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2008 European Poker Tour Grand Final Makes History

Glen Chorny Wins Largest European Poker Prize Ever - More Than $3.1 Million

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: May 21, 2008


Monte Carlo has been a place that's synonymous with gambling long before a game of poker was ever dealt in Las Vegas, so it is only fitting that it was the setting for the richest poker-tournament prize in not only the history of Europe, but also anywhere in the world outside of Sin City. The Monte Carlo Sporting Club at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Casino Resort was the elegant location for this record-breaking tournament, while the famous Grand Casino stood guard, perched on a nearby hilltop.

The questions on everyone's mind when arriving in Monaco involved numbers. How many players would register? How many countries would they hail from? And how many American poker players would make the trip across the Atlantic to play in Europe's premier event? Last year, the European Poker Tour Grand Final had its grand coming-out party as one of the elite poker tournaments in the world. Gavin Griffin won more than €1.8 million when he topped 705 other players. It was one of the crowning achievements in European poker history, and the EPT hoped to build on that success in 2008.

The size of tournament fields has fallen in the United States as of late, and not even the marquee events of the World Series of Poker (main event, 2006 -- 8,773; main event, 2007 -- 6,358) and the World Poker Tour (WPT Championship, 2007 -- 639; WPT Championship, 2008 -- 545) have been immune to declining field sizes. The EPT Grand Final has been the one shining light of consistent growth in the poker industry, growing initially from 211 to 298 entrants before making the jump to elite status when 706 players arrived in Monte Carlo in 2007. Thanks to three new events (PokerStars Caribbean Adventure -- 1,136 players, Prague -- 555 players, and San Remo -- 701 players), season four of the EPT had already produced growth of 31 percent over season three, heading into the 2008 finale. Just how much more growth would be seen in Monte Carlo would come to light by the end of day 1B.

These numbers bring up a larger question: Has the American poker boom given way to a European poker boom?

Days 1A and 1B: A Large Number of Stars, an even Larger Number of Players

As players streamed onto the tournament floor during the first two days of play, the buzz was electric, as a small army of international media was present to chronicle the action, and fans swarmed the tournament room (and oftentimes the tournament floor). European stars like Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, and Team PokerStars Pros Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier and Dario Minieri garnered a lion's share of the international attention, as did a few players from the other side of the Atlantic. The tables where Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein resided were easily identified by multiple layers of railbirds. Poker players aside, the person in the room who created the most buzz during either day-one flight of the tournament was retired tennis professional, and current Team PokerStars Pro, Boris Becker. Becker was surrounded by cameras and autograph seekers wherever he went, and in the end, a bodyguard or two were needed to give him enough breathing room to play poker.

Despite all of the chaos in the room, the players continued to stream in and swell the size of the field until a new kind of excitement began near the end of day 1B: How many players had entered, and how much would they be playing for? At the start of day two, the numbers that had eagerly been waited for were announced. Representing 48 different countries, 842 players (19 percent growth over 2007) had entered the 2008 Grand Final, ensuring a €2.2 million first-place prize. America topped the list with 138 representatives, followed by France with 105, and the United Kingdom with 68. Another interesting number to focus on in the field was 245, which was the number of PokerStars online qualifiers who were in the field. No matter how you divided the subgroups of players represented in the field, the final turnout of 842 also ensured that the total prize money during season four of the EPT was more than €38 million, more than double the prize money of season three.

Days 2-4: Various Speeds of Play

Despite the large number of players who began the tournament, only 382 returned when the entire field united on day two. The European players were living up to their tournament poker need for speed -- led by a group of aggressive, young Scandinavian players. The atmosphere of aggression took over the tournament floor, and by the end of day two, only 124 players remained. The fast pace of play played right into the hands of the young Scandinavians, which was reinforced by the fact that four Norwegians led the field at the end of play. Oyvind Riisem led the way with 441,400, followed closely by Johnny Lodden (380,300), Borge Dypvik (380,300), and Andreas Hagen (276,800). Also near the top after day two was Team PokerStars Pro and 2005 World Champion Joe Hachem (255,300).

The money bubble was on every player's mind when day three began, but that did not affect the speed of play early in the day. The tournament raced along like a Formula One racecar in high gear, until it hit the poker world's version of a hairpin turn -- the money bubble. Since the tournament had played down so quickly ahead of the pace of the blinds and antes thus far, even an average stack was playing deep-stack poker (50 big blinds). This was another historic situation for the 2008 Grand Final, as it took more than three hours (the longest bubble in EPT history) for the 81st-place bubble boy (Surinder Sunar) to bust out of the tournament.

