Prague has become one of the most popular stops on the PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) in years past, and the December 2008 stop there would be no different. The total number of 570 players would make it the second largest EPT tournament in the tour’s history, with the lone exception of the EPT Grand Finale. Combine the beauty of Prague in the Czech Republic with the popularity of the EPT, and success was inevitable.
The first of the two starting days of EPT Prague was an indication of how well-attended it would be, as Day 1A brought 272 players to the felt. And it was a Euro star-studded event with names like Gus Hansen, Rolf Slotboom, Luca Pagano, Soren Kongsgaard, Johnny Lodden, Casey Kastle, Ludovic Lacay, Theo Jorgensen, EPT London champion Michael Martin, EPT Barcelona winner Sebastian Ruthenberg, and reigning EPT Prague champion Arnaud Mattern.
Mattern was one of the many who would not survive the day, as his A-J of spades met with the Q-10 of diamonds of his opponent on a 9-5-3-10 board, both players having found flush draws there. But the river gave no help to the champ, and the pair of tens of his opponent took the pot, leaving Mattern on the rail and without the chance to take the title for a second year in a row. Others who became acquainted with the rail were Pagano, Martin, Hansen, and Jorgensen. It ended with only 88 players set to move to the second day, with Lacay in the top spot with 94,200 in chips. The rest of the top five included, in order, Dan Pedersen, Constantin Cirstea, Lukas Gideon Schwartz Orbach, and Vasilis Chantzaras.
There were 298 players in the field on Day 1B, bringing the grand total to 570, with names in the mix like Dario Minieri, Davidi Kitai, Katja Thater, Alex Kravchenko, Nenad Medic, Peter Eastgate, Nicolas Levi, Juha Helppi, Christer Johansson, and former EPT champions Will Fry, Pascal Perrault, and Mats Iremark. But as is typical for a first day of tournament play, many would not survive it.
Only 89 players were left standing when play ended for the day, and Johansson was at the top of the leaderboard with 108,100 chips. From both starting days, Johansson held the lead as he topped Lacay’s Day 1A finish. Also in the top five for Day 1B were Manuel Bevand, Alessio Isaia, Fredrik Nygard, and Mikhail Tulchinsky, and notably in seventh place sat Minieri.
Day 2 began with 177 players, a rather large number of players still remaining and having to play to the money. The action was fast and furious during the first part of the day, and then the money bubble approached. Finally, it was Erich Kollmann who moved all-in with A-Q against the pocket kings of Rafit Palevic. The board brought nothing to save Kollmann, who exited in 57th place on the bubble and left it open for the next eliminated player - Paolo Grossi - to receive €7,000.
Some of the notable in-the-money exits as play progressed were Juha Helppi in 48th place, Dario Minieri in 47th, and Johnny Lodden in 43rd. And with the ousting of Yury Kerzhapkin in 33rd place, action was stopped for the day. Fredrik Nygard sat far atop the leaderboard with 609,500 chips, followed by Ludovic Lacay with 513,000. Palevic followed, as did Alexiou Konstantinos and Juan Maceiras.
Day 3 would determine the final table, and it was likely to be a long day to accommodate that goal. The final 32 returned to the tables for what would be a slow day of play. It began with Petr Samcenko leaving in 32nd place with €11,000 in prize money and continued on from there, with players like Brian Jensen out in 26th place and those coming into the day with large stacks like Ludovic Lacay gone in 22nd place and Juan Maceiras out in 13th.
Finally, it was Jonathan Duhamel at risk when short-stacked Sebastian Ruthenberg doubled through him, then put the remainder of his chips in the pot with . Nasr El Nasr called with , and the board came . The pair of jacks for Nasr sent Duhamel out in tenth place with €42,800. With the final nine seated at one table, it was Ruthenberg who took the chance with his stack, pushing all-in preflop with . Massimo Di Cicco called with , and the board didn’t help, sending Ruthenberg out in ninth place on the final table bubble with €42,800.
