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Kevin Vandersmissen Finds Gold In Dublin

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Jun 01, 2012


Having been involved in the Irish Open for the past 10 years or so, whether it be as a poker fan, player, commentator, or presenter, I can honestly say that this year, despite the main event numbers dropping slightly, was the best year in a long time.

It’s one of the top poker festivals in terms of entertainment, fun, and action, and that has always been the case ever since the days it was the only Texas hold’em tournament in Europe. However, this year Paddy Power Poker really bumped it up a notch on the enjoyment scale, and indeed entertainment-wise with a live stream filled with analysis, interviews, up-to-the-minute reports, skits, fun, and commentary. With side events galore, nightly bands and entertainment, promotions-a-plenty, a packed and buzzing bar, a golf simulator, darts competitions, amazing poker-themed art by Barry “Jazz” Finnegan, shopping and so much more, the Irish Open has become a popular destination for those looking for a good long weekend, nevermind a good game. It is also safe to say the Beer Pong World Championship has quickly become a mandatory part of the festival, drawing yet another wild mob to the rail, and producing a nail-biting final.

All Eyes On The Prize

The Irish Open may be known now for all these things, but the most important factor, and where the prestige and honour lie, is the €3,200 + €300 main event. Of the 502 players who turned out for the centrepiece were five former World Series of Poker main event champions; Phil Hellmuth, Dan Harrington, Carlos Mortensen, Noel Furlong, and Jonathan Duhamel, plenty of WSOP bracelet winners, European Poker Tour heroes and finalists, and a mix of up-and-coming names and well-loved poker stars such as Daniel Negreanu, Jake Cody, Victor Ramdin, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliot, Michael Tureniec, Teddy Sherringham, Freddy Deeb, Roberto Romanello, and November Niner Eoghan O’Dea. This skillful field created a €1,606,400 prize pool including the first-place prize of €420,000 — an amount which would surely make a difference to many a poker player’s future; take a look at all Niall Smyth got up to after taking down the main event and Sole Survivor last year (his final report can be found in this issue). Unfortunately, the defending champion and his 2011 heads-up opponent Surinder Sunar couldn’t make it past the first day this time around, nor could Harrington, Tureniec, or Duhamel. However with such a pro-laden field, plenty of well-known names went speeding along into day 2. Of the overnight top 10 were EPT champ Arnaud Mattern and online/live phenom Kevin Vandersmissen. Samuel Chartier ended day 1 as chip leader with 136,800 and he would stay among the top stacks in the leader board throughout the entire weekend. He would be accompanied by the Belgian pro Vandersmissen for all but one of the days.

Winners Can Sometimes Be Loesers

Day 2 saw 277 players rounded down to 49 and with everyone in the money, the next few hours would be crucial in determining whose pockets would be the heaviest leaving Dublin’s Burlington Hotel. With a firm eye on the top end of the €1.6 million prize pool, Manig Loeser sprung to the fore by the end of play and accumulated 846,000 in chips going into the penultimate day. Right behind him was the dangerous Andrew Badecker with 809,500; in 2011 the American pro had two huge scores, $388,657 for winning the Borgata Fall Poker Open $2,500 Championship event and, most importantly, a highly sought after World Series Of Poker bracelet and $369,371 for taking down a $1,500 no-Limit hold’em shootout event. Loeser and Badecker looked set to be in it for the long haul as the two were miles ahead of the next player in line, Byron Kaverman who sat in third position on the leader board with 422,000 in chips heading into day 3. At this stage, of all the key names who were part of the high-quality field, Freddy Deeb (164,500 in chips), Andy Black (135,500), Phil Hellmuth (134,500), and James Dempsey (275,000), were some of the well-known poker faces still alive and worth keeping an eye on.

