Monday, January 31, 2005

EPT Scandinavian Open Final Report

Editor's note: For a hand-by-hand account of the final table, click here. And after you read this, be sure to come back in a couple of weeks when and the EPT head to Deauville, France

I remember a time in my youth, back before I grew jaded and suspicious of fight promoters, that I was enthralled by the science, strength, and skill of boxing. It was a spectacle of mind-numbing proportions for a ten-year-old: A heavyweight bout that went the distance, both fighters bloodied, broken, hanging on each other because they had barely the energy to stand, swollen tissue and flaps of skin hanging from their faces. The only thing that could make a kid's heart beat again was watching one of those fighters summon something from their deepest gut and swing a roundhouse punch with such power, you almost wouldn't know he was near uncoinciousness.

As I sat tonight in the ballroom of the Casino Copenhagen, watching my computer battery slowly die under the weight of nearly seven hours of final table action, I thought about those younger days, sitting in front of a TV, wondering which of the prize fighters would fall to the canvas, spent and bleeding, just happy to be alive.

It was a final table that knocked off five players with uppercut after uppercut, then slipped into a marathon heads-up session that can only be compared to careful, artful science. One that ended with something you'd likely never see on the canvas.

This knockout required a different fabric all together.

Since I had to wait for hours to see it happen, I think you can wait for a few paragraphs while we pay homage to the fighters who didn't make it to the final showdown.

18 and hours to go

There was a different energy in the poker room this morning. It was more guarded, quieter. Almost serene. The TV folks had dimmed the overhead lights and the players found themseves only bathed in the singled overhead bulbs that lit the poker tables.

Katja Spillum had precious little time to soak in the light. Her stack was short by the chip-leader's standards. On the very first hand of play, with a spade draw on the board, she went in with Q9 in spades but couldn't get there, and ended up losing to Julian Thew's aces.

Katja Spillum, a moment in the light

Dubliner Padraig Parkinson, sitting at the adjacent table thought he'd put his aces to work and put Jarl Lindholt all in with KQo. It proved to be unfortunate. Two queens came down on the board and cracked the Irishman's aces in two. It would also prove to be a bad omen.

Before that omen could realize itself, though, with the blinds at 1500/3000/300, Jarkko Laine of Finland raised to 11,000 under the gun. Julian Thew re-raised behind him to 30,000. And then from the big blind, chip-leader Mikael Westerlund moved all-in. Jarkko called for the remainder of his chips and flipped up two eights. Westerlund turned over AK. The flop was benign, but Westerlund turned an ace and Jarkko left in 17th place.

Just a few hands later, as the blinds moved up to 2000/4000/300, shortstacked Xuyen Pham went all in with KQs and Marcel Luske called from the BB with an ace. An ace on the flop sent BadGirl Pham packing in 16th.

Goodbye, Badgirl

It was then Padraig Parkinson's bad luck would rear its head again. From the button he pushed in with a pair of jacks. Noah Boeken called from the BB with KT and turned a king. The man from Dublin left in 15th.

Next came my favorite hand of the day. I chronicled it in an earlier post.

Marcel Luske was peeved. All-in preflop against two bigger stacks, the TD told the dealer to bring in the original bets and only leave Marcel's raise out for everyone to see. Thing was, Marcel had precious few chips left. It made his raise seem...well, puny.

And so he was peeved. Both Mikael Westerlund and Pat McCarthy called. Marcel sat back to wait it out. The flop came down KTT and Westerlund severely underbet the pot, betting only 7000. It seemed suspicious and McCarthy folded. Westerlund turned up JTs for the flopped set. Still peeved and on the verge of elimination, Marcel stewed and watched the turn, an ace. Sure, the jack would give him the broadway straight, but it would also give Mikael the boat. So, Marcel had two outs and tendrils of steam coming out his Dutch nostrils.

Two outs. Two queens.

One of which the dealer turned up on the river.

Like a film run in reverse motion, the steam shot back up into Marcel's nose and came out as a giant "Yahhhh!" as he stood and screamed. He pointed to the dealer and made a motion that looked like he was grinding a giant pepper mill.

I still don't know what the pepper mill was all about, but it still makes me giggle.

Mika Puro was next out in 14th place after pushing in with KQ vs Ram Vaswani's 77. Puro never improved and bid the remaining players goodbye. He was followed by Birgitta Johansson who made an attempt at a blind steal with 74o from the button and lost to Vaswani's KQ.

The final lady at the table, Birgitta Johansson, finished 13th

In two back-to-back hands, Aleksander Cooper assured himself a seat at the final table, first busting Jarl Lindholt (Demark) with 99 versus Lindholt's AQ, then busting Per Hildebrand's aces with TT when he flopped a full house.

