Sebok seeks redemption as WPT Festa begins

Joe Sebok
'It sucks not to have made it when you keep getting so close, but really, that's poker.'

The World Poker Tour returns to familiar surroundings Wednesday as the annual Festa al Lago main event begins inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

A win in the $15k event last year began Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier on the path towards WPT Player of the Year honors, but the Warsaw leg of the European Poker Tour will keep the French pro from returning to defend his title this time around.

Grospellier came into the final table last year with a rather sizeable chip lead and completely dominated a final six that included Nam Le, Osmin Dardon, Nenad Medic, Adam Levy and William Mietz to win the $1.4 million first place prize.

However, it was a hand on the event's penultimate day, one that would become one of the most talked about hands of the WPT's seventh season, that Grospellier later claimed propelled him to victory.

Joe Sebok, no stranger to WPT final table bubbles having finished seventh at both the Legends of Poker and Bay 101 Shooting Star in 2007, had the chip lead nine-handed and appeared to be a lock to finally make a televised final table on the tour.

Sebok fell back to the pack doubling up short stack Olav Prinz Von Sachsen losing a race with ace-king against sevens and a few minutes later, Grospellier raised his big blind from the small blind, just has he had been doing all day long.

This time Sebok decided to a take a stand, pushing all in with K 9 and without much hesitation, Grospellier made the call with the dominating A 9.

The board bricked out, Grospellier had the chip stack and table image needed to take a stranglehold on the Festa al Lago title and an utterly shocked Sebok was suddenly on the outside looking in.

For weeks after, Sebok's play was both criticized and lauded on Internet poker forums and his own PokerRoad radio show ad nauseam.

Now, a year later, as he headed back to Las Vegas looking for redemption and another shot at the WPT glory he was so close to attaining he could practically taste it, Sebok told PokerListings he's come to terms with it all.

Bertrand Grospellier
The WPT Season 7 Festa al Lago champion.

"It makes me kind of sad that some of the most discussed hands in WPT history are ones that I've lost," Sebok said. "But seriously, it's one of those hands where it's still not really clear whether it was the right play or the wrong play."

In the aftermath, dozens of top pros have weighed in with advice on how Sebok should have played the hand, with opinions ranging from folding pre-flop to not changing a thing and everything in between.

But while Sebok staunchly defended his play in the weeks and months following the event, claiming he was well ahead of Grospellier's raising range and expected him to fold, even he is now looking at things a bit differently.

"When you take into account that it was getting to that point in the tournament where everybody was about to blow, because of the size of the stacks, given that, I guess now I would lean towards not playing the hand," Sebok said.

"It was really a big enough deal for me to make the final table that perhaps, in hindsight, I should have laid it down."

However, Sebok, who is now sponsored by UltimateBet, said he understands putting a questionable play behind you, even if it represented another lost opportunity at a WPT final table, is an important part of being a poker professional.

"Thankfully I've gone through a lot of these recoveries and each one gets a little shorter," he said. "It sucks not to have made it when you keep getting so close, but really, that's poker. What going are you going to do?"

Learning what he can from his past mistakes, Sebok is now solely focused on the Festa al Lago main event in front of him, not the one behind.

"The goal is always to get off to a good start, take advantage of everything you can and get to the final table," he said. "I've done everything right so far, minus the last part. Hopefully things will be different this time around."

To follow Sebok's progress and the entire WPT Festa al Lago main event from start to finish, click through to PokerListings' Live Updates beginning at 12 p.m. PST Wednesday.

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