Fight For The Final

Day 3 saw an array of big names hitting the rail from the 49 who started the day. Freddy Deeb and Julian Gardner could go no further, while surprisingly the previously massively stacked Manig Loeser gave away all his chips, as did Phil Hellmuth. Unfortunate bubble boy Jim O’Callaghan hit the rail when his A-9 was beaten by David Dean and his A-10, receiving €17,850 for 10th place, and finally, after three days of battles between some of the biggest names in poker, the 2012 Irish Open found its final table of nine. Leading the pack was Ian Simpson, one of two Sole Survivors ( qualifiers) fighting for the €100,000 package on top of at least €23,000 in main event prize money. Experiencing the deepest run of his poker career, Simpson had just over 2 million in chips, and was followed very closely by fellow Brit David “Dixie” Dean. The other player set to spar with Simpson to be the last qualifier was Philip Magennis from County Down in Northern Ireland. Included in the final nine was Irishman Andy Black who was on the hunt for the prestigious title, as was European Poker Tour Snowfest runner-up Kevin Vandersmissen, and Samuel Chartier who has more than $1.6 million in lifetime winnings. The fine finalists prepared to be sequestered the following day with no access to any form of communication as the live stream aired all the action with hole cards.

Here were the final table chip counts:

Seat 1: Ian Simpson 2,007,000
Seat 2: David “Dixie” Dean 1,986,000
Seat 3: Thomas Beer 1,319,000
Seat 4: Kevin Vandersmissen 492,000
Seat 5: Andrew Black 808,000
Seat 6: Philip Magennis 632,000
Seat 7: Samuel Chartier 582,000
Seat 8: Steve Watts (1,519,000)
Seat 9: Jordan Lewis (685,000)

And here is a look at a recap of the final day’s play:

Kevin Vandersmissen won the 2012 Irish Open main event, taking home the coveted trophy and a literally huge cheque for €420,000. He beat Thomas Beer heads up after just 5 levels at the final table, surpassing his previous live cash record ($260,000 for his runner-up spot at EPT Snowfest in 2011).

Those who made the final table had already battled through three tough days, dodged the money bubble (54 places in total were paid) and survived the gruelling fight for a place in day 4.

Ian Simpson’s emotional wringer of a final level actually left him in pole position going into the final table. With 11 players remaining, he’d been involved in a huge hand with Tuomo Maki, a Finnish freeroll qualifier playing his first live event. His turned straight’s holding on the river versus flopped trips was the difference between losing his place at the final and the €100,000 Sole Survivor challenge to fellow qualifier Philip Magennis and starting the last day with the chip lead.

With just over two million chips, he and David Dean began the day comfortably in front of most of the opposition, while at the other end of the spectrum Samuel Chartier and Kevin Vandersmissen were sat with around half a million each. It was neither of those, however, gracing the rail with his presence first — instead one of the biggest coolers of the tournament busted both Philip Magennis and Andy Black in the same hand. Thomas Beer held aces at the same time as small blind Black woke up with ASpade Suit KSpade Suit and big blind Magennis found QSpade Suit QDiamond Suit. In one fell swoop, a 2.1 million chip pot handed Beer a monster stack and left Magennis and Black collecting cash for their ninth- and eighth-place finishes (€23,000 and €32,700 respectively).

Finally, a player wearing an item of clothing describing them as the ‘Sole Survivor’ made sense, as Ian Simpson finished the job of outlasting 152 other similarly-dressed qualifiers to win a €100,000 package.

Around this time, Kevin Vandersmissen got his stack in with his tournament on the line. From the start of this post, it’s clear how that particular showdown panned out — he doubled up through Dean and never dropped below the rough million chip mark again. There was a hiatus before the next elimination, that of Samuel Chartier, who’d picked his shoving spots well until running A-J into Ian Simpson’s A-K preflop to bust in seventh spot (€44,500).

Not all dominating hands held up on this final, however. Jordan Lewis busted in unfortunate fashion after three-betting all in against Dixie Dean with AClub Suit KDiamond Suit. Dean had experienced a few setbacks in the previous level, but contributing factors or no, it was his lucky break that KHeart Suit JDiamond Suit beat big slick by flopping a Jack. Lewis had never held a skyscraper stack but had put few feet wrong on the final and was understandably disappointed at his elimination in sixth (€59,000).

Although Ian Simpson lost a few chips doubling Vandersmissen for the second time, he got them all back by busting Steve Watts in fifth place (€78,000). This elimination took the form of a giant race, after Simpson three-bet all in holding pocket Sevens over Watts’ 128k initial raise. The 7Heart Suit 7Spade Suit held firm and Watts returned to his cheering section comfortably ensconced in the bar.