With ten players left, we condensed to one table. online qualifer, Pat McCarthy was holding strong, having doubled up ealier in the day. His stack grew shorter though and with 55 he came all in over the top of a commonplace raise from Mikael Westerlund. Westerlund called with QT. The flop, 624, was beautiful for McCarthy. The turn, a king, did no damage either. Then, Westerlunnd spiked his queen on the river and the race was over. McCarthy left in 10th place.

Pat McCarthy

With just one player remaining before we moved under the TV lights, Marcel Luske (a man who plays to win, not just cash) moved all in for 38,000 from middle position. Mikael Westerlund called with A8 and Marcel never improved, leaving the table in 9th place, but sticking around to watch his protoge, Noah Boeken move on to the TV table.

Under the lights

The EPT cameras get ready to roll on the final table

When we moved to the TV table, this is how it looked.

Seat one: Bambos Xanthos, 115,500
Seat two: Julian Thew, 163,500
Seat three: Dan Pedersen, 113,100
Seat four: Noah Boeken, 99,400
Seat five: Aleksander Cooper, 206,500
Seat six: Eirik Kolaas, 126,800
Seat seven: Ram Vaswani, 294,100
Seat eight: Mikael Westerlund, 435,000

The story of the day so far had been PokerStars Caribbean Adventure third-place finisher Mikael Westerlund. With a loose reputation, but a proven ability to make final tables, Westerlund had run over his table, amassing a massive chip lead that was only threatened by Hendon Mobster, Ram Vaswani. Privately I predicted Westerlund would make it to the final three players. While I'd never predict who would win, the players had been folding raises to Westerlund's re-raises all day long and he seemed to have a captain's control over his opponents.

Of course, there was always the possiblity of a mutiny. But we'll get to that in a moment.

On the very first hand of the TV table, Aleksander Cooper raised from middle position, then psuhed all in when Vaswani re-raised from the button. Vaswani called the raise, establishing a massive pot. Cooper, who had one of the larger stacks at the table, turned over AK. Vaswani flipped up QQ and Cooper didn't catch an ace or king and left in 8th place.

Ten hands later, the table folded around to Westerlund who cold-called the 8000 blind. Dan Pedersen called from the SB. In the BB, Noah Boeken made a decision and pushed the rest of his small stack into the middle. Westerlund asked for a count. It was 81,800 total. Mikael counted out his massive stack of blue 5K chips, twirled one on the table, screwed up his mouth and made it look like Robert DeNiro’s. In the meantime, Noah bobbed his head to the tunes on his iPod and shot Westerlund looks of confidence. Westerlund called the all-in bet with A4o. Noah showed 88. Westerlund never caught an ace and Boeken began his run toward destiny.

Westerlund had continued his run of coming in for raises. Two hands later he came in for a 3xBB bet. The table folded around to Dan Pedersen who re-raised from the cutoff. The flop came down 573 wth one club. Miakel bet out about 1/3 of the pot and Pedersen came over the top all in. Mikael called to find Pedersen was trying to start a mutiny, but failed. Pedersen held J9 of clubs. Westerlund had A2 for ace-high and a gutshot straight draw. The turn was an ace of clubs, giving Mikael the pair but Pederesen the fush draw. But the river didn't deliver and Pedersen was out in seventh place.

Seventh-place finisher Dan Pedersen couldn't carry his Saturday chip-lead to victory


It was as if the table had made an agreement that went something like this: Around twenty hands into the final table, we're all going to turn on Mikael Westerlund. On two conseuctive hands, the players got Westerlund deeply involved in a hand, then pushed him off major pots with major bets. Westerlund's stack was cut nearly in half in just two hands.

Then on the very next hand, Ram Vaswani got in a blind battle with Westerlund, flopped two pair and took down a 300K pot.

I thought at this point that Westerlund might slow down a little. He'd lost a large portion of his chips on three consecutive hands.

I was wrong.

On the VERY NEXT HAND, Vaswani cold-called the blind from the button. Westerlund raised the pot from the small blind and Vaswani called. The flop came down 338 rainbow and Westerlund bet out 100K. Vaswani announced he was all in and almost immediately Westerlund called. Ram flipped up AA, Westerlund had AJ. Just like that, Vaswani took down a pot worth half a million and Westerlund was out in sixth place...from first to worst in four hands.

That's what you call mutiny.

Mikael Westerlund, mutiny victim

Facing 10-1

Right then and there it looked like it was all over. Vaswani had more than quadrupled up in just a little more than 20 hands. He had almost a 10-1 chip lead over the rest of the table. He held more than a million in chips.

