It took four gruelling days of poker
action to get there, but Joao Barbosa (26) of Portugal this week claimed the title and the Euro 367 141 ($457 489) main prize at the PokerStars.com EPT Polish Open in Warsaw.
Playing a tough final table, the remaining nine survivors from an entry field of 217 included Team PokerStars Pro Dario Minieri and Arnaud Mattern. They were all that remained of a starting field that included top internet and land poker names like Katja Thater, Sorel Mizzi, Alex Kravchenko, Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, EPT London winner Michael Martin, WSOP-Europe bracelet winner Theo Jorgensen and WPT and EPT champ Roland de Wolfe, along with Sebastien Ruthenberg and Mark Telscher.
Celebrating his birthday and the first EPT win by a Portuguese national, the former computer engineering student from Porto revealed that he had only played four European Poker Tours before and cashed in three of them - none at the final tables. That made his victory after a tense three-hour heads-up battle with German player Nico Behling (23) all the sweeter.
"Things worked perfectly for me. For three hours, I was trying not to think about anything but winning. It's the best birthday present I've ever had. It was great to win," he said after the game.
Starting the final table, Barbosa was around the middle of the field in terms of chip stacks. The lead was held by the talented young Italian gun Dario Minieri on 359 000, just 10 000 in chips ahead of nearest rivals Sergio Shcherbatskiy (349 000) and Germany's Nico Behling (343 000).
Low man in the chip stacks Michael Muheim was first to go, eliminated by Shcherbatskiy for the ninth place prize of Euro 21 114. He was followed by French poker pro Ludovic Lacay, taken out by Nico Behling in eighth place for Euro 32 843). Seventh placing and a Euro 45 746 payday went to Andrea Benelli, busted out by Dario Minieri in seventh place (€45,746). Sergey Shcherbatskiy's ambitions were ended when he was sent to the exit in sixth place by Barbosa for Euro 57 476) and he was followed by Arnaud Mattern in fifth place - another victim of Barbosa. He collected a cheque for Euro 72,724
Barbosa had by then amassed a substantial chip stack, which he skilfully deployed to eliminate first Atanas Gueorguiev in fourth place for Euro 87 973 and then internet whiz Dario Minieri in third place, who was sent home just after the dinner break for Euro 123 162.
Heads up, Barboa faced Behling across the felt with a slender enough chip lead to make the finale interesting. It was the start of a three hour duel which was close and enthralling, but Barbosa emerged triumphant in the end, taking the title, the respect and the rich main prize. Behling's second placing earned him Euro 205 270.