Fourhanded, it was too close to call between the stacks of Simpson, Beer and Vandersmissen, with Dean holding about half as many chips. Beer slowly regained momentum he’d lost in the last level while constantly being re-raised preflop, and took on Simpson for his whole stack when a pair versus pair situation brought the opportunity. Unfortunately for Simpson, his better pair (tens versus eights) was only the better hand preflop; Beer hit a set and sent Simpson to be congratulated by his emotional girlfriend on his fourth place finish, his €107,500 main event cash and his €100,000 Sole Survivor cheque.

Dixie Dean, meanwhile, had dropped into the danger zone chip-wise, and although he got a slight reprieve doubling up with ASpade Suit JHeart Suit all in preflop against Vandersmissen’s AHeart Suit 6Diamond Suit, he soon ran another button shove into the monstrous pocket aces of Vandersmissen in the big blind. Dean, remembered most vividly for his day 3 wild celebrations at bursting the final table bubble by knocking out Jim O’Callaghan, played a quieter final (if unconventionally-played) and saved his delight for the presentation of his third place cheque for €158,000.

Heads up went Vandersmissen’s way almost without exception. The cards helped (at one point he flopped the nut straight, at others he picked up A-K and aces) and when they didn’t he pulled off a big bluff moving in on the river with 5-high. In the final hand, Beer finally found AClub Suit KHeart Suit on the button, raised and was called by Vandersmissen with 9Diamond Suit 7Club Suit. The flop brought Vandersmissen top pair, and a series of bets (starting with a Vandersmissen check-raise and Beer click-back, ending with the former shoving and the latter committing the rest of his stack) brought the last hands on their backs. The turn and river rolled out 8Diamond Suit 9Heart Suit, handing the €225,000 runner-up spot to a not-too-gutted looking Thomas Beer, and the trophy, €420,000 first prize and the 2012 Irish Open title to Belgian gaming phenomenon Kevin Vandersmissen. ♠

Belgian Pro Locks Up Title With Flair

Card Player caught up with the 2012 Irish Open main event champion Kevin Vandersmissen after his victory to find out his thoughts and get to know him better…

Rebecca McAdam: How does it feel to be the champion?

Kevin Vandersmissen: I’m feeling pretty good. It’s a big honour to win the oldest tournament in Europe to be honest.

RM: Was it an easy ride or did you struggle along the way?

KV: It was actually pretty hard, the first four levels I dropped to 11,000 real fast. In the next few hours I made a really sick hero call with sixes on a 9-9-7-J-Q board against a Sole Survivor, which got me to 23k and I just went on from there — In four hours I went from 9,500 to 110,000. But I ran pretty good hitting a set against two guys, and getting aces and stuff.

RM: What about the final table?.

KV: I didn’t really expect to go top three, just unless I doubled up, you still have to double up, you still have to win a 70-30, in my case win a 40-60, so you still have to double up at least once, and even when I doubled up I would have had like 900k but I was fortunate to pick up the blinds, reshove steal sometimes, like for 600k where I could double up to 1.2 million with K-J against A-8. I kind of expected to keep putting pressure on the table then but first a big play has to work and it didn’t really work with K-J on the ace-high flop [with Simpson] and I couldn’t really do much. So from then on I had to play tight just because of the other short stacks on my left; Simpson and Dixie were never folding, always three-betting, especially Simpson. So I couldn’t really do much there. Then I doubled with A-J versus A-10, which was pretty important and from there I could splash around a little bit and do my thing.

RM: How did you find the heads up? Did you feel totally in control?

KV: Yeah, well in so much as this was his first live tournament. He said to me he wasn’t nervous because I asked him after it. He was probably not nervous but he was definitely not comfortable sitting there, you could just see it on his face. I decided to start off real aggressive, like three-bet a lot of big blinds, and I had A-K and aces which obviously helps. Also when I showed him the 4-5 bluff…

RM: That was pretty amazing [see the final recap].

KV: [Laughs] Yeah but the river was perfect. I was always giving up the river but the perfect card came to bluff-shove over him. It’s also his first tournament and always with people when it’s their first live tournament they don’t want to make a stupid call. So my fold equity goes up higher actually just because it’s televised because he has to show and everyone will see it.