Two hands later, online qualifier Eirik Kolaas pushed in the rest of his stack with QTo and got called by Noah who held A9o. He paired his queen on the turn, but three spades on the board gave Noah a flush draw and an overcard. The river was an ace and sent Kolaas out in fifth place.

Eirik Kolaas

The remaining players proected their stacks for another ten hands or so when Julian moved in from the SB when A3o. Noah called with A5o, outkicked Julian, and sent him home in fourth place.

Nice-guy, Julian Thew

It took another 20 hands of chip protection before Bambos Xanthos pushed all in with TT from the BB. Noah called with KJo, flopped a K, and sent Xanthos out in third place.

I hated to see Bambos go. Every time he announced all in, he did it as if shooing away flies from a picnic dinner. A sort of backward wave of the hand, as if to say, "Posh, all in with these filthy chips."

A TV monitor shows a close-up of Bambos Xanthos

Back to boxing

It took 63 hands to eliminate the first six players. It would take the same number before another would fall.

When heads up play began Ram Vaswani had 938,500 in chips and Noah Boeken 621,500. This was shaping up to be a battle after all.

Now, if you've ever watched boxing, you've heard the crowd boo and hiss when two fighters dance around, avoiding throwing or catching big punches. When you've paid to see a fight, you want to see two guys fight.

You might remember, at the PCA, it only took seven hands to finish heads up play. So, when we passed the fifty-hand head-up-hand mark, even the die hards were getting a little anxious. Vaswani and Boeken were trading some small punches, but nothing that would get the crowd riled up. Boeken slowly captured the chip lead, and the battle continued at the pace of two old men running for the bus stop.

At one point, when I was feeling guilty for feeling a little bored, Devilfish walked by the bar, looked at me and said, "Boring as hell isn't it?"

I couldn't disagree.

And that's when I thought about those old boxing matches. These two guys played poker for 12 hours on Saturday and another ten hours on Sunday. They were on the cusp of winning a major European event (for Vaswani, it would be his second, for he won in Dublin as well). These guys were prize fighters in the final round of a knock-down drag-out match that if the game had been any more brutal, they might've just died of shock on the felt. Who am I--who was anybody--to want them to take some risks and let us get some sleep?

These guys were artists. They were scientists. They were championship players. They may have been hanging on each other for strength and throwing half-hearted gut-punches when they could find the energy, but they had gone the distance.

Of course, I couldn't convince my computer battery of that. After recording almost 130 consecutive hands, the warning light came on, and I started to scramble to finind a power outlet. Just as I'd found one and pulled out my power cable, I heard the TD announce, "Both players are all in."

What? What?

I didn't look back to see the thousands of dollars of equipment I left scattered on the floor. I just grabbed a notebook and pen and ran for the table.

Noah was all in with AQ. Ram was all in with AJ. Noah had him covered.

The flop had to break Noah’s heart: JT3. It paired up Ram and would’ve doubled him up as well.

The crowd gasped as the jack came down. It seemed we were in for another 60 hands.

And then...the turn.

A king.

In one second, Noah went from sheer disaster to the nuts. The king gave him the Broadway straight, first prize, a seat at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, and his first major live tournament win.

It was then, friends, that the bell rang and the two warriors collapsed in their corners, shooing off their cut-men, and letting the cobwebs fall away from their synapses.

Ram Vaswani, left, and Noak Boeken, right, give interviews to the EPT

Here's how it looked in the end.

1,098,340 (Kroner)

1st--Noah Boeken (Holland)

549,170 (Kroner)

2nd--Ram Vaswani (U.K.)

271,695 (Kroner)

3rd--Bambos Xanthos

173,442 (Kroner)

4th--Julian Thew

115,615 (Kroner)

5th--Eirik Kolaas

101,163 (Kroner)

6th--Mikael Westerlund (Sweden)

86,711 (Kroner)

7th--Dan Pedersen (Denmark)

72,259 (Kroner)

8th--Aleksander Cooper

57,807 (Kroner)
9th--Marcel Luske, Holland

46,246 (Kroner)
10th-- Pat McCarthy, USA (acpro)

46,246 (Kroner)

11th--Per Hildebrand (Sweden)
12th--Jarl Lindholt (Demark)

40,465 (Kroner)

13th--Birgitta Johansson

35,684 (Kroner)

14th--Mika Puro
15th--Padraig Parkinson (Dublin)
16th--Xuyen Pham (Thailand)
17th--Jarkko Laine (Finland)
18th--Katja Spillum

Noah Boeken strains under the weight of his winnings

And that's how it ends here in Copenhagen, folks. From nudity on arrival to battle scars on departure, this festival has ended. Next stop, Deauville France. Be sure to join us right here in February for a full accounting from there.

I have a flight to catch. See you in Deauville.