At that, the final table of eight was set with three Italians seeking a first EPT title for that country, one of whom would take the chip lead into play on the last day. The counts were as follows:
Salvatore Bonavena 1,402,000
Alexiou Konstantinos 1,382,000
Francesco Cirianni 807,000
Fredrik Nygard 666,000
Massimo Di Cicco 429,000
Nasr El Nasr 376,000
Raul Mestre 313,000
Andrew Alan Chen 309,000
The final table got off and running when one of the short stacks, Raul Mestre, moved in preflop with . Fredrik Nygard called with . The board came , and despite Mestre’s top pair on the turn, it was the runner-runner flush that gave Nygard the win. Mestre left the tournament just that quickly in eighth place with €71,800.
The original shortest-stacked Chen found some life, as he doubled through Alexiou Konstantinos, then again through Salvatore Bonavena - both times beating opponents’ K-Q with hands like Q-7 and K-9. Chen then came up against Nasr El Nasr, and when Nasr moved all-in preflop with , Chen called and had his opponent covered with pocket tens. The dealer gave them , and Chen claimed another victory by sending Nasr packing in seventh place with €99,500.
It was the Italians turn to accrue some chips, and Francesco Cirianni started with a double-up through fellow countryman Bonavena. And just after the dinner break, Massimo Di Cicco was able to double through Fredrik Nygard to stay alive.
Nygard was then short and pushed all-in with , finding a caller in Chen with . The board helped Chen, which came as no surprise, when it came . Nygard was forced to accept sixth place in the EPT Prague and the €130,000 that went with it.
Cirianni tried to build more momentum on the part of the Italians and took his stack of 486,000 into play preflop with . It was Chen who called, this time with , and it was going to take something special to keep Cirianni in the game. The board ran out , and that was not special for Cirianni, who left in fifth place with €166,000.
With four players remaining, Konstantinos held the lead with nearly 2.5 million in chips, though Chen was approaching quickly with a little more than 2 million. It was Bonavena with 847,000 and Di Cicco with 378,000 who needed to make moves. Konstantinos won with pocket aces almost immediately, leaving Bonavena as the new short stack, though he doubled as well. And all the while, Chen continued to chip up, finally taking over the lead and surmounting the 3 million chip mark.
Konstantinos attempted another double-up after his initial raise prompted an all-in move from Bonavena. Konstantinos called with pocket threes, and Bonavena showed . The board kept the tension high until the river when all five cards ran out as . Konstantinos was thus eliminated in fourth place with €199,000 for his efforts in the tournament.
Di Cicco was the short stack three-handed but doubled through fellow Italian Bonavena to stay alive. But it was Chen who felt the need to move and did so preflop for his entire stack with . Bonavena called with , and the board came . The turned straight sent Chen to the rail in third place, which was worth €257,000.
Going into heads-up action between the two Italians, the chip counts were as follows:
Salvatore Bonavena 4,123,000
Massimo Di Cicco 1,574,000
The atmosphere in the building was festive, with cheering coming from the numerous Italians in the crowd and the two Italian finalists hugging, even dancing a bit. The notion that one of the two would become the first Italian to ever hold an EPT title was enough to celebrate even before the heads-up match began.
Once it did get underway, Di Cicco was able to double up with versus the of Bonavena when a ten and a deuce hit on the flop. The two players’ stacks were nearly even, and Di Cicco subsequently stole the chip lead, but that feat was short-lived as Bonavena took it back shortly thereafter.
Di Cicco made another move, though it began innocently enough when he raised pre-flop and Bonavena called. The first three cards came , and Di Cicco pushed all-in holding the . The ace high was beat when Bonavena called and showed the for top pair. The on the turn did not help the all-in player, and the on the river sealed the deal for Massimo Di Cicco, who finished in second place with a €445,000 prize.
Salvatore Bonavena became the first-ever Italian EPT champion and took the 2008 EPT Prague title, along with the trophy and €774,000 first place prize money. Celebrations began with friends, emotions ran high, and Bonavena, draped in the Italian flag, relished the moment.
(Thanks to PokerNews and PokerStars for detailed hand and chip count information from live updates.)