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The King Holds Court: Lehmann Is Champ at WPT Spanish Championship
Six players stormed the walls of the Castille de Peralada but only one is now able to call himself king. Markus Lehmann of Austria prevailed where five of his final-table counterparts failed. Gus Hansen, Steve Sung and Christer Johansson were the kinds of competition Lehmann had to deal with but one by one they all fell, leaving only our champion.
After the final hand had been dealt and the formalities taken care of, PL.com retreated to a back room of the castle to sit down and speak with the only surviving member of today's battle.
Congratulations Markus. This is a big win and the first-ever WPT Spanish Championship. What does this title mean to you and how are you feeling?
Yes it is a big win. I think for anyone to win a WPT title is fantastic and for me it's just unbelievable. Winning didn't seem possible, even when I got to the final table, because there were just so many good players. I definitely got lucky in some situations to make it all the way to the win.
We've heard you've had a lot of success in business and that the money from a win like this isn't going to change your life. What is it about poker and big tournaments that appeals to you?
I love the game, that's where it starts. I love to play poker and it's a wonderful thing to do when I go away. I do like the competition and I really like all the aspects of tournaments. I think overall though it just comes down to the fact that I love the game.
Let's talk about the final table a bit. There were a ton of good players and you came into the day a little short on chips. What was your approach to dealing with the situation?
I think I had a really fantastic position, definitely the best seat at the table. On my right side I had a young French player who I had a good read on from playing together for the last day or two. He was on my right side the whole time. We had a lot of interesting hands and I had raised him a lot. He battled with Gus who was also on my right.
Hansen was very aggressive, as usual, and he raised a lot of pots and played a lot of hands but he was able to get Steve and Christer under control and I really thought they were the two most dangerous players at the table. And then to my left I had a very tight Russian short stack so that was a dream position.
You mentioned the French player on your right, Ludovic Lacay, and that you had developed a good read on him. It came down to the two of you in heads-up play so take us through the match and how you think he played.
He is young but he's very talented. I don't know if he's played a lot of heads-up before but it seemed like he was a little too passive and sort of sat back and let me take control of the match. But he was certainly a good player; there were just a few hands where it seemed like he made it too easy on me.
There was one sequence of hands where you took down three or four pots in a row and were very aggressive, swinging the chip lead your way. It seemed like you switched gears a lot there, in the heads-up match, because earlier at the final table you seemed to be playing very tight. Was this a conscious decision or did the cards dictate your play in those hands?
Well it was a little of both I think. At the beginning of the final table I was getting very cold cards and hardly picked up a hand I could play. I mucked A-7 off-suit and that was the best hand I had picked up in a long time. Once it was raised under the gun and I mucked pocket threes. But those were like the best hands I got for the first hour and a half.
Did that tight play help establish a good table image that you were able to take advantage of later?
Yeah, absolutely. You saw that when I raised there was really little action and they took it seriously when I was in the pot. I think they just rated me as a very tight player. None of them knew me though so that was a big advantage. Then later, even when I wasn't picking up hands, I was able to change gears and take advantage of that image. Generally I think I'm more aggressive than tight though.
This isn't your first big buy-in tournament so tell us how you got started in poker.
I started playing poker when I was a kid and the first money I earned at the game was when I was about 11 or 12 years old. With friends, you know, we'd play for pennies. When I was in my late teens I spent an enormous amount of time playing games, backgammon especially but poker as well, most of the time it was Five- or Seven-Card Stud.
But I am a relative newcomer to the game of Hold'em. I started playing this game seriously in the '90s and entered my first big tournament about five years ago. I think my first WPT event was in Tunica in '03 or '04 and I've had a few cashes since then.
In 2002 and 2003 I was doing a lot of business in Los Angeles so I took a lot of trips to Vegas. With only my, let's say, country knowledge, they really killed me over there. Very bad. I sat down at a few No-Limit tables and they destroyed me. I was really upset about that so I started to study this game - I have probably over a hundred books at home - and after a lot of self-training I've actually been winning in those games in Vegas.
You mentioned Tunica and, no offense to Mississippi, the setting here in Spain is a little more scenic. How has your time been in Barcelona and here in Peralada?
It has been really fantastic. I stayed in the Arts Hotel in Barcelona next to the casino and it's an absolutely outstanding five-star hotel. It's close enough to the casino to walk to and you have the port there with so many wonderful restaurants. The dealers at the casino were very nice and the service was fantastic.
This castle here in Peralada where we played the final table is just unbelievable. I don't think a casino like this exists anywhere else in the world!
Congratulations again Markus and we hope to see you at WPT events in the future.
Reportedly one of the biggest distributors of Herbalife products in the world, Markus Lehmann is certainly not playing these events for the money. Love of the game and a competitive drive brought him to Spain for the inaugural WPT Championship but his experience, skill and a little bit of luck made him champion.