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Poker Festivals Abound in the United States and Europe

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Wynn Millions and EPT draw huge numbers

There have been plenty of big poker festivals in America over the past year, but this past fortnight was the first time that we saw massive tournaments being held on both sides of the pond.

In Vegas, the Wynn Millions festival was a virtual sellout. The “Mystery Bounty” format was a big success once again and the $10,000 Main Event managed to hit its aggressive $10m guarantee. Tony Sinishtaj won the latter for $1,655,952, capping off two weeks of exciting poker action.

A record field of 3,155 in the Eureka Main was followed by 1,190 entries in the EPT Main Event.

Meanwhile, in Prague, the European Poker Tour (EPT) made its long-anticipated return after being postponed in December. A record field of 3,155 in the Eureka Main was followed by 1,190 entries in the EPT Main Event. The former was won by PokerStars ambassador, rapper, and recent World Series of Poker Main Event finalist Alejandro “Papo MC” Lococo for €417,820 ($458,018) while the latter is down to 30 players at the time of writing.

Sinishtaj wins Wynn Millions Main Event

The 2022 Wynn Millions Festival was a huge success. Eddy Konarske took down the exciting $1,600 “Mystery Bounty” Event. Maziar Kesharvzi won the $1,600 “round of each” event. Poker OG Cliff “Johnny Bax” Josephy outlasted a tough field in the $3,000 6-max. Ben Diebold triumphed in the $3,000 “Bounty” event. The big one, however, was the $10,000 Main Event boasting a whopping $10m guarantee.

New Yorker Tony Sinishtaj emerged victorious after defeating Isaac Kempton heads-up. Both players took home seven figures from a scintillating final table that included Alex Livingston, Sean Perry, and poker star Vanessa Kade. The prestigious $10,000 buy-in tournament had three starting flights and a six-day structure, ensuring lots of play throughout. In total, there were 1,075 entries, generating a prizepool of $10,105,000.

After a short Day 5, play on Day 6 went on for more than 12 hours. Sean Perry went early, busting 8th for $202,908. Kade held the chip lead for much of the day, but ultimately bowed out in 4th for $527,481 after having her aces cracked. WSOP Main Event finalist Livingston was next to go, taking home $745,749, leaving Sinishtaj and Kempton to scrap it out for the top spot.

once I got the chip, kind of try to switch it around on them a little bit.”

Despite what it appeared from his winner’s photo, Sinishtaj was over the moon with the result, understandably ranking it as his greatest poker achievement to date. The man of few words, (eventually) cracked a smile, too, saying “This is awesome.” He also provided an insight into his final table strategy: “Coming in, I had a bad seat with the chip leaders to my left, so I played tight and kind of tried to ladder, play tighter than normal. But then once I got the chip, kind of try to switch it around on them a little bit.”

Eye of the tiger

All eyes were on Vanessa Kade at the final table as she vied for a “Millions” cross-the-card double at the Wynn. From Day 2 onward, her Instagram story was soundtracked to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” as she grinded the short stack for several days before finally getting a spin on Day 4. The Canadian pro was fifth of 18 going into Day 5 and then the chip leader going into the final day with nine left.

A fearless competitor, Kade started the final table by putting second place Livingston in the bin in a hand with the grossest ICM implications imaginable. It was clear that her objective was to run over the table and that she did before meeting resistance in the form of Sinishtaj with four left.

if I’m wrong this is a big punt”

In her final hand, she squared off against the eventual winner, holding pocket aces. When the turn completed a possible flush, he led into her and she called. On a blank river, Sinishtaj shoved and Kade went into the tank, talking through the hand out loud. Hyper-aware of the ICM, Kade wondered if this was the right moment to make a stand against a loose aggressive and capable villain. “I don’t know that I can keep folding to you,” she said, “but the problem is if I’m wrong this is a big punt.”

In the end, Kade flicked in the call and received the bad news that Sinishtaj did indeed have the flush. Speaking to VegasSlotsOnline News after the final hand, Kade said that she was mad at herself, calling it “an ICM punt.” It might be small consolation after an expensive error, but the very fact that Kade immediately reflects upon and owns her mistakes is a quality shared by all the top players and has no doubt been a big part of what has made her so successful in recent years.

Lococo sings when he’s winning

Meanwhile, 9,000 kilometers away in the Prague Hilton, the EPT festival was similarly generating huge prizepools as Europe’s pent-up desire for live poker was permitted a substantial catharsis.

Argentinian rap singer Alejandro “Papo MC” Lococo won the Eureka Main Event for €417,820. Jose Manuel Gonzalez took down the Eureka High Roller for €343,750 ($376,822). There were plenty of high buy-in tournaments, too, with Sam Grafton winning the €10,000 ($10,962) Bounty event, Teun Mulder winning the €25,000 ($27,405) for €250,928 ($275,070), and Timothy Adams winning the €50,000 ($54,811) for €742,200 ($813,607).

The EPT Main event is down to 30 players with the aforementioned Teun Mulder still in the mix, as is British pro Carl Shaw, French poker legend Bruno Fitoussi and the 2015 EPT Prague and 2019 WSOP Main event champion Hossein Ensan.

It was all a dream

When the TV show “Dallas” killed off Bobby Ewing, the subsequent ninth season of the show was a ratings disaster. So desperate were the show’s creators that the ninth season finale featured the now iconic shower scene where Bobby was back, meaning the entire season had “all been a dream.” It feels like PokerStars is attempting the same modus operandi.

Since the Flutter merger, PokerStars has been on something of a mission to win back confidence (and market share) from a disillusioned player base who were squeezed during the Amaya era. The Supernova loyalty system is back in all but name. The regional tours (UKIPT, Estrellas and Eureka) are back. Unfortunately, the 15% rake on hyper-turbos is also back.

What is abundantly clear, though, is that there is a renewed focus on player experience, evidenced by the hard work of people like Hayley Clarke and Willie Elliot on the team who genuinely care about the players. I witnessed this first-hand as I made the trip to the Czech capital. My fellow VSO contributor Dara O’Kearney cashed in the Eureka Main Event and EPT Mystery Bounty, while I made the money in the Eureka High Roller. Check out the latest episode of “The Lock-In” for more of our thoughts:

Lots more live poker on the horizon

The poker action is coming thick and fast this spring with all the sites releasing their schedules for upcoming events. The Irish Open is shaping up to be one of the biggest festivals of the year, as the poker world descends on Citywest on the outskirts of Dublin for an event that also incorporates the Norwegian Poker Championships.

Unibet Poker is making a splash, too, as it powers three festivals in quick succession over the next two months. First up is the Patrik Antonius Poker Challenge in Tallinn, a jam-packed 29-event festival, running April 4-10.

Then it’s choose your own poker adventure in late April as Unibet put its muscle behind two overlapping events. The Malta Poker Festival is…

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