The World Series of Poker expanded beyond the borders of the United States in October 2007, with 888poker coming on board in 2015 as the main sponsor in Europe. The Casino at the Empire in London, England saw history made over the course of 12 days. Not the least of which saw something that was truly impossible in all previous iterations - a 19-year-old bracelet winner, in the first-ever WSOPE Main Event!
Over the next eight years, the WSOPE Main Event brought about several memorable battles. Poker luminaries and young upstarts alike put together performances that won’t soon be forgotten.
After a year’s hiatus when the WSOP went to the Asia-Pacific, the 2015 WSOPE kicked off October 8 at Spielbank Berlin - the fourth different city and third country to host this prestigious series.
In Part 2, we look at heads-up matches for the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 WSOPE Main Events that attracted some true legends of the game, including the Poker Brat himself, Phil Hellmuth.
2011: Elio Fox vs Chris Moorman
The WSOPE moved to the other side of the English Channel for 2011 and onto the sunny shores of Cannes, France. Le Croisette Casino Barrière played host to seven bracelet events, including the first-ever ‘Mixed Max’ (later dubbed Split) format tournament ever held at the WSOP.
A record 593 players showed up for a shot at the Main Event, which went from £10,000 to €10,000 euros with the change in venue. The final table size was reduced from nine to eight, which left Patrik Antonius on the rail - excluded on the bubble in ninth. An absolute murderer’s row of young stalwarts made up this final table, including three top Brit players - Chris Moorman, Jake Cody and Max Silver.
Moorman, among the most prolific online tournament players of all time, would eventually get heads-up with American Elio Fox - but that was no easy task.
“I knew I had to play my A-game to be in with a shot of winning,” recalled Moorman. “Every player on the final table had great results, and there really were no weak spots. I knew I had to take some risks and hoped my timing and intuitive reads would be right on the day.”
Fox and Moorman were quite familiar with one another from many confrontations in online tournaments, as well as all the hands they played leading up to and including the final table. However, this confrontation would provide a significantly different set of circumstances.
“I knew he would be a very tough opponent heads up, especially as he plays high stakes Sit & Go’s. He probably had a lot more heads up experience than me. We had a lot of experience in tournaments together, but had never played heads up before. I knew that he would be looking to take a lot of spots and put me to tough decisions.”
With blinds of 50,000/100,000, Fox raised to 200,000 on the button and Moorman called. The [Jc] [6c] [5c] flop saw Moorman check and Fox bet 250,000.
Moorman raised to 625,000 and Fox called.
“I remember thinking my hand was a bit too weak to check-call, so I decided to semi-bluff and check-raise to win the pot right there [on the turn], with some outs if I was called. I planned on barrelling off on brick runouts on the turn and river.”
The [As] turn led Moorman to bet 950,000 and Fox eventually called. The [Tc] river led both players to check, with Moorman’s [Ah] [6s] falling to Fox and his rivered flush with [Jh] [2c].
“Once I made two pair on the turn I obviously felt really good about my hand and was just praying for no club on the river,” said Moorman. “I feel like his turn call was borderline, but he probably has enough equity to continue against my overall range. That big hand was the turning point in the match.”
Moorman would soon run [Ah] [7s] into [Ad] [Ts] in a preflop all in, and Fox held to claim the bracelet and €1,400,000.
Not to be held down, Moorman eventually won a WSOP bracelet – this time it was in Vegas in the 2017 Event #27: $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em 6-Handed.
2012: Phil Hellmuth vs Sergii Baranov
WSOPE returned to Cannes for a second straight year with seven bracelets on the line, along with a special €50,000 High Roller event.
The Main Event had 420 players, and both the French locals and the young stars of the game made a good showing of things. Scott Seiver and Timothy Adams narrowly missed the final table, but Jason Mercier and Joseph Cheong both made the final eight. Phil Hellmuth, as he often tends to, stole most of the headlines.
Fresh off his 12th career bracelet, (as of 9/2017, he has 14), Hellmuth picked off a big bluff with [Js] [Jd] four-handed to take the chip lead and never really looked back. He’d eventually play Sergii Baranov, whom he battled with through much of the final table, heads-up.
Before the tournament even began, Hellmuth was approached at the table by a man he’d never spoken to or even seen before in his life. Somehow, this player accurately predicted just how the tournament would play out in its final stages.
“I had never seen Sergei before that tourney,” said Hellmuth. “It was amazing - he told me, before the event began, that I would win and that he would finish second.”
After taking the lead, Hellmuth took small chunk after small chunk from both of his opponents as he steadily distanced himself for good. He put Stephane Albertini on life support in a hand where he limped on the button; Albertini raised to 235,000 from the small blind and Hellmuth called.
The flop was [5h] [4c] [4s], Albertini checked, Hellmuth bet 350,000 and Albertini raised to 775,000. Hellmuth definitively called, the turn was the [2d] and Albertini checked. Hellmuth shoved, and Albertini thought it over for almost four minutes before letting it go. Hellmuth showed [Js] [Jh] to take the pot and climb to 8.5 million of the 12.6 million total chips in play.
He’d get lucky with [7c] [7s] against a severely short-stacked Albertini’s [Jd] [Jh], and then he dispatched the prescient Baranov with [Ah] [Td] to [As] [4c].
“Well, I like to avoid getting too proud of accomplishments like these,” said Hellmuth. “I have a long ways to go and many more bracelets to win, but only if I stay sharp, focused, and pay close attention - too much ego kills all of that. I was psyched that I won a bracelet outside of Hold'em in 2012, then it felt amazing to win the WSOPE Main Event because it may have been the best I have ever played No Limit Hold'em - and often times that level is not rewarded!”
