Bonavena Becomes First Italian EPT Champion

Bonavena EPT Prague winner
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By Jennifer Newell The PokerStars.com EPT continues to set records and a new standard for poker tournaments around the world. At its stop in Prague in the Czech Republic in mid-December, despite the looming holidays and worldwide economic troubles, not to mention the great number of players in Las Vegas for the Five Diamond Poker Classic, the PokerStars European Poker Tour drew 570 players, the most of any tournament in any season thus far with the sole exception of the EPT Grand Finale. Out of two starting days, Day 1A attracted 272 players to the tournament area at the Prague Hilton Hotel. Among the most recognizable of the bunch were Gus Hansen, Luca Pagano, Casey Kastle, Rolf Slotboom, Soren Kongsgaard, Johnny Lodden, Ludovic Lacay, past EPT winners Michael Martin and Sebastian Ruthenberg, and 2007 EPT Prague champion Arnaud Mattern. But many of them did not survive, as tournaments go, including Mattern who ran his flush draw with A-J of spades into the Q-T of his opponent on a 9-5-3-T board. Mattern did not find his flush or an ace, and he would not see a repeat title. As for the 88 finishers, Lacay held the top spot with 94,200, followed by Dan Pedersen and Constantin Cirstea in second and third, respectively. Another 298 players came to play on Day 1B to bring the total number of players in the event to 570. Notables included Alex Kravchenko, Dario Minieri, Katja Thater, Davidi Kitai, Nenad Medic, Peter Eastgate, Nicolas Levi, Juha Helppi, and former EPT champs like Will Fry. The closest any of them came to a top position on the leaderboard at the end of the day was Minieri in seventh. The rest of the 89 players were led by Christer Johansson and his 108,100 chips, followed by Manuel Bevand and Alessio Isaia. The remaining 177 players gathered together for Day 2 and played rather quickly to the money bubble. Eventually, it was Erich Kollmann who pushed the last of his chips in with A-Q but found that Rafit Palevic had pocket kings, the latter of which held up. Kollmann became the bubble boy and left in 57th place with, well, memories. The rest of the day consisted of several more eliminations, including Juha Helppi in 48th place, Dario Minieri in 47th place, and Johnny Lodden in 43rd place. When Yury Kerzhapkin left in 33rd, play was called for the night with Fredrik Nygard in the chip lead, Ludovic Lacay in second, and Palevic in third. It would be Day 3 that would determine the final table. The action began with the action stopping for Petr Samcenko in 32nd place, and other notable bust-outs as the day progressed were Brian Jensen in 26th and Ludovic Lacay in 22nd. When the field reached ten players, it was Jonathan Duhamel who was ousted by Nasr El Nasr in tenth place to make room for the final nine at one table. In search of the final table bubble player, it was former EPT champ Sebastian Ruthenberg at risk. Though he had doubled through the aforementioned Duhamel, his stack was still short and all-in with kh qh against the ac kd of Massimo Di Cicco. The board bricked with 8d 3c 4h jd 9d, and Ruthenberg accepted a ninth place finish and the €42,800 that came with it. The final eight were set to return the next day with three Italians in the running for the first EPT title for that country, and the chip counts were as follows: Salvatore Bonavena 1,402,000 Alexiou Konstantinos 1,382,000 Francesco Cirianni 807,000 Fredrik Nygard 666,000 Massimo Di Cicco 429,000 Nasr El Nasr 376,000 Raul Mestre 313,000 Andrew Alan Chen 309,000 Action got underway on December 13th for the final table players, and Mestre was the first to take a risk with his short stack, moving all-in preflop with ac 7c. Nygard was the caller with 9d 9h, and the board couldn’t have been worse for Mestre when it came 8s jh 3h ah qh. The runner-runner flush gave Nygard the win and Raul Mestre a €71,800 prize for an eighth place finish. Nasr was the next player up for an adventure, though when he moved all-in preflop with kd jd, it was Chen who called with pocket tens. Chen had just doubled through Konstantinos and Boneva and had some incredible luck with cards. Nothing changed in the hand against Nasr, as the board came td 4d 2c 7s 8h to cinch it for Chen. Nasr El Nasr took to the rail in seventh place with €99,500. Nygard was having a tough time, especially when Di Cicco doubled through him just after the dinner break. Nygard pushed the remainder of his chips all-in with ah 8s, and it was Chen who not surprisingly called with qs 2h. The dealer, who was likely not in cahoots with Chen, gave them 3s 2s LKd td 4d. Fredrik Nygard took a sixth place finish and the corresponding €130,000 prize money. The Italian trio was still in the game until Cirianni took his 486,000 in pre-flop with ah 8h. Chen called with ad qh, this time the actual better hand going to the flop. The board came 4d 5s jc 6d 9c, and Francesco Cirianni was eliminated in fifth place with €166,000. Konstantinos went into four-handed play with the chip lead, but lost some during other players’ double-ups. He finally headed into an all-in situation with Bonavena, who had Konstantinos covered. Konstantinos was apprehensive about his pocket threes, especially after seeing the kh qs of Bonavena. After the cards came 2h 2d 6d 7c ks, Alexiou Konstantinos was forced to leave in fourth place with €199,000. Chen happened to lose a great deal of his momentum as the table thinned and finally moved all-in with kc qd against the ac 6h of Bonavena. The board ran out 3s 7h 5h 4h 8d, and Bonavena turned the straight to send Andrew Chen out in third place with €257,000 for the effort. Heads-up play began with two Italians left, clearing up the question of whether an Italian player would capture his first EPT title. With that out of the way and a very excited crowd waiting in the wings, it simply had to be decided which player it would be of the following: Salvatore Bonavena 4,123,000 Massimo Di Cicco 1,574,000 Di Cicco made a grand effort as the chip underdog, first by doubling through with ts 2c against the qc th of his opponent when the ten and the deuce hit the flop. Di Cicco then chipped up and took the lead from Bonavena, though the latter was able to take it back. The final hand came when Di Cicco and Bonavena went to see a 8h 3h 2h flop. Di Cicco made his all-in move with ad 4s - the high card and wheel draw. But Bonavena showed 8d 7d for top pair. The turn and river cards were, respectively, 6c and js, and Massimo Di Cicco was eliminated in second place with €445,000. After a very long final table and hard-fought battle, Salvatore Bonavena came out on top to become the first Italian EPT champion in the history of the tour. With an Italian flag draped over his shoulders, he graciously accepted the trophy and the €774,000 prize money. (Thanks to PokerNews and PokerStars for detailed hand and chip count information from live updates.)