency in Warsaw, Poland, saw the next bout of EPT action as the five day EPT Polish Open began with almost 150 fewer buy-ins than it had the previous year. Further putting eastern Europe on the map where poker is concerned was Atanas Gueorguiev of Bulgaria, who became the first person from his country to make an EPT final table. PokerStars celebrity Dario Minieri, who had made a strong showing in San Remo earlier that year, would once again finish third, while first place (the equivalent of $459,226) would go to Portugal native Joao Barbosa.
December saw the fifth official event of the Season 5 European Poker Tour (as the second London event was a special high-stakes game associated with, but not an official part of, the EPT) as EPT Prague began at the Golden Prague Poker Hilton Prague Hotel in Prague, Czech Republic. This five day event had a €5,000 buy-in and a total prize pool of €2,764,500, which was divided into 56 payouts. The Italians made an impressive showing at this event, the best that the country would do until the EPT was on Italian soil with San Remo in Season 7; three of the seats at the final table went to Italians Salvatore Bonavena, Massimo Di Cicco, and Francesco Cirianni. Bonavena would win €774,000 for first place, Di Cicco would take €445,00 for second, and Cirianni would come in fifth for a €166,000 prize.
Atlantis Resort and Casino
The return of the EPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) to the European Poker Tour saw some heavy and impressive plays. The Atlantis Resort and Casino in Paradise Island (in the Bahamas) was swarming for six days with 1,347 entrants all gunning for the $3,000,000 grand prize, which ultimately went to Canadian Poorya Nazari. Four Americans made the final table at the PCA, including Kevin Saul, who had been the chip leader the day before, until losing a large wager to Brazilian Alexandre Gomes, Tony Gregg (who would eventually come in second, winning $1,700,000), Dan Heimiller (who came in sixth and was well-known for winning a World Series of Poker bracelet and having reached multiple WSOP final table as well as a final table at the World Poker Tour), and Dustin Dirksen. Gomes was knocked out of the game due to a truly unfortunate play; he had pocket aces and saw three jacks come up, giving him a full house and a strong hand, but the WSOP and WPT title holder failed to get his hat trick when Benny Spindler held the fourth jack in his hand, giving him quad jacks and the rest of Gomes' chips.
Season 5 of the European Poker Tour saw the return of Deauville, France as a locale and was the only time when both Deauville and Dortmund, Germany appeared as event sites (Dortmund had replaced Deauville in Season 3). The French dominated the final table at Deauville Casino, allowing only three other players (all from Western Europe) to hold places at the table. At the end of the five day event, German Moritz Kranich was the last man standing and so earned the €851,400 prize; Arnaud Esquevin and Tristan Clemençon would defend their home country by taking second and third place, respectively.
The second EPT event of 2009 was the EPT Scandinavian Open, held once again at Casino Copenhagen in Copenhagen, Denmark. This regular stop on the European Poker Tour was once again dominated by Scandinavians, with Frenchman Eric Larcheveque the sole exception. Over 450 people paid the kr50,000 buy-in (a fee on par with the rest of the EPT), but Jens Kyllönen of Finland defeated the rest of the competition to take first prize (the equivalent of over one million dollars), while Swedish Peter Hedlund came in second.
As Season 5 bade farewell to Dortmund as a locale for the European Poker Tour, Casino Hohensyburg in Dortmund, Germany, saw a final table that was dominated by native players. Despite being relatively unknown, three Germans nabbed the top three places, knocking out some well-known talent, such as Canadian Michael McDonald, who had won the event the year before but this year finished fifth, EPT Leaderboard hot shot Luca Pagano of Italy, who finished sixth, and Swede William Thorson, who claimed Dortmund as his third final table at the EPT but finished seventh. The €917,000 first place went to Sandra Naujoks.
The penultimate event of the European Poker Tour did not disappoint; once again, EPT San Remo, held at Casino Sanremo in San Remo, Italy, was one of the largest events of the tour (and again, it was larger than the Grand Final). This six day event in April of 2009 drew a total of 1,178 competitors and had a €5,000 buy-in. Dutchman Constant Rijkenberg put himself on the poker map with his first place win of €1,508,000 with pocket aces, while Dragan Galic became the only Croatian to date to make it to a final table in the EPT and Ovi Balaj became only the second Romanian to do so (having been beaten to this honor just a few months prior).
Season 5 closed with a bang as the 935 entrants put in the €10,000 buy-in to compete for a part of the €9,350,000 prize pool. Dutchman Pieter de Korver came out on top, demonstrating that his career, which had been growing and evolving since he went pro in 2007, was in no way ready to slow down. Before winning €2.3 million in the European Poker Tour Grand Final, de Korver had been winning more and more tournaments, starting with those close to home and winning a Dutch television show sponsored by PokerStars, which made him the Poker Champion of Holland. American Matthew Woodward made his first final table in live poker and his first big finish, leaving with €1.3 million and second place, while Norwegian Dag Martin Mikkelsen started with a substantial chip lead but ultimately finished fourth.