A Scandinavian star was the first player to profit in the event, when Trond Erik Eidsvig busted out in 80th place (€17,000) just after the field returned from dinner. While one Scandinavian took his leave, another still held court at the top of the leader board, as Lodden (623,000) continued to lead the way. He was joined at the top, and surpassed during the chaos of in-the-money eliminations, by one of the most famous American players remaining, Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari (1,198,000). Thirty-nine players remained at the end of day three, and two of them made history. Team PokerStars Pro Luca Pagano and his father, Claudio, became the first father and son to cash in the same EPT event.

The order of business for day four was a tall one, as the field was scheduled to shrink from 39 to a final table of eight. In the end, this proved to be too much to ask for, especially when the field collectively tightened up for a final-table run. Play was halted in the wee hours of the morning, but not before Hachem was eliminated on the final hand of the night in 11th place. Other notable players who made a deep run in the tournament included Freddy Deeb (30th), Team PokerStars Pro Raymond Rahme (27th), Pagano Sr. (22nd), American online specialist Amit Makhija (20th), and Norwegian chip leaders Lodden (17th) and Riisem (15th).

Day 5: Final Table Plus Two

Ten players returned on the fifth and final day, and two of them had to be eliminated before the actual final table of eight could commence. The two men knocked out were fellow Dutchmen Stig Top Rasmussen (10th), and Henrik Gwinner (9th). After Gwinner took his leave, the final eight were moved to the main stage, and all of the pageantry of the final table began. Here is a look at the stacks when play began among the final eight:

The first major action at the final table came when Esfandiari pushed all of his chips into the middle for the second time. His A 8 was dominated against Pagano, who held the A J. The board came K Q 10 5 3, and Esfandiari was eliminated in eighth place, taking home €168,000. Valeriy Ilikyan then took a hit when Maxime Villemure doubled up through him by making trip aces, and was soon thereafter eliminated in seventh place by Michael Martin when his A-Q did not improve against Martin's A-K. Ilikyan received €253,000 for his seventh-place finish.

Pagano then experienced a sharp rise followed by a sharp fall. He won a huge pot against Glen Chorny to increase his stack to 3,297,000, but just 10 hands later, Villemure doubled up through Pagano, leaving him on life-support. Denes Kalo saw his first major action when he called down Pagano with pocket queens. Pagano held A-J, but the board delivered no help, and the final Team PokerStars Pro in the tournament was eliminated. Pagano did make a little bit of personal history by breaking his own EPT record for most cashes. The €337,000 he took home for sixth place represents the 10th time he has walked away with prize money at an EPT event. Martin quickly followed Pagano to the rail just eight hands later when he called all in against Chorny with top pair on a flop of 10-7-6. Chorny had pocket jacks, though, and Martin was sent home in fifth place with €421,000.

When the action got down to fourhanded, there was no clear-cut chip leader, and everyone was playing deep-stack poker. Players refused to budge without the best of cards in their hands, and a lot of walks and raise-and-take-it moves governed preflop play -- while flops were a seldom occurrence. The favorite picked by many players in the crowd at this point was 2007 Card Player Online Player of the Year Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron. But, ironically, he was the first of the four to be sent home. Baron sent all of his chips into the middle to do battle with A-Q, but Chorny woke up with pocket aces and Baron was sent to the rail in fourth place, earning €589,000.

The stacks were just as deep threehanded, and the number of hands played skyrocketed past 250. The lateness of the hour began to wear on the final three players, but even more so on Villemure, who had come down with a fever during the Grand Final. He had to excuse himself from the final table multiple times due to illness, but he hung tough throughout the 12-hour-plus affair. Chorny managed to accomplish what the virus could not when he defeated Villemure in hand No. 272 at the final table. The board read A 10 4 J 9 when Villemure bet 520,000, and Chorny raised all in. Villemure called all in and flipped over the Q 8 for a queen-high straight, but Chorny held the K Qfor a better straight. Villemure left the table in third place, and took home €715,000 for his gutsy performance.

The fact that Chorny now held nearly 90 percent of the chips in play put the writing on the wall, and Kalo could not avoid his second runner-up finish of season four on the EPT (the EPT stop in Baden represented the other). The final hand saw Chorny lead from start to finish with the A 5 against Kalo's K Q. The board was dealt A Q 6 6 10, and Chorny had won the Grand Final title. This was some measure of vindication after he narrowly missed a final-table appearance at the EPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (13th) back in January. Kalo received €1,179,000 for second place, while Chorny received the record-breaking grand prize of €2,020,000.

