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In A League of Its Own - Premier League IV

by Anthony Leaver |  Published: May 01, 2010


“Anthony, we need you to dash down to the fancy dress shop just off the strip — Roland de Wolfe forgot his Darth Vader mask.” As requests go, it was an unusual one, but the Premier League isn’t a regular tournament — especially on its debut in Las Vegas.

Luke Schwartz and Roland De Wolfe at Premier League IVThe three previous tournaments took place in London but with worldwide growth in popularity among both players and poker fans, Vegas was the logical step according to those in charge. The M Resort Spa Casino was the chosen venue, “miles” from the strip according to Vegas veterans, but by God, it’s a venue worth the trip. Starting off in the poker room with the PartyPoker online qualifier battle and then the Team Party clash —with the winner of each taking the final two seats in the main event — the action soon moved onto the Ravello Bar, where players and crew alike were holed up for seven days. Well, almost the whole time, apart from when de Wolfe felt he needed to brighten up the final heat with his homage to Star Wars, and with a little Kermit the Frog thrown in for good measure.

While we know the winners and losers from the 12 who took part, the real value in the Premier League is in its growth as a major tournament, and when it hits Channel 4, likely to be around September, the stock of a certain Luke Schwartz is sure to rise.

Any sporting tournament needs a spark, the Premier League is no exception to that rule, and thanks to Schwartz, we didn’t have to wait long. The opening heat had just crept past the first level when “_FullFlush1_” set his stall out for the rest of the week. Vanessa Rousso limped with 6h 5h before Yevgeniy Timoshenko raised to 16,000 with Kc Jd. Schwartz reraised to 36,000 holding 6s 4c, Rousso folded, and Timoshenko paused to ask Luke how much he had, seemingly sensing weakness in the process and reraising to 82,000. Schwartz wasted no time in piling up his 274,000 stack and pushing it over the line. Timoshenko folded with a smirk, before Luke showed the six high, swivelling in his chair with a cheeky smile as he said, “It’s a pretty big hand innit,” to a stunned table.

“Negreanu said after that he was thinking about going over the top and that he knew what was going on — but he didn’t though,” said Schwartz. “It’s all well and good saying ‘I knew you were bluffing’ and then folding — that doesn’t make you a shark. To be fair to him though, he did say I was good TV and that I should have been in the NBC Heads-Up, so he’s alright.”

Luke preceded to contact Matchroom daily after the event to find out when the hand was going to be released on the Internet. “All I’m saying is that if Ivey, Antonius, or Durrrr did it, they’d be all over ‘em on the forums saying they’re the best in the world and all that, so when I do this and about five more of those moves they’ll know who is the best in the league,” he proclaimed.

Schwartz may have finished as runner-up to David Benyamine in the end after the Frenchman overcame him heads up in the final to pocket the title and $400,000, but it is hard to argue against the fact the Londoner is the story of the tournament. As Eddie Hearn approached the table with Benyamine’s trophy, Schwartz tutted at him and said, “As if you are bringing the trophy out when I’m here, that’s so tilty.”

“Luke was unbelievable,” said Hearn. “Lots of people felt I took a risk inviting him, but you always need a wild card in there. Tom Dwan was my wild card last year and look how he has grown. Luke Schwartz is only going one way and when this show comes out his profile is going to go through the roof.

“Luke’s reaction to the trophy says it all for me. It has always been my aim to make this an event that the pros really want to win. Of course, the World Series of Poker main event will always be the golden chalice, but outside of that — certainly for those that have tasted it — the Premier League is in my opinion one of the biggest trophies around.”

Phil Hellmuth at Premier League IVAlongside young guns like Schwartz and Timoshenko, the old guard was well represented with Phil Hellmuth and Tony G participating for the fourth time, and although they provided some fine moments — Tony G bringing a bike for people to ride out on, which Hellmuth did with some aplomb, after getting riled by defending champion J.C. Tran in the second heat — ultimately though, the pair failed to make the final table, so could the retirement card which Roland de Wolfe presented Phil with in the final heat be portentous?

“Things didn’t work out this time around for Tony and Phil, even though Phil gave it a great run at the end and only missed out on a play-off spot because of Daniel winning,” said Hearn. “They are huge personalities and make a great TV show but if we want to keep the League credible, then we have to seriously consider everyone’s performance both in the League and on the poker circuit throughout the year.”

Tom Dwan and Annette Obrestad are two players who missed out having played in the third edition and Hearn said after the event that omitting big names was inevitable as the Premier League grows. “These guys are good friends are mine and I hope we can get them back in the League at some point in the future,” said Hearn. “They are special players but the competition is always fierce and next season we expect it to be even tougher to get a spot.

“Moving it to Vegas helped us on the credibility front. Taking it to a casino and going into the game’s backyard proved a point that this event is for real. It was also a way of ensuring we got the players we wanted. Daniel Negreanu was a great addition and I think moving to Vegas helped us secure the likes of these guys.

Daniel Negreanu at Premier League IV“I put in a lot of work to get Daniel and Vanessa. They are very smart people so we talked a lot about the structure and format and importantly just how much global exposure being in the event would bring them. PokerStars has a history of not allowing their players to play in events they don’t sponsor so I was delighted that they agreed to let Daniel and Vanessa play. I think that when they have such great ambassadors for their brand it’s important that they showcase them to a global audience.”

The format altered somewhat this time around, with Team Party’s pros battling it out for a place with Ian Frazer seeing off stable mates including Mike Sexton to make his third Premier League. The final spot was won by Italian online qualifier Giovanni Safina who secured a trip to Vegas by taking down a $100 satellite on Party’s Italian site before seeing off 15 other qualifiers to mix it with the big boys. PartyPoker said that more than 10,000 tried to qualify for the Premier League, and after Safina’s remarkable success — turning $100 into over $100,000 — they are sure to receive plenty of interest when the fifth edition of the event rolls around. Starting stacks were tripled, tables were eighthanded, and the action was electric, so the question is, what’s next for the Premier League?

“Whenever we plan an event, we always hope it lives up to expectations,” said Hearn. “This Premier League blew the doors off. It is by far and away the biggest thing in televised poker and we have plans to keep on growing. I think the players we selected this year were close on perfect and while there will always be new players in the mix, the blend of personalities is integral to the show’s success. Players are always asking me to up the buy-in, so don’t be surprised to see the events’ fifth consecutive buy-in increase.”

David Benyamine Wins Premier League IVBenyamine’s triumph should be celebrated for both poker and personal reasons. Those present saw a man take on 12 opponents, 11 poker players and a stinking case of the flu, but his is a softly, softly approach at the table, akin to that of Tran. Viewers won’t blame the Frenchman for keeping it zipped though, as with Schwartz, de Wolfe, Hellmuth, Tony G, and Negreanu chipping away at each other at every opportunity, alongside the occasionally wacky Phil Laak who replaced Doyle Brunson at the eleventh hour to great success, fighting to get a word in edgeways was a waste of time, as viewers will see.

The post-event congregation at the bar argued long into the night about the best and worst of the tournament — favourite moments were tossed around, some involved poker, some were just classic moments of drama or comedy from an A-List cast. It’s for that reason that Hearn believes the Premier League is the most important event in televised poker and it will be tough to argue when it graces our screens. Spade Suit