Sunday, March 20, 2005

Monte Carlo Grand Final Report

For a hand-by-hand account of the Monte Carlo Grand Final final table, you can click here. The final eight results are here. The other 19 finishers' results of the Grand Final are at the bottom of this link.

Monte Carlo in the hours before dawn is no different than any small city with respect to the March chill in the air and undercurrent murmur of late-night revelers in their waning hours of weekend release. At a little Irish pub just down from the Monte Carlo Grand hotel, a four piece rock band filled the small space from the floor to the rafters. Guinness fell from the taps and formed a perfect head at the top of the pints. Had the cliff faces not risen above the dark horizon and had the sea not allowed the wind to blow its scent across the city's two sqaure miles, the casual observer might not have guessed he were sitting in the world's second smallest country.

Sitting just outside on a patio, European Poker Tour creator John Duthie sat sipping on a Coca Cola. His shoes were on his feet, but had slipped of his heels.

"It's hard to believe," he said, a cigarette dangling form his fingers, "it was just a year and a month and ago I sat in the bath and thought, 'that would be a good idea.'"

In the 12 hours before, he'd seen a bathtime idea ultimately realize itself. It was a multi-event, multi-country series of televised poker tournaments spread across Europe, sponsored and supported by and culminating in the EPT's Monte Carlo Grand Final.

As the hour slid ever close to sunrise, Duthie slipped into the darkness, the first year of his creation behind him.

John Duthie directing his vision

It's sometimes hard to comprehend the poker world. It's the type of place where people dressed in ratty denim and wrinkled shirts will step wildly into a $200,000 heads-up game just to make up the $150,000 they lost the night before. It's a place where a player will readily sit down for a ten-person €5000 crap-shoot, but fight wildly for a free €25 dinner.

It's in this world that Duthie,, and the retinue of the world's poker players have spent the last half a year. It began with a number of events stretching across Europe. It ended just a few hours ago here in the Pricipality of Monaco. The Grand Final cost players €10,000 to enter. That was just the monetary cost. Before it was over, they would give and earn more than they'd ever expect.

To learn how we arrived at the final eight, you can read the archives of this web site. To learn how we reached the Grand Final Champion, you need only read the rest of this post.

The Final Eight

When it began, all eyes were on the young Brandon Schaefer. Just a few months from heading off to graduate school for his MBA, Schaefer had followed his friend to Deauville for the French Open. What started as a "buddy road trip" story fit for Hollywood ended with an ending even California screenwriters wouldn't venture. The two friends took first and second place in the French Open and won seats into the Grand Final. Schaefer's friend wouldn't fare so well in Monaco, but Schaefer scraped and battled his way to the final table and went into the ultimate day as the chip leader.

A few days before, Schaefer had randomly brought a grapefruit to the poker table with him. Regular poker observers assumed it was an odd homage to poker great Johnny Chan. As it turned out, Schaefer just wanted some fruit. But over the course of a few days, it became a symbol for his success. Just before the final table began, the floor director ran to Schaefer and handed him a small grapefruit.

"From your mom," he said

Schaefer and the grapefruit

Joanne Schaefer, Brandon's mother, and Carl Olson, Schaefer's friend, sweating him from the stands

While Schaefer had the chip lead, he also had seven other players to face. Some said it would end in tears...

Seat 1: Romain Feriolo 475,000
Seat 2: Alex Stevic 57,500
Seat 3: Abdulaziz Abdulaziz 181,000
Seat 4: Ben Grundy 90,500
Seat 5: Kevin Seeger 364,500
Seat 6: Mikhail Ustinov 68,500
Seat 7: Brandon Scahefer 488,500
Seat 8: Rob Hollink 384,000

We lost the first of the seven on just the sixth hand of the contest. Under the gun, Mikhail Ustinov raised more than three times the big blind under the gun. With an even shorter stack than Ustinov, EPT Barcelona champ Alex Stevic came over the top all in. Ustinov called with QQ. Stevic had JJ. The dealer laid out the first three community cards. The crowd gasped when they saw a jack. Stevic had made a set and Ustinov never improved his QQ. Ustinov left in 8th place with €59,500

It would take another 14 hands before another small stack left the table. Holland's Rob Hollink opened the pot for a 3x the big blind raise and fellow poker blogger Ben "Milk Bar Kid" Grundy called from the small blind. The flop came down 6KQ. Both players checked. The turn came a jack. Grundy checked, Hollink bet out 25,000. Grundy considered hs play for a long while then moved in for the rest of his chips. Hollink didn't think for a second and called. Grundy showed AJ. Unfortunately for the young man, he'd walked right into a well-laid Hollink trap. Hollink held KK for a flopped set. Grundy left in 7th place for €79,500

Ben "Milky Bar Kid" Grundy

While Frenchman Romain Feriolo came into the day with a lot of chips, his tournament experience was limited. That inexperience would eventually manifest itself in the wholesale spreading of Ferilolo's chips around the table. The first beneficiary was Alex Stevic. The first time, it wasn't Feriolo's fault, necessarily. Feriolo had put in a large raise and Stevic came over the top all-in. Feriolo called. Stevic showed him KQ. Feriolo held AT, but the flop came down AKK, giving Stevic trips. Stevic' Swedish fan club exploded in jubilation while Feriolo's lady sat silently in the stands. A tough poker player herself, she had poked me in the back earlier in the week when I got in the way of her watching Feriolo's play. It still hurts.

