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Across a dramatic week in Monte Carlo, Mike Watson won the EPT Main Event in stunning circumstances. At one point on Day 4, Watson needed a two-outer miracle on the river to survive. Two days later, he had created poker history, joining Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Mikalai Pobal as the only other double EPT Live Main Event Winner ever.
Heading into Day 4, play was at a critical stage. Last the day, and any player would have made it from 38 starting hopefuls to just 13 lucky survivors. That hope hung from a thread for Watson, but his moment of destiny was not the first to play out. Players such as Mark Teltscher (37th place for $21,800) and PokerStars Ambassador Ramon Colillas (32nd for the same amount) both crashed out, and while Andrew Hulme made plenty more, cashing for $44,000, his exit in 16th was painful. His pocket kings were ousted by the Norwegian player Joachim Haraldstad whose ace-king rivered an ace to triumph.
Russian player Artur Martirosian was the last to leave on the day, busting in 14th after losing with pocket fours to Jason Wheeler’s pocket nines, but by then, Watson had already proven North America’s ability to maintain a stranglehold on poker titles. All-in with pocket queens, Watson was flipping against ace-king, but having fallen behind on the flop and bricked the turn, needed a two-outer miracle to preserve his tournament life on the river. Cue pandemonium.
Despite that hand going his way, Watson still had work to do when the final nine convened around the same felt. Haraldstad led by some margin, with his stack of 7.2 million chips dwarfing Watson with 3.7 million and Wheeler with just 2.1m.
Jason Wheeler turned out to be the player who would miss out on the final day busting in seventh place to leave Watson as by far the most experienced player heading into the home stretch. It was Arnauld Enselme who became the first casualty of the last day, losing out when all-in with pocket tens to Watson’s pocket jacks. It was the perfect start to Watson’s quest – take out an opponent early and gain momentum. The Canadian would never lose it.
Minutes later, the field was down to four. Samy Boujmala saw fit to commit all his chips with king-queen but he picked the worst time to do so, dominated as he was by British star Leo Worthington-Leese’s ace-queen. The board didn’t let the last remaining hope from the United Kingdom down and sent Boujmala home with a score of $258,411.
Haraldstad had enjoyed a heroic run, but it all ended in fourth place after an extended period where none of the four players left lost their seats. The chip lead changed hands on multiple occasions only for Haraldstad to fall short and lose with king-six against Watson’s ten-eight suited. A flop of T-T-9 put the Canadian in command and a nine on the turn gave him an unassailable full house, sending Haraldstad home with a fine prize of $335,995.
Three-handed, it felt like Watson was the man to stop, but the direction of the trophy was not certain until the moment he won it. Leese was ousted swiftly, losing to German player Leonard Maue’s pocket jacks to send play heads-up. At that stage, Maue’s 15.4 million wasn’t far behind Watson’s stack of 17.5 million and that level playing field meant a deal was ripe to be struck.
Watson fell behind then doubled up again. Maue did the same as the blinds shallowed and the variance of shorter-stack poker played the poker more than the players. Watson had edged into a lead when his ten-nine of clubs flopped top pair on a deal of T-7-5. Maue was chasing an unlikely straight with three-four, but after the turn of an ace helped neither player, another seven on the river saw Maue bluff every remaining chip he had.
Watson has been around the block for years, and although it took five time banks and all his years of experience, he figured out the bluff and make the winning call to capture the title and his second EPT Main Event – an historic achievement amid the pantheon of poker greats he now shares the limelight with, having won the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event to claim his first EPT title.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment – winning two main events on the same tour is really hard,” Watson told reporters after the event. “I just feel really lucky that I was able to pull it off today.”
You can re-watch the final table action in full, with commentary from award-winning duo Joe ‘Stapes’ Stapleton and James Hartigan right here.
*after a heads-up deal was agreed between the two remaining players.
Photographs by Manuel Kovsca and Danny Maxwell were reproduced with the kind permission of PokerStars, the home of the 2023 European Poker Tour. Catch up on the action on the PokerStars Twitch channel now!
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