Glen Chorny: A Chat With the Champion
By Ryan Lucchesi

Glen Chorny, a 22-year-old business student from Ontario, Canada, who qualified for the Grand Final via the PokerStars "Steps" qualifier, won the biggest poker tournament ever held in Europe. Prior to this event, Chorny had finished 13th in the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure ($80,000), and followed that up by winning a $5,000 pot-limit Omaha event ($80,208) at the World Poker Open.

Card Player caught up with him after his historic win.

Ryan Lucchesi: How much confidence does this huge win give you as you head into the rest of 2008?

Glen Chorny: I really, really want to win the Player of the Year award now that I'm in contention. I know that I have to make a lot of progress, obviously, before I even get close to that, but I think I'm playing the best poker I've ever played before.

RL: Did your deep finish in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier in season four of the European Poker Tour really fire you up to make a final table?

GC: When I went deep in the PCA, I definitely thought I was going to make the final table, but I didn't. I won a tournament in Tunica ($5,000 pot-limit Omaha), and that's what motivated me to win. Those tournaments were the starting factor.

RL: How did you get your start in poker?

GC: I probably got the typical start. I liked to play home games, but I really had no idea of how to play. I mean, these were like $20 sit-and-gos with no chips, and no play. I started playing online after I saw [Chris] Moneymaker, and then I got totally sucked on the game. After I was confident with my game, I jumped into $2-$4, and $5-$10, and built a decent bankroll.

RL: When did you start playing $10,000 buy-in events?

GC: My first $10,000 event was last May; it was the World Poker Tour Mandalay Bay event. I picked up so many hands, but ran into a lot of coolers; it was a very frustrating first event to play. I really didn't have much success in $10,000 buy-in events until the PCA.

RL: What was your biggest hand at the final table?

GC: Definitely, getting aces against [Isaac] "westmenloAA" [Baron]. That was pretty much the biggest hand. Once he was out of the way, it was much easier to have the victory in sight, because I had accumulated some chips. I had about 6 million after I knocked him out, and that was about half the chips in play. I really opened up my game after that.

RL: Was Isaac your biggest headache as you headed to the final table?

GC: I was kind of interested in how Antonio [Esfandiari] was going to play, but he had a short stack, so the tournament kind of played itself out for him. I had played with Luca [Pagano] already, so I had a good idea of how he was playing. I didn't know much about Isaac's game, just that he defends a lot and plays very solidly and very well, in general.

RL: What is your plan for the rest of the year? Are you going to jump onto the tournament trail full time?

GC: Yeah, you're going to see me at pretty much every event -- all of the big WPT events and all of the big EPT events, if I can make it. I don't intend to wear myself out, but at the same time, I intend to play a lot of poker and treat it just like a job.

Evolution of the PokerStars.Com European Poker Tour
By Brendan Murray

Just like Archimedes 2,000 years ago, John Duthie, founder of the European Poker Tour, had his moment of clarity in the bath. From that point, it took the acclaimed TV drama director just six months to get the project -- Europe's first transnational poker tour -- off the ground.

In 2005, he outlined the genesis of the tour to Card Player Europe magazine. "The World Poker Tour had been hugely successful, and it became clear that its organizers wanted to expand into Europe. They already had made one or two attempts, but when they proved unsuccessful, I decided to jump in. I had an edge over them from the start: I knew the European market better than they did. I had a great relationship with the Vic in London, and I got them on board quickly. Then, once I'd signed PokerStars as the sponsor, and Eurosport agreed to broadcast the shows, other European venues started to realize that something special was happening, and they followed suit."

And great oaks from little acorns grow. The EPT has expanded from its humble €1,000 buy-in event in Barcelona with 229 players to the €10,000 buy-in event in Monte Carlo. which in season three attracted 706 players and created Europe's largest-ever prize pool of €6,636,400.

This incredible growth didn't happen overnight, nor was it without pain for organizers and players alike.

At the Dawn of Time

Season one, event one of the European Poker Tour was held in Gran Casino, Barcelona, and it saw 229 players pony up €1,000. Swede Alexander Stevic won the event, and unwittingly started a trend of Scandinavian domination in it.

The season drew to a close with the Grand Final in Monte Carlo, which boasted a staggering (in context) €10,000 buy-in and attracted 221 players. Rob Hollink won the €635,000 first prize. In between the first and last events, Brits John Shipley and Ram Vaswani won in London and Dublin. Noah Boeken triumphed in Copenhagen, Brandon Schaefer took down Deauville, and Pascal Perrault was victorious in Vienna.

