Operation EPT Prague is complete and successful: we have a champion, there were no injuries, and everything was wrapped up in time for the World Cup final.
The particular logistical challenges of this event will soon become a footnote to the headline news that Toronto’s Jordan Saccucci today became the latest Main Event champion on the European Poker Tour, banking €913,250 and becoming the first winner from Canada in an equivalent tournament since Elliot Smith triumphed in the PokerStars Championship in Macau, in 2017.
(The last on European soil was Ben Wilinofsky in Berlin in 2011.)
It came after a heads-up deal with France’s Antoine Saout, one of the European tour’s best-known talents, who also won €800,000 after the deal. But Saccucci, 33, had been in the driving seat for around two days, ever since he was on the right side of an aces versus kings versus queens cooler on Day 4.
He continued to enjoy the run of cards, but played them all excellently. It secured by some measure his biggest tournament success — he told us the last time he came to play in Prague he “got his ass kicked”. But he was the one doing the ass-kicking here this time around, including on the final hand.
Shortly after the deal had been arranged, Saout got his last chips in with pocket sixes to Saccucci’s A♦ 3♣ . But after two threes came on the flop, and the turn and river were safe, Saccucci was looking for the trophy.
“You are the champion!” bellowed Saccucci’s supporters on the rail. He certainly was.
“It was a roller coaster, ups and downs, but it was good,” Saccucci said. “I enjoyed it, I had fun.”
FINAL DAY’S ACTION — AND A SHORT DAY FOR OBARA
There were only four players who came back to play the last day of the event, the final quartet from a record-breaking field of 1,267 contesting a prize pool of €6,144,950. They were Saccucci and Saout, sitting with 12.925 million and 10.4 million in chips, respectively, but by no means certain to be the final two left at that stage. Hungary’s Istvan Pilhofer had 10.6 million and Jun Obara, of Japan, 3.875 million.
They had successfully navigated the first phase of final table play yesterday, when five of the last nine departed, including the Team PokerStars Ambassador Parker “tonkaaaa” Talbot, who finished fifth.
Obara had already progressed further than any previous Japanese player on the EPT, bettering Koichi Nozaki’s seventh-place finish from 2015. But Obara’s stay on the last day couldn’t have been briefer. He was knocked out on the very first hand of play today.
Obara found K♣ J♦ , made an opening raise, and was then faced with a three-bet from Saccucci. Obara called and flopped well. It came 10♠ J♣ 7♣ . Obara moved all-in and Saccucci snap-called. That was the first indication that Obara probably wasn’t in as good shape as he’d hoped. The second was when Saccucci tabled K♠ K♥ .
The turn and river couldn’t help out Obara — the river was actually the case king — and he hit the rail in fourth. His €361,950 prize puts him comfortably in the top 10 on Japan’s all time money list, and burnishes his reputation as one the country’s breakout stars.
But Asia continues to seek its first EPT champion.
Saccucci was already chip leader, and his stack received a further boost with the elimination of Obara. But the remaining three all had eight-figure stacks, which meant any significant pot could change the chip lead.
That’s the theory at least. As it happens, the next significant pot just made Saccucci richer, when he found pocket kings at the same time as Pilhofer had pocket eights, and only a disciplined fold from the latter on the turn kept the pot at “only” 6.5 million.
But then Saccucci found himself on the losing end of a run of medium-sized pots, the majority of which went to Saout. The Frenchman was already in a narrow chip lead when he won some more with a pair of nines — he had 10♦ 9♠ on a board of 9♥ 8♣ 4♠ 4♠ 5♣ — and moved 5 million clear of Saccucci, who had A♥ 8♦ in this coup.
UP AND THEN DOWN FOR PILHOFER
Pilhofer had struggled to get anything going by this point, and had dwindled to about 3.3 million, around 18 big blinds. (The levels were now only 45 minutes long as well, which made things all the more urgent.)
He finally found a good spot to get his chips in though, with Q♣ J♥ , calling all-in after Saout open-shoved from the small blind. Saout had A♠ 8♣ , but a jack on the flop put Pilhofer in the lead and another on the turn made the A♦ on the river irrelevant. Pilhofer doubled to stay alive.
Saccucci edged back into the lead, but all eyes were still on Pilhofer, whose stack was still the shortest. And the next time all of his chips went in the middle, he was sent packing.
After a couple of uncalled shoves, Pilhofer found A♥ 9♦ and was faced with another small-blind jam from Saout. Pilhofer called but Saout’s 2♥ 2♣ flopped a set to seal Pilhofer’s fate.
The Hungarian, who had folded the queens in the aces vs. kings vs. queens hand referenced above, will have had no complaints about a €470,500 payday for third. His had also been a roller coaster ride through the final few days, and that’s a nice compensation.
DEAL DONE AND A RACE TO THE CONCLUSION
The fact that is was Saout who did the damage to Pilhofer meant that the heads-up stacks were all but even. Saccucci had the narrow advantage, but he was giving up plenty of experience to Saout, who has been at the top of the game for more than 15 years and has two WSOP Main Event final tables under his belt.
After brief negotiations, they decided to take €800,000 each and play for the rest — €113,250 — which would mean that the winner would take slightly less than the advertised €1,054,500. But it also meant that the variance of short-handed play, with shortening blind levels, was also reduced. And they duly got it done very quickly.
Saccucci moved ahead immediately, c-betting twice and forcing folds from Saout’s inferior holdings. And Saccucci then flopped a pair of aces with his A♣ 5♦ in a three-bet pre-flop pot. Saout couldn’t let his king high go facing aggression the river, and another 6 million went to Saccucci.
By the time the final hand came about, Saout had 9.65 million to Saccucci’s 15.9 million, and Saccucci three-bet jammed his small ace. Saout called it off and was in pretty good shape, until those two threes popped out to end it.
And with that, EPT Prague is done for another year. Saout continues to search for his first EPT title, but will be very happy with €800K for a week’s work, and the chance to cheer France in the football tonight.
As for Saccucci, he heads away to celebrate with his friends and family, Prague’s ass convincingly kicked.
Event 20 – €5,300 EPT Main Event
Date: December 12-18, 2022
Entries: 1,267 (inc. 349 re-entries)
Prize pool: €6,144,950