Just a few hands later, Feriolo would bluff off a nice part of his stack and give Schaefer a nice bump in chips. On the button, Schaefer raised from the big blind and Feriolo called. The flop came down AK6 with two clubs. Feriolo checked and Schaefer bet out a little more than half the pot. With a bit of flair, Feriolo called. The turn was a non-club ten. This time Feriolo bet out a little less than half the pot. Schaefer flat called. The river was another non-club ten. Feriolo again bet out and Schaefer, who apparently had quite a read on his French opponent, called again. Schaefer flipped up A4 for two pair. Feriolo showed 78 of clubs for a missed flush draw.

Perhaps Abdulaziz Abdulaziz wanted a part of the action. From the button, Feriolo came in for a raise and from the big blind, Abdulaziz came over the top all in. Feriolo called with 88 which was a winner against Abdulaziz's K6. Abdulaziz departed in six place taking home €99,500

Abdulaziz Abdulaziz

While the table had been a bit tight up to this point, maybe it was something in the last few plays that opened the floodgates. Under the gun, Schaefer raised three times the big blind and Californian Kevin Seeger called from the big blind. The flop came down T64 with two clubs. Seeger checked, Schaefer bet, and Seeger came back over the top all in. It wasn't a hard call for Schaefer. After all, he had aces. Seeger showed 88 and never improved. Seeger took fifth place for €118,000

Kevin Seeger

Things began to get a bit odd from there. Feriolo made a small raise from the button. Stevic, in the small blind, tripled the bet. Feriolo made as if to call, but put out too many chips. His move ended up meaning a minimum re-raise. It gave Stevic the opportunity to move all in. Feriolo, for some reason, called and showed QT to face Stevic's AA. Stevic won to cheers from his fan section.

Feriolo still had chips, however, but wouldn't for long. Facing a sizable raise from Schaefer, Feriolo called from the small blind. The flop came down J28. Feriolo bet out a little more than half the pot. Schaefer called. The turn was a queen. This time Feriolo bet out about half the pot and Scahefer called again. With the pot now at 412,000, the river came down as a three. Again, Feriolo bet out, but this time less than half the pot. Schaefer called without much thought...and Feriolo...mucked his cards. Scahefer only had A8 for third pair, but it must've been good.

Just a few hands left, with relatively few chips left in his stack, Feriolo got in with the best hand, A3, versus Rob Hollink's K2, but Hollink flopped a king and Romain Feriolo left in 4th place, taking home €139,000.

Romain Feriolo

That win left Hollink and Schaefer as the top two chip stacks. It seemed inevitable they would end up heads up. Hollink made it official a few hands later, getting all his money in the middle with KK against short-stacked Stevic's AQ. As if to seal the deal with authority, the flop came down with with two kings to give Hollink flopped quads and send Stevic back to Sweden in fourth place with €178,000.

Alex Stevic

Heads up: Vigorous youth versus careful experience

Brandon Schaefer and Rob Hollink headed into heads up play with near equal stacks. While the producers were counting the chips, I heard a familiar voice over my left shoulder.

"Brandon. Brandon, come here."

It was Greg Raymer. I didn't listen in, but I suspected Raymer, 2004 World Series of Poker champion, was giving Schaefer some advice.

Advice from a champion

Had the chips been different, it might have been a different game. See, Schaefer had been amassing his stack versus fairly loose play. That's not how Hollink had been playing. Hollink usually sat back and waited until he was fairly certain he had the best of it. Whether Schaefer could switch gears would determine whether he could best the Dutch poker pro.

A future MBA student versus a poker pro

The players sparred for a couple of dozen hands. Hollink took the upper hand, either showing down the better cards or pushing Schaefer off his hand. Then Schaefer took hold and battled back to a good lead, his aggressive style getting the better of Hollink. And then the crowd saw the key hand.

From the button, Schaefer made the standard raise and Hollink called. The flop came down T3T. Schaefer bet out, Hollink doubled the bet, and after some thought, Schaefer announced he was all in. Hollink called immediately. Schaefer knew he was in trouble. He stood up and walked away from the table as the the announcer said what Schaefer already knew. Hollink held a ten. Schaefer's three would do him no good. He lost more than half his stack on that hand.

Seconds later, in another hand, it was over. Although Schaefer still had some chips to play with, he didn't get them all in with top pair on the flop. By the river, Hollink had made two pair, got all-in, and bested Schaefer in the heads-up contest. Schaefer got €350,000 for second place.

Schaefer in between his mother and the lovely Caroline Flack, hostess of the EPT

After four days of grueling play, the unassuming Dutchman, Rob Hollink walked away in first place, taking home a massive first place prize, €635,000.


The sun is coming up in Monte Carlo now. The EPT and PokerStars crews are getting ready to board flights from the nearby Nice airport. It will be several months before everyone sees each other again. This grand experiment, by my estimation, has worked fantastically.

This blog has been a work in progress and one I think, based on e-mails and traffic reports, has been a respectable success. While it was a lot of very hard work, I never could've done it without the EPT television crew, all of the folks from PokerStars, tournament directors Thomas Kremser and Warren Karp, their hard-working dealing staff, and the staffs of the various venues we've visited. You folks are all real professionals and it has been an honor working with you.

I'd also like to thank the readers who came to this blog during the tournaments and offered their good wishes and advice.

Most of all, I'd like to thank all the players who endured my constant photography, nagging questions, and the occasional misspelled name or incorrently reported hand. You folks are the reason I do this and I thank you for putting up with me.

Now...we all just have to wait until the next EPT event. While my eyes are heavy from several weeks of action, I, for one, can't wait.