At first, he could only Dare to Stream. But now Gilles Simon has fulfilled one of his wildest dreams. The 24-year-old from Valkenburg, in the Netherlands, is a Main Event champion on the European Poker Tour (EPT).
Simon, known to his many fans online (as well as numerous countrymen here in Cyprus) as “Ghilley”, made his name as a Twitch streamer, landing a Platinum Pass to the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) in the Bahamas thanks to his creativity as a content creator.
But that side of his game was jettisoned as he rose through the ranks as a professional player — a journey that hit a spectacular new high with victory in this 1,320-entry tournament.
Simon banks $1,042,000, the biggest slice of a $6,402,000 prize pool. It was a popular and brilliant victory, requiring him to regroup after surrendering a chip lead, then to grind down six spirited opponents on the last day.
“It’s obviously absolutely insane,” Simon said, collecting his winner’s trophy on stage from TV presenter Joe Stapleton. “It’s been a crazy ride the last five years. It’s been days of hard work, days of partying very hard, days of making bonds with friends that will never go, not just inside of poker but also in life.”
Explaining how he had completed this journey from $10 online tournament player to winner of a $5,000 buy-in event featuring the best in the world, Simon said: “All you need in the end is just the right timing, a very dirty moustache, and a lot of luck.”
None of Simon’s opponents today was quite so obdurate as Andrea Dato, an Italian EPT veteran, who also rode both high and low on the final day. Dato had to make do with second place, and $652,200, after he was no match for Simon heads-up.
The final table also very nearly gave us our first ever Turkish champion, but businessman turned poker pro Halil Tasyurek was eliminated in fourth. There was also a large cheering section for Spanish star Jose Gonzalez, who raised Simon in the facial hair stakes with a huge caveman beard. However, Gonzalez was trimmed down in third.
Time to recap a thrilling day.
FINAL TABLE ACTION
After Day 5 played through its full allocation of levels without reaching the required six players, we resumed today with seven contenders still in with a shout. They lined up as follows.
1: Halil Tasyurek, Turkey, 7,825,000
2: Yannick Schumacher, Germany, 6,050,000
3: Bjorn Kozenkai, Hungary, 2,575,000
4: Nikita Kuznetcov, Russia, 7,475,000
5: Gilles Simon, Netherlands, 8,075,000
6: Jose Gonzalez, Spain, 4,700,000
7: Andrea Dato, Italy, 2,875,000
After the long night last night, it proved to be a short day for Hungary’s Bjorn Kozenkai. He had slipped to the bottom of the counts during the late night shenanigans yesterday, and early into the final day found K♦ 10♥ in late position and decided to move all-in.
Jose Gonzalez was sitting directly behind him and peered down at A♠ 10♣ . He called and watched a dry board send Kozenkai to the rail. His seventh place was worth $162,925.
It had been a while since Gonzalez had had such a big stack, and he was a prominent figure in a following passage of play in which chips moved around the table with rare abandon. Nikita Kuznetsov doubled through Gilles Simon, winning a flip with pocket tens to beat Simon’s A♥ K♥ . They swapped places in the standings.
However, Simon doubled right back, winning a flip of his own with K♣ Q♠ beating Gonzalez’s pocket nines. Gonzalez had the stack size to withstand it, but it was a real lifeline for Simon.
The same benefactor then offered similar hope to Andrea Dato. Gonzalez open-shoved from the small blind with A♦ 2♣ , targeting the big blind of the short-stacked Dato. Dato had K♦ Q♠ and called it off, flopping a king to survive with the latest double.
Gonzalez continued with his active approach, however, and bullied Halil Tasyurek out of a couple of pots. By the time they went on their first break, Gonzalez had a big lead, from Kuznetcov and Simon. A card dead Yannick Schumacher had slipped down and hovered above the short-stacked Dato and Tasyurek.
MORE DOUBLES AND THE END FOR EBAAA11
Despite comparatively few chips in play for this stage of a tournament, six players were still alive and relatively healthy. Major chip swings seemed to be evening out the stacks rather than creating disparities.
Simon was all-in and under threat again, this time holding pocket sevens against Kuznetcov’s A♣ J♠ . The chips went in pre-flop, but it was essentially over after a seven was among the first three cards put on the deck. It doubled up Simon to close to 10 million and left Kuznetcov with about half that.
When these two went head to head again soon after, the winner was the same. But because of that previous swing in the standings, Kuznetcov couldn’t survive a second defeat.
This time it wasn’t even a flip. Kuznetcov three-bet jammed his last 4 million with pocket fours and Simon, who had opened the pot, snap-called with pocket kings. There were no miracles on the board and that was curtains for Kuznetcov. The online beast, known as “Ebaaa11” was slain. He won $211,850 for sixth.
Simon was now the chip leader once more and he was having fun. In one memorable pot, he shoved the river looking at a board of A♥ 2♦ 2♠ 5♥ 10♠ and got Tasyurek to quickly fold his A♣ 4♦ . Simon had only 9♣ 8♣ .
