Day 4 of EPT Prague began at 3 p.m. Central European Time with nine players still remaining in the hunt for the first EPT title ever awarded in the Czech Republic, along with the commensurate €708,400 first prize. Leading the charge was Swedish pro Mikael Norrinder with $1.036 million, or just under 20% of the chips in play, with EPT veterans Kristian Kjondal and Markus Golser joining him at a final table that also included a child actor (Dag Palovic), a former Starcraft player (Johannes Strassmann), a backgammon pro (Arnaud Mattern) and a lonely heart looking for love in the former Eastern Bloc (Gino "El Diablo" Alacqua).
True to the tournament's precedent of lightning-fast eliminations, it didn't take long for the first player to bust from the final table. Johannes Strassmann entered the day as the short stack and he left as the first victim, shoving from the big blind over the top of a mid-position raise from chip leader Norrinder with deuces and seeing his rival look him up with pocket nines. The board brought the predictable and young Strassmann was paved, the tournament's ninth-place finisher and recipient of a €39,200 check on his way out the door.
Then Norrinder imploded, losing most of his chips in a shocking collapse that saw his hyper-aggressive play finally come back to bite him. Norrinder found himself embroiled in a hand with Arnauld Mattern after he raised to $36,000 from middle position and saw the Frenchman re-raise to $136,000 from the small blind. Norrinder attempted to re-raise but mucked up his betting and was held to the gay raise, leaving Mattern with plenty of room to shove all-in for his last $677,000.
It didn't take long for Norrinder to call and he did so with A♥ Q♥, miles behind his rival's K♥ K♦. The board failed to bail out the bombastic Swede and he found himself crippled while Mattern assumed the chip lead. Norrinder would bow out a few hands later, busted with J-9 to Kristian Kjondal's A-K. He earned €63,200 for his efforts.
Former child actor, TV presenter and president of the Slovak Poker Federation Dag Palovic was next to go. He re-raised all-in from the big blind after Kristian Kjondal open-raised from middle position and saw "Kris85" make the call with A♦ Q♦ to his own A♣ T♣. The board came 8-4-3-9-A and the queen played, sending Palovic off to Spain after his model girlfriend with €93,600 to keep them both happy.
Shortly thereafter it would be Nedzib Suman's turn to meet the cashier. Suman, who spoke no English and conversed happily in Swedish with everyone, including his non-Swedish-speaking tablemates, got all-in pre-flop with A♥ T♣ and ran into Juha Lauttmuus' pocket sevens. The board failed to bring an ace, ten or freaky straight or flush and Suman was out in sixth place for a €119,000 score.
Veteran pro Markus Golser would finish in fifth place. The Austrian called an $85,000 pre-flop raise from Juha Lauttmuus in the big blind and saw the flop come J♣ 6♠ 5♣. Holding K♣ T♣, he open-shoved all-in with the flush draw and was called by his Finnish rival, who turned up Q♠ J♥ for top pair. The turn was the 9♦ and the river the 7♦ and Golser was gonzo, with a €151,800 golden parachute to soften the blow.
Four-handed play continued for a spell before Juha Lauttmuus decided to get cute and paid the price. In the big blind with pocket nines, he saw small blind Arnaud Mattern raise to $120,000 and decided to put his opponent all-in for his last $1.4 million. Mattern insta-called with pocket aces and the rest was history, the Parisian doubling-up and the Finn losing all but his last $160,000. He'd bust a few hands later after going all-in with Q-2 against Gino Alacqua's Q-4 and seeing the board run A-J-4-Q-5. Lauttmuus takes home €182,200 for his efforts.
At this point, the final three players broke from the felt to discuss a deal, and after a period of negotiation emerged with a decent save that saw each of them guaranteed €350,000, with second-place earning another €100,000 and first place another €200,000.
With the financial situation cleared up, you might have thought the players would loosen up a bit, but being as the three survivors were in many ways the three nittiest players of all who'd been at the table, even a guaranteed €350,000 wasn't enough to induce action.
Finally, Kristian Kjondal called a $145,000 raise from Gino Alacqua in the big blind and saw the flop come 5♠ 4♣ 3♠. He checked the flop and then raised all-in after Alacqua tendered a $200,000 wager, with his Italian rival needing only a few moments and a deep breath before calling with K♣ 5♣ for top pair to the Norwegian's K♥ 6♥ for the open-ended straight draw. The board finished out 8♣ J♦ and Kjondal was gjone-dal, busted in third for the aforementioned €350,000, or €235,300 if you want the official score.
That left only Alacqua and Mattern to battle for the title, with Alacqua heading into the final confrontation holding a $4 million to $1.5 million advantage. Mattern would chip away at that lead during a lengthy battle characterized by small pots and quick folds before doubling through El Diablo when he got all-in with pocket jacks and saw Alacqua call with A♦ 9♦. The board missed Alacqua and all of a sudden Mattern was in the driver's seat with a $2.9 to $2.4 million lead.
A few hands later it was all over. Mattern raised to $200,000 on the button and Alacqua shoved all-in rather quickly. Mattern insta-called with A♦ K♣ and was way ahead of Alacqua's Q♦ T♦. The flop was a scary one, coming J♦ 6♠ 2♦, and the turn even scarier, bringing the K♥ to give Alacqua the flush and straight draws. The river card, however, was the 2♣ and as the pro-French crowd cheered in appreciation Arnaud Mattern was crowned the poker king of Prague, first winner of an EPT event in the Czech Republic and the official recipient of a €708,400 first prize.
Congratulations are in order to both Mattern and Alacqua, as well as PokerStars.com, the European Poker tour and its consummate staff of dealers (I see you, dealer Kate), floormen and behind-the-scenes personnel, as well as to the people of Prague for hosting an incredible event in such a beautiful city. The EPT returns in the New Year with the PokerStars.com Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas, but for now it's Salut ma poule and don't forget to check out our WPT/WSOPC coverage!