The EPT main event in San Remo has been a triumph from the start, and the final table – one of tension, high-wire hands and enough unpredictable aggression to keep everyone guessing – gave the Italian Riviera the send off it deserved.
The principal reason was a 20-year-old student from Amsterdam, named Constant Rijkenberg, who tonight beat Finland’s Kalle Niemi heads-up to claim a check for €1,508,000 and the title of EPT champion. Add his name to your list of young European poker stars taking the game by storm.
In hindsight Rijkenberg’s win seemed obvious. His natural feel for the game, developed not online but in the live tournaments of casinos in Amsterdam, showed in almost every hand he played. And he wasn’t short of confidence:
“I expected it,” he said in the moments immediately after the final hand. “I said three weeks ago that I was going to win this tournament and it was true.”
Rijkenberg’s style was certainly unconventional – his roller-coaster week was filled with big bluffs and hero calls, only some of which came off – but even those setbacks were counterbalanced by some raw aggression and excellent play that ultimately sent him to the top of the heap and to the centre of a mob of celebrating Dutchmen. His aces beat Niemi’s top pair of tens late on Thursday night, bringing the tournament to a close.
Niemi can also hold his head high. The Finn was playing his first live event having won his seat in a satellite on PokerStars for $27. It turned out to be a fine investment for the first-year law student, who will now fly back north, way north, with €862,000.
It took five levels of play to get there.
The lone Italian representative at the final table, Danilo D’Ettoris, was first to go when play started this afternoon; Rijkenberg seeing to it that the Italian would watch the rest of the day from the rail when the Dutchman’s pocket fours held against the Italian’s ace-queen.
Alex Fitzgerald busted in seventh, but not before some on-table antics had players and onlookers shaking their heads and rubbing their eyes. Steady hands became sudden nightmares with a stormy spell of hyper-aggressive seven figure re-raises. Fitzgerald could only watch. Cursed with a short stack the American played only about five hands all day; each of them involving him getting all his chips in the middle. The fifth time was his last when Galic made top pair tens, to the American’s king-queen.
Ovi Balaj’s plan was almost identical to Fitzgerald’s. The only difference between them was one place and an extra €58,000. Balaj was eliminated when William Reynolds caught a break, calling the Romanian’s pocket nines with his own pocket sixes that struck a set on the flop.
Readers of the blog will by now be familiar with the story of Dragan Galic. The Croatian led this tournament almost start to finish and only fell short by five places. His week-long display of dominance, unchecked aggression and often unmistakable good fortune, came to an end when he moved all in with 9♦9♥ against Rijkenberg’s A♥Q♣. It was all over when Rijkenberg flopped the nut straight, ending one of the tournament’s most engaging rivalries.
The two had tangled frequently. Their often unconventional playing style was at times like watching an unsupervised fireworks display. It looked spectacular, but at the back of your mind you knew it could turn nasty any second. Any hands between the two usually featured instant re-raising, contemptuous calling, and reckless bluffing, then ended with an inevitable rubdown of the loser. Mercifully it ended with a handshake as Galic departed in fifth.
That left four.
William Reynolds was many commentators’ pick as the man to watch at the final table. A notable online player he had little of the hellfire that fuelled Rijkenberg and Galic’s rampages and instead played a more measured – if no less ruthlessly agressive – game. He too took an up and down path through the day, and at a low ebb was forced to shove all in with K♦J♦. Rijkenberg called with an ace and hit a second on the flop. That was that. With Reynolds gone Rijkenberg didn’t look back.
Gustav Sundell assumed duties as the short stack, his options little better than Reynolds’. He found ace-six and hoped for the best, but Niemi called with ace-jack. Sundell’s chips armed Niemi better for the heads up duel to come, but the momentum was clearly with the young Dutchman. There were only six more hands to come. The rest will now be written as EPT history.
“I really don’t know what to feel right now.” Said Rijkenberg, shortly after the final hand. “My first dream was to play an EPT, my second to play on the featured TV table, my third was to make the final table and my fourth dream was to win. It’s the biggest dream you can have apart from the WSOP main event – and I’m too young to play that right now.”
It brings an end to a great week of poker in San Remo, one that broke records for attendance and prize pool. But this is just a precursor to an even greater event starting next week. The EPT rolls out of Italy tonight and heads to its next destination just a few kilometres away, across the border, into Monaco, where the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo starts on Tuesday.
In the meantime, while away the hours reliving all the level by level action from today at the links below:
That’s all from San Remo. Join us next week in Monte Carlo when the season five grand final will cap off another fantastic season on the world’s best poker tour. See you then.