The Salle des Etoiles, home of EPT Monte Carlo through the past decade, has hosted some of the European Poker Tour’s most memorable finals. This is a room accustomed to turbulence, where the superstars have prevailed as well as the underdogs, and where champions have been crowned after both marathons and sprints.
Tonight’s EPT Main Event final was an epic, and takes its place as a classic of the form. It was both fast and then very, very slow. It featured a former World Series champion and a couple of happy-go-lucky amateurs, as well as the chance of putting players from China or Hungary into the winner’s enclosure for the first time. It also must have broken at least two records: the first for the length of five-handed play — there were nine hours between the eliminations of the players in sixth and fifth — and the second for the number of double-ups. We lost count of those. And then there was a protracted three-handed deal negotiation, which probably challenged time records as well.
But amid all this sound and fury, there was only one constant: Manig Loeser. And by the time all the playing and the faffing, the faffing and the playing was over, through 273 hands, his crowning as champion felt inevitable. The unflappable 30-year-old from Bad Homburg, Germany, was the one man who had found the straightest path, mostly free from the bumps and the potholes. He built steadily and shrugged off the occasional flesh-wound before he found himself heads-up with China’s latest poker star Wei Huang.
Huang began the week happy just to be here, and ended it happier still, draped in his country’s flag. He fell one place short of the title, but there was no shame in that. There were no losers here, only one Loeser.
“I was pretty confident all the way, because I had the chip lead most of the time and I could win a lot of pots,” Loeser said. “But heads up I lost the chip lead and he played super-well, aggressive, so it was quite a fight.”
Loeser’s final haul was €603,777 to Huang’s €552,056. They were the two biggest prizes from a €4.47 million prize pool, built from 922 entries. And that trophy is sitting on a German mantlepiece rather than one in China.
Luis Medina came back as the odd man out at the six-handed final table. Five players had heaps, but his 16 big blinds were always likely to be under threat fairly soon. The former Team PokerStars Pro from Portugal found pocket sevens on one of the first hands of the day, and somehow managed to avoid going broke against Viktor Katzenberger’s set of jacks. But with the blinds escalating, Medina shoved a handful of times and was eventually caught. Medina’s A♦3♣ lost to Loeser’s 7♠7♥. Medina won €152,800.
With Medina gone, the dynamic changed again. Little could he have known that there was still more than 14 hours left. Nobody was under immediate threat, but now nobody also needed to fear busting and leaving a micro-stack to ladder. This liberation seemed to appeal most to Katzenberger, who edged into the chip lead thanks to two big hands, but was also picking spots to bully both Riess and the overnight leader Nicola Grieco.
The former pulled off a double-up to remain a threat — his sevens this time, cracking Huang’s aces — but Grieco had entered what seemed to be a terminal tailspin. His habits of making unconventional bets with unexpected hands, and talking readily to his opponents throughout the action, suddenly seemed to catch up with him. He slumped to seven big blinds.
But — and this was a final table full of “buts” — it then became Grieco’s turn to fly back in the right direction. He pulled off a series of double-ups, none more significant than when his aces held against Huang’s kings. Having so nearly hit rock bottom, he bounced back into the near chip-lead, tied only with the steady and emotionless Loeser.
This course of events bought Grieco another eight hours at the final table, but remarkably it earned him not a penny more. The five-handed marathon went on for more than 150 hands, and it was past 11pm local time — and numerous double-ups — that the dam finally swept Grieco away. He had A♠K♥ but Loeser flopped two pair with his 8♣7♥. And Grieco had to make do with the €206,590 he would have received if those aces had not held up.
Grieco’s departure ramped up the pressure on Riess and Huang in particular. Both had been all-in more than once and survived, but when the two of them went at it, now with short-stacks, there could be only one winner. Riess had Q♣3♠ and Huang had J♦6♦, and the flop of Q♠A♥A♦ favoured only Riess. But the 10♦ turn gave Huang a bunch of outs, and the K♥ was one of them.
That horrific run-out sent Riess spiralling out of the tournament, falling short of his quest to become the first WSOP Main Event winner also to win on the EPT. He played some quite spectacular poker this week, and today wowed the crowds with a correct call with only ten high. (Spin through the complete play-by-play of today for all those details.) But he had to make do with fourth and €265,620.
Loeser had the big stack when three-handed play commenced, but Huang came into his own with a delightful all-in river bluff that forced Loeser to fold a straight. They took another tournament break and prepared to return to 45-minute levels, at which point they decided it might be prudent to strike a deal.
The three of them — Loeser, Huang and Katzenberger — were pretty much even in chips and after nearly an hour of posturing and requesting (and denying) “better than ICM” they agreed the following: Huang €552,056, Katzenberger €529,707, Loeser €525,716. The €76,061 left on the side would go to, and decide, the champion.
The first thing they decided was that it wouldn’t be Katzenberger. He lost a major flip to Loeser when they got it all-in pre-flop (Loeser’s threes held) and Huang polished him off. Katzenberger’s final hand was A♦8♣ to Huang’s A♠K♣ and the poised and calm Hungarian walked quietly away.
The Chinese in the crowd, led by previous EPT runner-up Haoxiang Wang, now unfurled an enormous red national flag and stood anxiously behind it waiting to cheer on their latest challenger for the elusive EPT title. He battled gamely against Loeser during a heads-up battle that ran past 3am, even with the shortened levels.
In the end, it was probably Loeser’s greater experience that won the day: he kept the pots small, except the ones he knew he had a lock on. And in the last, he turned a straight with Q♥8♥ on a board of 9♣J♦5♠10♣ and faded Huang’s three outs. (He had K♠8♣). That was the end of that.
“I can’t think straight at all right now,” Loeser told PokerNews, who provided our live updates at this event. “It was a super long final table. It was just really exhausting, they all played so good and put so much pressure on you. It’s just really exhausting to sit there so long and try to make good decisions.”
Loeser has been doing this a long time, and is greatly decorated in poker tournaments across the globe. He now also has an EPT title to add to Germany’s record haul. But the Chinese are inching ever closer.
We’ll be back for the EPT Open in Madrid next month, and then it’s World Series time and then it will be Barcelona again. Thanks for reading. Goodnight!
EPT Monte Carlo Main Event
Date: April 30 – May 4, 2019
Entries: 922 (inc. 233 re-entries)
Prize pool: €4,471,700