Growing Pains

For season two, Duthie decided to increase the minimum buy-in to €4,000. However, with hopes for season two soaring sky-high, organisers and players alike were brought back to earth with a bump as stop one on the Tour, Barcelona, descended into chaos. The season-one event had 227 players, and organizers were hoping for a similar turnout in season two, even with the increased buy-in. Instead, 325 players entered the tourney, and several players were unable to secure seats. Duthie was philosophical about the lessons learned from Barcelona. "It was this that led us to completely rethink the structures, so, in effect, something good has come out of it."

Household Names

And so the scene was set for a rebirth of sorts. After Frenchman Jan Boubli's triumph in Barcelona (€416,000), Mark Teltscher took down the London event (€408,400) and would perform very prominently in a season-four event. Patrik Antonius won in Baden (€218,990), and then, to round out the season, then 19-year-old University of Georgia freshman Jeff Williams won the Grand Final (€900,000).

Meanwhile, the trend in players trying to qualify on was growing, to such an extent that they were making up about one-third of the field. That trend continues to this day.

New Horizons

The buy-in for all EPT events was increased again in the 2005-2006 season, from €4,000 to €5,000. Dortmund, Germany, and Warsaw, Poland, were added to the schedule, and Deauville in France was dropped.

Season three saw sellout tournaments in Barcelona, London, Copenhagen, Dortmund, and Warsaw. The season's showpiece event -- the €10,000 buy-in EPT Grand Final -- attracted a record field of 706 players and generated a prize pool of €6.6 million, making it the richest tournament ever held outside of Las Vegas at the time. The first prize of €1.85 million was won by PokerStars qualifier and World Series of Poker bracelet winner Gavin Griffin.

The total prize pool of season three of the EPT was €26.6 million, with more than 3,400 participants. This cast of thousands was distilled to just eight winners: Bjorn-Erik Glenne (Barcelona), Vicky Coren (London), Thang Duc Nguyen (Baden), Roland De Wolfe (Dublin), Magnus Petersson (Copenhagen), Andreas Hoivold (Dortmund), Peter Jepsen (Warsaw), and Gavin Griffin (Monte Carlo).

Growing Old Gracefully

Season four of the EPT was the most ambitious yet, and prior to the cards winging their way through the air for the traditional first event in Barcelona, the organizers announced a new, if unorthodox, stop on the tour, the Bahamas PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). Prague in the Czech Republic was also added to the list, and in Barcelona, Duthie announced the addition of San Remo, Italy, as a destination.

Barcelona almost saw another first for the Tour when friends and roommates Sander Lyloff from Denmark and Mark Teltscher met heads up. If Teltscher won, he'd be the first player to win two EPT titles, but it wasn't to be. Lyloff, a former chess champion, won the €1,170,700 first prize when he hit a set of jacks against Teltscher's pair of kings.

Joe Mouawad won more than £600,000 in London, and Julian Thew won the Baden event and more than €670,000.

The €8,000 buy-in in Dublin attracted 221 players, and a thrilling final table ensued with a record six PokerStars qualifiers and prodigy Annette Obrestad getting heads up with a 5-1 chip lead. It was to be American qualifier Reuben Peters who triumphed, though, clawing his way back from the huge deficit to win more than €500,000.

Backgammon champion Arnaud Mattern won more than €700,000 in Prague, which attracted 555 players, while the new "European" destination in the Caribbean would prove massively popular.

Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, who had come agonizingly close to victory in Copenhagen in season three, topped a field of 1,136 players in the biggest televised poker tournament other than the WSOP. ElkY banked $2 million for his victory. On this occasion, more than half the field qualified on

Dortmund, Germany, saw the youngest-ever EPT winner when 18-year-old Canadian Mike McDonald took €933,600 back home across the Atlantic, and another qualifier, Tim Vance from the U.S., took down Copenhagen for a first prize of €834,964. Michael Schulze of Germany won €609,782 in Warsaw, Poland, and another 21-year-old Internet qualifier, James Mercier, pocketed €869,000 in San Remo, Italy.

The season-four Grand Final offered the largest first-place prize in European poker history, and an amazing €8,420,000 prize pool. In total, season four attracted 5,902 players, of which 1,682 qualified for their seats on Players from 75 different nations battled it out for the €38,248,788 in total prize pools.

Over four seasons, 33 events, and around a dozen countries, the European Poker Tour has been an innovative force in European poker. It dared to go where no one had gone before, it learned from its mistakes (as pioneers must do in order to prosper), and it continues to demand the highest standards from itself in terms of organization, while expecting the highest standards of poker from its players.