The tournament room at the European Poker Tour (EPT) event in Barcelona turned into the equivalent of a football stadium today as one of the biggest events in EPT history got the grandstand finish it deserved.
To a carnival atmosphere — chanting, roaring, drinking and dancing — the French pro Simon Wiciak turned his chip lead of three days standing into an EPT title and more than $1.13 million.
It was a measured and accomplished performance from the 30 year old from La Rochelle, especially as he lost the chip lead today and had to build back. He also managed to silence (sort of) some of the rampant crowd by beating heads-up the incredible Joao Sydenstricker, who had threatened to complete an all-time come-from-behind success.
Sydenstricker was the lesser-known of two Brazilians who made this final table, with all eyes on the Team PokerStars Ambassador Andre Akkari. But Akkari couldn’t get much forward motion on the final, the complete opposite of Sydenstricker. He began the day by aeroplaning across the stage in jubilation after an early pot. And, with the crowd duly ramped up, they roared every bluff, every win, and cheered him all the way to second place.
After a three-handed deal, Sydenstricker’s bigger stack earned him €1,048,555.
Wiciak, however, was impeccable in the phase of play after the deal and managed to read Sydenstricker exceptionally well. With Carl Shaw knocked out in third, Wiciak was able to outgun Sydenstricker and bank the first EPT win for a Frenchman since Nicolas Dumont in Monaco in 2018.
There was a prize pool in this one of more than €10 million, the biggest slice of which went to Wiciak. His fervent celebration at the end showed what it meant to him. He ended up in tears on the phone to family at home. Having gone through a couple of previous careers, in soccer and engineering, he has finally found his calling.
“This game is beautiful,” Wiciak said. “I was happy to play football. I was happy to be an engineer. And I’m really happy to meet poker.”
Action resumed in the Main Event in Level 33, where the big blind was 250K. Even without any mathematical competency, it was pretty easy to glance at the starting stacks today and see who was comfortable and who was not.
FINAL TABLE STARTING STACKS
Simon Wiciak, France, 22,875,000
Carl Shaw, United Kingdom, 17,400,000
Santiago Plante, Canada, 7,500,000
Ezequiel Waigel, Argentina, 6,150,000
Joao Sydenstricker, Brazil, 5,150,000
Andre Akkari, Brazil, PokerStars Ambassador, 4,500,000
Akkari, occupying his familiar position at the bottom of the counts, was the first player put at risk. However, he chopped a pot with Wiciak when they got it all in with the same hand, ace-jack.
Akkari’s countryman, Joao Sydenstricker, enjoyed the best of the early running, managing to find big hands at the perfect spots to win significant pots from the chip leaders. It allowed him to edge upwards and overtake Argentina’s Ezequiel Waigel in the counts. That would prove significant.
Waigel hadn’t managed to get anything going today, folding to a three-bet shove on the first hand he opened, and then sliding back below both Brazilians. When he then picked up A♥ 7♠ , he got all his chips in, but Sydenstricker was sitting with A♦ K♣ and that was enough to knock Waigel out.
Waigel took €302,500 for sixth, while Sydenstricker took off on a celebratory run across the stage, arms out wide, and into the embrace of his adoring Brazilian faithful. The final table had taken off.
AKKARI FINALLY BEATEN
While Sydenstricker was surging, Akkari was only just managing to hang on. They reached the end of the level and took a break, after which the Team Pro returned to a mere 10 big blinds — and he’d need to make a move very soon.
As it turned out, it was on the very first hand after the break that Akkari found his spot. Carl Shaw, with K♦ Q♥ opened from the cutoff. Sydenstricker called in the small blind with K♠ Q♣ and Akkari, with 4♥ 3♥ called too in the big blind, getting a great price.
The flop gave something for everyone. It came J♠ K♥ 9♥ . Sydenstricker checked and Akkari led out for about 40 percent of his stack. Shaw raised to 2 million and Sydenstricker called. Akkari now committed the last of his stack. Both opponents called.
Akkari needed to see a heart, but the J♣ turn and J♦ river spelled the end of the Brazilian great.
AMAZING SHORT-STACK PLAY
He was 32nd of 32 at the end of Day 5. He was 16th of 16 at the end of Day 6. And he was sixth of six at the end of Day 7. This was short-stack survival poker to match the very best and Akkari picked up €393,300 for fifth. It was the second time he had finished in that precise spot in Barcelona.
Akkari picked up his payout ticket, did some interviews and then joined the rail for his fellow Brazilian. He remains a true icon in Brazilian poker.
“It was tough, I didn’t get any cards,” Akkari told the PokerStars Live stream. “It was a cold deck all the time. I got nothing big. But it was good, it was fun. I got fifth, like I got in 2017. If it could keep like this, it would be nice. If I’m here next year, I’ll take fifth again.”
He added: “It was amazing. Here is Barcelona, it’s special. The tournaments are incredible, the venue is unbelievable, the city is great. And then this, all the Brazilians are here. It’s really nice to play these tournaments. Next year I’m going to try again.”