Tasyurek could afford the loss, however, because he had recently doubled through Dato — although this was a more straightforward hand. Dato had pocket eights to Tasyurek’s pocket nines and they got their money in pre-flop. The better hand held.
SIMON SURGES AS SCHUMACHER CRASHES
Just when Simon’s lead seemed to be reaching the unassailable point, another cooler doubled up Tasyurek and trimmed Simon back down. This time it was A♣ K♦ for Tasyurek against Simpn’s A♠ Q♥ and the unremarkable board brought their two stacks to near parity. However, Dato doubled up again through Tasyrek soon after, keeping Italian hopes alive and positioning Simon at the top of the counts alone again.
Tasyurek’s resurgence was particularly bad news for Schumacher. The lone German representative at the final table hadn’t really managed to get anything going today and ended up with all his chips in the middle in a race against Tasyurek.
It was pocket jacks against A♥ Q♦ and pretty much a straight flip. But after a jack appeared on the flop, Schumacher needed running cards for a straight. He didn’t get them and was out in fifth, banking $275,425. It was a new career high.
FOUR HANDED FROLICS
The tournament had now moved into Level 34, around about the time that EPT Main Events are put to bed. But there were still four players left and precious little to suggest that matters would be resolved any time soon.
All of Gonzalez, Simon and Tasyurek continued to move their 10m+ stacks around and it was really only Dato who was under threat. But then, just when he needed it, he got a double after turning two pair with 6♦ 4♦ and picking off Gonzalez’s bluff.
A succession of small pots kept everyone breathing, but Tasyurek was now propping up the leader board. The EPT has never before seen a Turkish champion, but with home-field advantage here, this was perhaps the best chance.
It was not to be, however. Tasyurek ended up on the rail in fourth. He got unlucky in his final hand when action folded to Dato in the small blind and he moved all in for a stack that covered Tasyurek. Tasyrek looked down and found A♦ Q♠ and decided it was good enough to risk the rest of his chips.
He was ahead. Dato only had K♣ J♦ . But a king appeared on the flop and that vaulted Dato into the lead. After a blank turn and river, Tasyurek flourished his Turkish flag to the audience one more time and headed off the stage, looking for $358,075.
THREE LEFT, STACKS EVEN
The elimination of Tasyurek boosted Dato’s stack to make him the three-handed chip leader. His 15.8 million led Gonzalez’s 13.1 million and Simon’s 11.3 million and he was back in the box seat for the first time since Day 5.
He only consolidated that position by landing a one-two blow on Gonzalez that ended the Spaniard’s tournament. In a hand that played all the way through, Gonzalez paid off a huge bet on the river when Dato’s flush draw had got there (Gonzalez had third pair). It wasn’t long after that that Dato finished the job.
Gonzalez had only 12 big blinds when he picked up Q♦ 6♣ in the small blind and moved all-in. Dato had K♣ J♦ again, precisely the same hand with which he defeated Tasyurek. Whether he knew that or not, he made the call and the best hand this time stayed best.
There was a queen in the window but a king behind it, and there was nothing more for Gonzalez to cheer through turn and river. The ebullient Gonzalez, aiming to become only the second Spaniard to win an EPT Main Event, was out in third. Gonzalez won $465,425 and the tournament went heads up.
Dato had 26.65 million to Simon’s 12.88 million. There was about 30 minutes left in Level 35, where the big blind was 400,000.
SIMON SEIZES CONTROL HEADS UP
With these stack sizes, 66 BBs to 32 BBs, it was anyone’s guess how long was left in the tournament. One hand could easily end it, but there was still enough play for a gritty heads-up duel.
Certainly Simon was not throwing in the towel and, in fact, he made all the early running. By the time the level was up and a 45-minute dinner break beckoned, Simon had not only overhauled Dato’s chip lead, he had acquired one of his own. Simon left 30.575 million as he went to find food; Dato had 8.95 million.
Nothing changed in the postprandial action. Simon came back and continued the heads-up domination he had enjoyed before the repast. With the Dutch crowd now cheering his every move, he soon got into a position to potentially win the event.
Simon’s K♥ 8♠ flopped an eight, which put it ahead of Dato’s A♥ J♣ . They got all the money in, with Simon ahead, but Dato far from out of it. While Dato put his arm round his wife and remained calm, Simon found the embrace of his rail, who latterly also poured onto the stage.
“This is going to be painful if we lose this guys,” Simon said. He needn’t have worried. The dealer had no surprises as the rest of the board ran out clean.
With that, Simon clinched a famous triumph: the first Dutch winner since Jasper Meijer Van Putten in Prague in December 2016, in what was then planned to be the final EPT. But not only is this tour back and here to stay, it has another shining star who should grace its tables for many years to come.
$5,300 EPT Cyprus Main Event
Dates: October 16-22, 2023
Entries: 1,320 (inc. 424 re-entries)
Prize pool: $6,402,000