Key Hand at European Poker Championships
I’m rolling it back to the year 2000, when I went to Vienna to compete in the European Poker Championships — or Poker EM. The Casino Austria-Baden is a beautiful setting for the Poker EM. The marble interior is nothing short of amazing. The prestige associated with the Poker EM is second only to the World Series of Poker. Winning the three-day-long Poker EM would be a nice feather in anyone’s cap. By the way, I finished ninth in the Poker EM in Vienna in October 1999, and blew it down the stretch.
In 2000 at the Poker EM, I vowed that, if I was in position to win it again, not to blow it again! If I was unlucky down the stretch, then so be it. But, please oh please, just don’t let me give away my chance to win another title!
I was enormously relieved when I did make it to the final table, even though I was now fourth place in chips. I had the low card three of the first five hands at the final table, but I refused to let the fact that I had gone from $33,000 to about $23,000 by “low carding” bother me.
When we hit a 10-minute break with four of us left, I didn’t even know what first place paid. The first hand after we broke a player, and went to three-handed play, the following hand came up between Christoph Haller and me. The antes were $2,000 per man, and the low card brought it in for $4,000, $10,000-$20,000 limit. I was the low card with a four up and a 4-2 in the hole. So I threw in the mandatory $4,000 as the low card. Christoph completed the bet to $10,000 total with a K up and A-J in the hole, and the other player folded a 9.
While trying to “read” Christoph, I hesitated for a moment. I asked myself, “Is my pair of fours the best hand right now?” At this moment, I couldn’t “read” Christoph, so I just called the $6,000 raise. I caught a 10, and Christoph caught a 6. Christoph was first to act, and he bet $10,000. Suddenly, as Christoph bet $10,000, it came to me that my pair of fours was the best hand. I don’t know exactly how it came to me, but I guess that I picked something up from the way Christoph bet his hand or his facial expressions.
My ability to read other people well has allowed me to win many no limit Hold ’em titles in the past. A good read is especially deadly in no limit Hold ’em. With this new read, I raised it up $10,000 more, or $20,000 total to go. Christoph called the raise. When he just called my $10,000 raise, I felt more strongly than ever that my pair of fours was the best hand.
I caught another 10, for a board of 4-10-10 and hole cards of 4-2, and made two pair (10s and 4s). Christoph caught a J, for a board of K-6-J and hole cards of A-J, and made a pair of jacks. I bet $20,000, and Christoph called. I didn’t like this. I just wanted to win the pot right then and there, when I paired 10s and bet $20,000! At this point, I was pretty sure that Christoph had a pair of jacks, or possibly, a pair of kings. It also occurred to me that he might have an open-ended straight draw (10-J-Q-K), with a Q-10 as hole cards.
Next card, I caught a 9, for (4-2) 4, 10, 10, 9, and Christoph caught an 8, for (A-J) K, 6, J, 8. I bet his last $20,000, and he called the bet. Christoph was now all-in, and effectively, so was I (with less than $10,000 left). When someone is all-in, in the Poker EM, they ask you to expose all of your cards, and then they deal the last card face-up. Looking at Christoph’s hole cards, I could see that I had the best hand, but now I needed it to hold up.
In poker slang, “Here comes the skill card.” I missed my full house (10 or 4) — which would have shut him out, but fortunately for me, Christoph missed as well. Thus I won the pot, and busted Christoph. I still remember the roar from the crowd surrounding the final table. My emotions tried to run away with me, but I told myself, “It’s not over yet, let everyone else celebrate. You stay stone still and finish this thing.”
The next hand, I won $30,000 from my lone opponent. Again, the screaming was crazy, and included the “sweet sounding” cheering from my two sisters and my brother-in-law, all of whom clearly had been enjoying the free alcohol that night — in abundance. Again, I struggled with my emotions trying to run away with me, but I remained focused and ready to win this thing. The next hand, I won a $200,000 pot and the Poker EM. I finally let my emotions run away with me!
Starting from when four players remained, it took merely four hands. Boom, it was over. It ended shockingly quickly. I was feeling incredible, as I hugged my family, posed for literally hundreds of pictures, and then drank champagne from my new trophy! I finally found out what first place paid, when they handed me a silver platter with 1.8 million Austrian Shillings on it (about $110,000)! How great to have some family there, to celebrate with me at the end. How great to be lucky enough to win the Poker EM. How great to finally “finish” a Seven-card Stud tournament!