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Viennese Whirl

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Jan 01, 2011


The European Poker Tour made its triumphant return to Vienna, Austria at the end of October, doing what it likes to do best — break records and let everyone know about it. The prize pool of almost €3 million made it the richest poker tournament ever held in Austria, and in total 587 players filled the new venue, the Kursalon Palace, to the chandeliers.
German economics student Michael Eiler lifted the trophy and claimed the €700,000 for first place after five long days (see report in this issue), but if that was the icing on the cake, its base was a mixture of unusually tenacious chip leaders, a “triple crown” bid, and a light dusting of spicy controversy.
Austria has previously held three EPT tournaments in Baden, and Julian Thew won a similar amount of money to this year’s top prize for his victory there in 2007, but the fields in the past were half as large as that of 2010.
Vienna itself was last a stop on the Tour back in 2005, at the Concord Card Casino, with a buy-in of €2,000. Pascal Perrault (who made an appearance, if not a deep run in this year’s event) won the top prize of €184,500 long before the first triple crown (for wins at the EPT, WPT, and WSOP) was awarded to Gavin Griffin.
This year Daniel Negreanu was vying to enter the record books as the third triple crown winner (Roland de Wolfe being the second), and for a large portion of the event had the chip lead and a commanding presence on the televised table.
It’s rare for any day’s starting chip leader to remain as front runner until the final hand of the day, let alone the tournament, and even more so for the top five players to remain mostly unchanged (except in order amongst themselves). After the survivors from the starting flights convened, Konstantinos Nanos, Martin Hruby, Michael Eiler and Andreas Wiese joined Daniel Negreanu in the top positions they were to maintain throughout day four, and were accompanied to the final table by Matthias Lotze, Bruno Launais, and Luca Cainelli. Negreanu started the final with more than 5 million in chips, over 1.4 million more than second place Nanos, and it looked for a few levels as if the relentlessly aggressive Eiler would be his main challenger.
One hand in particular, however, was to change the dynamic of the final table and demonstrate how the turn of one card can change a tournament in a second. In one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune ever seen at an EPT final table, short stack Martin Hruby built his stack back to the point where, when he turned a straight against Negreanu’s top two pair and Luca Cainelli’s aces, he could, in one swoop, take the chip lead and effectively end his fellow Pokerstars Team Pro member’s chances of taking the title. Negreanu finished fourth and although €175,000 was a decent return, it was not quite enough to dislodge Phil Ivey from his comfortable resting place at the top of the all-time tournament money list.
Negreanu did not mention these added pressures at the end of his deep run in Vienna, but he did have an opinion on the rather long time it took for Hruby to make the call (with the nuts) in that huge threehanded pot. With both players all in behind him, there could have been no doubt that Hruby had the best hand and was only ever going to make one decision. Negreanu (and some observers) took issue with the 10-15 seconds he allowed to elapse before committing his stack, saying that taking time at this point counted as a slow-roll and was therefore, although not against the rules, a poor show of etiquette. This particular feature of live poker has the ability like no other to tilt even seasoned players, who know better than to let others’ behaviour negatively affect their game. People occasionally do it on purpose to embarrass or otherwise annoy their opponents (although usually it is a sign of relative inexperience).
The player’s intention is what matters when talking about slow-rolling; the very hint of doing this in order to purposefully wind up an opponent is nowadays enough to get you instantly demonised on poker forums (and they have a startlingly long memory). Even ‘nit-rolling’ (taking longer than deemed necessary by an experienced player to make what appears an obligatory call) gets more heat than it probably deserves.
Hruby’s eventual runner-up position to Eiler, and the €470,000 which accompanied it, was his biggest live result to date, and he may have been reacting to the situation, wanting to double-check that yes, he had the nuts in an enormous, tournament-deciding pot. It is unlikely that the quiet Hruby had purposefully tried to annoy anyone, but such is the place reserved for slow-rollers that failing to snap-call in a situation like this (even pausing to consider draws, the money jumps, and the all-in shorter stack) is by some seen as an insult.
Hruby, unfazed, had previously taken his chances well as the short-stack and, when Nanos was eliminated in third place, found himself heads-up with a two-to-one chip lead against the 20-year-old Eiler. While Hruby’s online record is peppered with big final tables, Eiler was fresh from winning the PokerStars Sunday Million, and impressed the commentators and rail alike. With the blinds rising, one double-through and two crucial pots were all it took to reverse their positions and leave Eiler with the commanding lead as they entered their final preflop race (Eiler’s A-T suited flopping the nut flush versus Hruby’s pocket deuces).
Eiler joins a number of German players taking the EPT by storm. In the last two years Sebastian Ruthenberg, Sandra Naujoks, and Moritz Kranich have all won titles, and interest in the game has risen rapidly. Jan Heitmann, for several years at the forefront of German poker, is now famous enough to have had someone come up to him in the entrance lobby to the Kursalon with a picture to sign, while Eiler, perhaps at the start of a professional career, heads back to university with nearly $1 million and might be next in line to be signing autographs. ♠

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.