With Akkari now on the rail, literally, focus of the loudest support switched to Sydenstricker, and he gave his crowd plenty to cheer with a couple of very gutsy moves. It pushed him up into second place in the counts, above Wiciak. Wiciak was bluffed off two major hands, folding a low straight in one (versus Shaw’s two pair) and a pocket pair of nines in another (versus Sydenstricker’s ace high).
The other two pots of material significance during this phase both featured Santiago Plante. The first gave him hope that it could yet be his day. The second snuffed it out.
In the first, Wiciak opened with A♥ Q♥ under the gun and Plante moved in for 3.275 million from the small blind. Wiciak called immediately and held a big lead over Plante’s 10♠ Q♠ . However, the dealer put three spades out there and the flush doubled up Plante.
But not long later, Plante got all his chips in with Q♦ Q♣ and was up against Shaw’s Q♥ 9♦ . The flop was the dramatic 10♣ J♠ 10♦ , but it was the K♥ turn that really sealed things.
As Shaw celebrated, Plante looked on silent and sickened.
In between the two big hands featuring Plante, Shaw managed to take over at the top of the chip counts, even managing to get Wiciak to fold the low end of a straight with a big river bet. Shaw only had two pair, so his aggression paid off. Plante earned €511,300 for fourth.
Shaw was in the lead with 90 BBs. Sydenstricker sat second with 70 BBs. Wiciak had 49 BBs. Levels were cut to 45 minutes, but there was still a lot of play in this one.
In the time remaining before the next break, Sydenstricker’s surge continued. It coincided with a dip for Shaw, who now found his opponents calling his bluffs and, on one occasion, hitting trips with 8♠ 7♥ to win a huge pot.
Sydenstricker, of course, had that big hand and he took the chip lead.
It meant that when they first decided to look at the numbers, Sydenstricker’s bigger stack — 25.725m to Wiciak’s 23.575m and Shaw’s 14.275m — gave him the biggest chunk in the ICM calculation. They came to an arrangement quickly, with Sydenstricker guaranteeing €1,048,555, Wiciak claiming €1,025,400 and Shaw getting €901,070.
With $108,975 left for the winner — as well as the trophy — there was still plenty to play for.
“I’ve never been so close to something so big,” Sydenstricker told the PokerStars Live stream.
SHAW DEPARTS IN THIRD
With the deal now agreed, ICM was out of the window. This was now essentially a $100K winner-take-all shootout for these three, but there was enough in their stacks to mean it could go on for a while.
That, however, was not to be.
Shaw was the next man out. The Brit found K♣ Q♦ on the button and open raised. Wiciak had A♦ Q♥ in the small blind and put in a three-bet. Shaw four-bet shoved and Wiciak called. Sydenstricker had folded a king, so it was bleak for Shaw.
The dealer made it dramatic, however. She placed the case king on the flop. However, when the turn was the J♥ and the river the A♠ , Wiciak hit Broadway. Shaw banked €901,070 for third.
SIMON WICIAK’S HEADS UP DOMINANCE
Wiciak’s elimination of Shaw put him at the top of the counts again. He had 38.3 million to Sydenstricker’s 25.275 million. Sydenstricker in particular had shown a real willingness to get his chips in on bluffs at this final, but by now Wiciak will have known that thanks to the experienced players on his rail.
They danced this way and that until there was an enormous final pot. Sydenstricker shoved with Q♥ 10♣ on a board of 9♣ 5♦ 2♥ 4♠ 9♥ . Wiciak only had 6♣ 5♣ and it was basically for all his chips too.
But after a long time in the tank, Wiciak emerged with the correct hero call. It was an incredible call at precisely the right time. And it landed Wiciak the title.
“You have an amazing crew,” he told the Brazilians, many of whom came over to offer their congratulations.
SIMON WICIAK: AN EMOTIONAL INTERVIEW
In an interview with Joe Stapleton on the tournament stage, Wiciak revealed that the whole experience has been a roller-coaster for him.
“It’s everything at the same time,” Wiciak said. “I’m thinking about my parents, I’m thinking about this tournament. My life is changing with this money. All the three last days, the camera didn’t catch me, but I was crying some times, hiding in the halls. There is too much emotion. Even if I look in control, confident in my plays, there is still a big part, you are human.”
He added: “It’s the first time I play in a Main Event of the EPT and coming here, with all this crew behind me, everything together, the win, the crew, the moment, the work I have done for the last few months, the downswing I had. If you add everything together, you want to scream, you know.”
Well now he can scream it: he is an EPT champion.
Event 25 – €5,300 EPT Main Event
Dates: August 27-September 3, 2023
Entries: 2,120 (inc. 527 re-entries)
Prize pool: €10,282,000
MORE FROM EPT BARCELONA
EPT BARCELONA COVERAGE HUB
Everything you need in one place.
POKER NEWS LIVE UPDATES
Our live reporting partner will offer hand-by-hand updates from a number of tournaments across the series. We’ll link to their updates when the series begins.
EPT BARCELONA OFFICIAL SITE
The PokerStars Live official page, with everything you need to know about the tournament series in Barcelona.
POKERSTARS BLOG ON TWITTER
Follow us on Twitter.