I saw he was not comfortable playing, so by showing 5-4 off, for him it probably felt like I was owning him or something and he wouldn’t play his A-game if I showed. So that’s why I showed my 5-4 to get him out of his comfort zone.

RM: He would want to get his own back then and could possibly make a stupid play…

KV: Yeah, well he didn’t make a stupid play. The A-K was borderline, I kind of expected him to shove there. I obviously raised him expecting him to shove there, I was a little bit surprised he clicked back. I wasn’t so comfortable with my 9-7 there anymore but once you decide to raise a flop there you just have to go with your hand and when he has a better hand, it’s just too bad I guess.

RM: The way they did the final on the live stream this year; taking you away from everyone, taking your phones off you, showing the cards live… how did you find that all?

KV: It was definitely different. We laughed a good amount of time and when there’s a crowd around I just think everything is much more serious. Just playing as nine people on our own, the atmosphere was much more fun; we made stupid jokes or whatever, so that was definitely fun. It also helped me to be more focused on the game without any distraction from anyone, so it definitely worked to my advantage I think.

RM: What are you going to do with your winnings now?

KV: I’m just going to do the same like I did before; some part will go to my bankroll, some part will go to my bank account where I don’t take any money from, so I’m just going to spend it on real estate, houses, or something.

RM: Are you going to play more tournaments now, or does it not affect that?

KV: Just the same. I’m going to play the same schedule I was going to play. Just going to keep doing what I planned to do but this definitely helps because if I brick tournaments for like six months I would probably have to calm down a little bit, but now if I brick tournaments for six months I can just play anyway.

RM: It’s like a cushion…

KV: Yeah, it’s a buffer.

RM: Tell me how you got into poker in the beginning.

KV: It’s kind of a story like everybody’s. I had been gaming competitively before that in Belgium (E-sports). I was always a semi-nerd, always playing games pretty much. I also worked two years in construction and there was a lot of rain and cold weather, so we had a vacation and I went to play some freerolls so I could improve my game (from home games with friends). Then I found a site with $50 for free and I just went on from there and got very lucky in the beginning. If I lost the first $50 there I would probably not have played poker again.

RM: Obviously you’re investing your money in other things so poker isn’t the only thing you have going for you, but how are you finding the whole experience traveling the circuit and being a professional poker player?

KV: I’ve always wanted to be the best at something. I tried at gaming but because of my work i didn’t have enough time to train for it and it’s pretty hard to get really good in there, you need connections, good players to play with so it probably would have never worked anyway. Then I got into poker and got pretty lucky in the beginning, and just went on from there. It’s definitely a dream come true; every day that I wake up I’m living a dream, I can just do what I want whenever I want. I just love life and I hope it lasts a while.

RM: Back to the Irish Open, do you like the tournament in general?

KV: Yeah, definitely. I played it last year and I told my friends, “I’m never going to miss the Irish Open again” because it was really a good tournament, really, really good value. I also like Dublin.

RM: How did you find the field this year because even though it was smaller, it was filled with dangerous players.

KV: My impression was it was definitely tougher than last year for some reason. You have like 150 qualifiers and there are a lot of recreational players who are not as experienced as me and other pros so we can put pressure on those people and exploit them.

The last two tables, there was Adam Levy and I had a really good online player on my left, and this table was probably one of the toughest tables I’ve been at in live tournaments, almost no one was really bad on it.

RM: It’s such a historical event, and now your picture has been added to the wall…

KV: Yeah, it’s so cool. I also final tabled the Master Classics and together with the Irish Open, they are the two oldest tournaments in Europe and I final tabled them both and won one, so that’s actually pretty awesome when you think about it.

RM: You’ve proved yourself…

KV: I had really good results and then the last few months I had a little bit of brick time, I didn’t have good results, and some people were saying, “Ah, he ran too good” but I always believed in myself.

RM: Well, now you can say ‘I’m an Irish Open champion”.

KV: [Laughs] I won the oldest tournament in Europe!

RM: And the second oldest in the world.

KV: Wow, sweet! ♠