After coming to the final table with a monstrous chip lead, Arseniy Karmatskiy completed the deal in becoming the first champion of the reborn European Poker Tour and winning the 2018 EPT Sochi Main Event in Russia this afternoon (U. S. time).
Karmatskiy was a force on the felt through Day 5, dominating his opposition to the tune of his 7.83 million chip stack. The closest competitor to him was Viktor Shegai, who had to feel good about his 4.755 million stack until he looked at Karmatskiy’s. The remainder of the final table – Vahe Martirosyan (3.111 million), Sergey Kerzhakov (2.92 million), Ernest Shakaryan (2.235 million), Mikhail Kovalyuk (2.005 million) and Andrey Kaygorodsev (800,000) – were all looking for the best route to becoming viable in the tournament. Of the seven men who made it through the carnage of the 861-entry field, all were from Russia except Martirosyan, who carried the banner for Armenia.
Instead of feeling out the table and contentedly shuffle chips around, the seven men squared off like Roman gladiators looking to be the “last man standing.” Karmatskiy lost his lead on the very first hand when he doubled up Kovalyuk, his Big Slick unable to catch up against Kovalyuk’s pocket tens on a 2-J-Q-2-10 board (although the river gave Karmatskiy a Broadway straight, it also gave Kovalyuk a boat). The situation became more dire for Karmatskiy on the next hand, when he tried to bluff Kovalyuk off top pair/top kicker on a Q-3-9 flop. Karmatskiy let his hand go (K-J) when his 1.1 million chip bet only brought a three-bet all-in from Kovalyuk that he couldn’t call.
Now Kovalyuk was in the lead, but the action wasn’t done yet. The short stacked Kaygorodsev could only push and hope with his pocket fives on only the third hand of play, but he got Martirosyan to put in a call before Karmatskiy bet him out with a three bet. Karmatskiy had pocket Jacks for battle this time, thoroughly dominating Kovalyuk as the 7-6-10-2-6 board missed to send Kovalyuk home in seventh place.
This only seemed to embolden Karmatskiy (as if he needed help) as he popped the action again on the next hand. Kerzhakov squeezed his cards to see Big Slick and, now the short stack in the game, decided it was time to make his stand. Karmatskiy nearly beat him into the pot, tabling pocket Kings that only got stronger on a K-9-7 flop. When a Queen appeared on the turn, Kerzhakov was drawing dead and out of the tournament in sixth place as Karmatskiy seized the lead once again.
And this was all in the first half hour of play!
The pace of play would slow down as Karmatskiy and Kovalyuk continued to pick at each other. The duo’s personal battle would allow Shegai to come from the pack and take over the lead. Just as quickly as he did, however, he would turn about and give it back to Kovalyuk. But it was a very close final table as, at one point, a mere seven big bets (120K was the big blind at this time) separated the players’ stacks.
The battle between Karmatskiy and Kovalyuk was bound to end with one ending the other’s tournament and that’s exactly what would happen. After Martirosyan opened the action from the cutoff, Karmatskiy fired out a three bet off the small blind while holding pocket Kings. Kovalyuk had to be glowing inside when, in the big blind, he looked down and found pocket Aces in his fingers. After some Hollywooding, Kovalyuk put up an apparently begrudged four bet that was enough to get rid of Martirosyan. Karmatskiy, however, was going nowhere as he moved all in. Kovalyuk made the call, putting his tournament life on the line, while Karmatskiy would be on life support should Kovalyuk emerge victorious.
An all-heart 5-K-4 flop brought something for both players, moving Karmatskiy into the lead with his flopped set but also giving a flush draw for Kovalyuk (who held the A♥). A black nine on the turn did nothing to change the situation, but the flash of red on the river had all holding their breath. It was a 9♦, however, making an unnecessary boat for Karmatskiy and sending Kovalyuk out of the tournament in fifth place.
Now sitting on 9.6 million chips, Karmatskiy was the prohibitive favorite to win. Although he had one misstep against Shegai that saw Shegai bluff him off a hand, Karmatskiy played dominant poker, powering back into the lead in doubling through Shegai. At the start of Level 32, Karmatskiy held more than twice as many chips as his three competitors – Shegai, Martirosyan and Shakaryan – combined. After he eliminated Martirosyan in fourth place and Shakaryan in third, Karmatskiy entered heads up play against Shegai with nearly a 5:1 lead.
While Shegai would chip up to narrow the gap by dinner, Karmatskiy would never give Shegai a real glimpse at possibly winning the tournament. On the second hand after the completion of the dinner break, Karmatskiy pushed all in with an off-suit Q-10 and Shegai, feeling frisky, decided to call with a J-8. While the 7-10-6 flop hit Karmatskiy, it opened some doors for Shegai with a gut shot straight draw. Another seven on the turn left Shegai looking for an improving Jack (for a better two pair) or a nine (for the straight), but the six on the river failed to help Shegai as he was eliminated in second place.
1. Arseniy Karmatskiy, $476,731* (plus a PokerStars Players Championship Platinum Pass, $30,000)
2. Viktor Shegai, $289,190
3. Ernest Shakaryan, $204,109
4. Vahe Martirosyan, $153,081
5. Mikhail Kovalyuk, $120,898
6. Sergey Kerzhakov, $90,633
7. Andrey Kaygorodsev, $63,715
(* – U. S. dollars converted from Russian rubles)
With the European Poker Tour now reborn, the next stop for the crème of the European tournament poker scene will be the French Riviera and the Monte Carlo Casino for the EPT Monte Carlo. Beginning on April 24, the EPT will see if it can rekindle what was once its season finale and its richest event. For now, however, Arseniy Karmatskiy can revel in the fact that he is the first champion of the newly reborn European Poker Tour.