Hellmuth hesitates to hold any particular achievement up as the pinnacle of his career, but acknowledges that winning both the WSOP and WSOPE Main Events is something singular and impressive in the scope of the history of the tournament poker world.
“It’s nice, but I don’t dwell on it at all,” said Hellmuth. “I need to end my career with a stack of accomplishments and, maybe, when I’m 80 years old, I can look back and feel really cool.”
Although Phil is still on the hunt for bracelet #15 post the 2017 WSOP, he made an epic comeback in PNIA’s King of the Hill against Daniel Cates to take that title in August 2017.
2013: Adrian Mateos vs Fabrice Soulier
The WSOPE stayed in France for one final year, but the action moved from Cannes to the suburbs of Paris. Eight bracelet events took place at the Casino Barrière in Enghien-les-Bains, France, including the first-ever WSOPE Ladies’ Event, which was won by Jackie Glazier.
There were 375 hopefuls with dreams of a bracelet, a Main Event title and €1,000,000. The final eight included the likes of Shannon Shorr, Benny Spindler, Ravi Raghavan and Dominik Nitsche. But they’d all be on the sidelines to watch as 19-year-old Adrian Mateos battled French poker legend Fabrice Soulier for the Main Event Crown.
“I was on the final table of a big event, so I knew that they are really good players,” said Mateos. “So, I respect my opponents, but I was never afraid of anyone.
Once Mateos knocked out Nitsche, a three-time WSOP bracelet winner in his own right, he had every reason to believe he’d follow through and take down the tournament title. It didn’t come nearly as easily as he would have hoped, though.
“After I eliminated Dominik, I felt that I would win the tournament,” said Mateos, “But [Fabrice] Soulier made me suffer a lot in a long heads-up.”.
It was indeed a long heads-up battle, with 159 of the 294 total hands at the final table played two-handed. Mateos had a commanding lead after knocking out Nitsche in third, but Soulier quickly took some big pots from Mateos and overtook him for the lead. Mateos switched gears and went with more of a small-ball approach and slowly chipped away at Soulier’s stack.
Things turned back in Mateos’ favour on Hand 201, when he reclaimed the lead for good. Soulier raised to 130,000 on the button and Mateos called. The flop fell [Ah] [Js] [2s], Mateos checked, Soulier bet 135,000 and Mateos called. Mateos checked again on the [8h] turn and called again as Soulier bet 280,000. Mateos check-called once more as Soulier fired out a 730,000 bet, and Mateos claimed the pot by tabling [As] [Td]. Their match would carry on for more than 90 more hands, with Mateos putting the screws to Soulier with two four-bet shoves late in the game.
Despite one double, Soulier was still in precarious shape at best. On the final hand, Soulier raised to 130,000 and Mateos three-bet to 310,000. The [Jh] [9s] [4c] flop saw Mateos lead out for 275,000 and Soulier shove for 2,270,000. After a few minutes, Mateos elected to call with [As] [Kc].
“On the final hand, I made the call because I think that Soulier had too many draws in his range,” said Mateos, “And I had good pot odds.”
As it stood, Soulier had [9d] [8d], though - but the [Ks] on the turn put Mateos back on top. The [5d] river was the final card of the tournament and Mateos joined Annette Obrestad as the only 19-year-old WSOP bracelet winners in history.
It also served as a launching pad for the live tournament career of Mateos. He’d eventually go on to capture the EPT Grand Final Main Event title as well, giving him two wins worth over €1,000,000 very early on in what looks to be a very promising career.
“That tournament gave me more confidence in my game, and a bigger bankroll to fight with the best players in the world,” said Mateos. “It was a dream come true.”
2015: Kevin MacPhee vs David Lopez
WSOPE upped sticks and moved to Berlin, Germany after a year’s hiatus. The WSOP pushed the boat out with this tournament series adding 2 more events to the schedule for a total of 10.
As the series was being held in Germany, a €550 buy-in Oktoberfest was added to the schedule – along with an Eight-Handed Pot-Limit Omaha. There were 313 runners in the €10,450 buy-in Main Event that boasted an eventual prize pool of €3,067,400.
The six-handed final table included the likes of Andrew Lichtenberg, but it was Canadian Pro, Kevin MacPhee that held the reigns from the outset. He held a commanding lead with 5,015,000 chips, and Andrew "luckychewy" Lichtenberger followed in second place with 2,135,000.
After David Lopez eliminated JC Alvarado, we headed to heads-up play with Lopez on 2,855,000 and MacPhee sitting on 6,535,000 in chips.
Things looked on the up-and-up early for David Lopez when he opened to 120,000 on the button, and Kevin MacPhee called. Both players check through the turn on a board [Qd] [Jh] [7c] [8s] [9h]. On the river, MacPhee bet 125,000 but not to be bluffed, Lopez called. MacPhee showed air - [Kc] [3h] and Lopez tabled [10c] [10d] to win the pot with tens up.
However, it was probably this mistrust that cost Lopez later on in the contest.
Kevin raised to 140,000, David called and, then checked the [Kc] [Ks] [8s] flop. MacPhee bet 110,000 and Lopez check-raised to 285,000. MacPhee called and we headed to the [Qc] on the turn.
Lopez bet 495,000 and MacPhee snap-called. The [Jc] fell on the river to complete the board, and Lopez fired 1,070,000. MacPhee asked how many chips Lopez had before calling. Lopez turns over [10c] [4c] for a backdoor flush while MacPhee scooped in an enormous pot with [Kd] [8d for the flopped full house.
Two hands later it was all over with MacPhee putting Lopez all-in and cracking his pocket Kings with A-4 of diamonds. MacPhee walked away with €883,000 and Lopez took home €475,000 for his efforts.
What will the 888poker-sponsored 2017 WSOPE in Rozvadov, Czech Republic have in store?
You’ll just have to wait and see.