Twenty-one-year-old Muscovite and poker prodigy Alexander Kostritsyn defeated Full Tilt poker pro Erik Seidel in a hard-fought heads-up match to claim the tournament's $1.65 million (all figures AUD) top prize, as well as a souvenir bracelet and the everlasting glory of a PokerListings.com interview. Kostritsyn played incredible poker at the final table, giving Seidel no end of consternation and playing a relentless, aggressive style that succeeded in taking The Gentle Giant off of his game and keeping him there until the last chip was in the Russian's grasp.
But Kostritsyn's path to gold and glory was by no means a sure thing. At the start of the final table (tournament Day 5), Melbourne's Michael Chrisanthopoulos held the chip lead over the remaining six finalists in commanding fashion, laying claim to nearly half of the $15.6 million in play with a $6.8 million stack. With $1.4 million apiece, Seidel and Kostritsyn would begin the day with a lot of work to do to unseat their chip leader, who even with Seidel's mountains of tournament experience had to be considered the favorite early on.
Almost immediately, however, Kostritsyn set about taking away that favored status while simultaneously increasing his chances at big money, beginning with the elimination of Peter Mobbs. Mobbs raised from under the gun with A♠ J♠ and saw Kostritsyn re-raise from the big blind. That was all it took to get Mobbs all-in and Kostritsyn, holding A♦ K♠, was quick to call. The board came J♣ 8♦ 6♣ K♦ 2♣ and though Mobbs flopped the best hand he couldn't make it stick and was out in seventh place for a $225,000 haul.
Next to the exits was the tournament's elder statesman, local favorite Antonio Casale. Casale got into a raising war with Kostritsyn that resulted in the former getting all-in after four-betting pre-flop with pocket jacks. Kostritsyn, holding pocket aces, was again more than willing to party and after the board ran K♠ 9♦ 2♣ 2♠ Q♣ Casale was out in sixth place and would earn $300,000 for his time.
The Russian would get Nina Marotta next, after the Perth native raised to $100,000 pre-flop and saw Kostritsyn re-pop to $300,000 from the blinds. The flop came J♦ T♥ 3♠ and Marotta shipped his stack into the middle with Q♠ T♣. Kostritsyn called with A♠ J♥ and after the board finished A♦ 9♠ had banished another player to the rail. Marotta took home $400,000 for his fifth-place finish.
With four players left, Michael Chrisanthopoulos still held a slight advantage on the chip leaderboard, Seidel having kept quiet and remained the short stack with only about $1.5 million to his name. Chrisanthopoulos would pad his lead with the last remnants of Peter Ling's stack after Ling got all-in on an A♣ K♣ T♥ flop with A♠ 5♠ against Chrisanthopoulos' A♦ K♥. The board bricked out for Ling, a caterer/attorney who left in fourth place with $500,000 with which to garnish the bar.
Then Erik Seidel started with the voodoo stuff. First he got all-in for his last $1.475 million on the strength of a pocket pair of deuces and saw Chrisanthopoulos make the call with A♦ J♦. The K♠ J♥ T♠ flop seemed to give Chrisanthopoulos the upper hand, but after the turn was the 5♥ the river was the 2♦, giving Seidel the two-outer and doubling him through the man for whom the cut/paste function was practically invented.
Seidel would do it again a few rounds later, getting all-in for his last $2.35 million with pocket queens, this time against Chrisanthopoulos' J♦ T♥. Seidel seemed primed to double up, but after the flop came T♦ T♠ 2♥ it looked like curtains for The Wombat King. The turn, however, was the Q♣ and Seidel hit another two-outer to double up and stay alive.
Faced with such demoralizing defeats, it was no wonder Chrisanthopoulos kicked the bucket shortly after. In the final hand for the clear crowd favorite, Seidel raised from the button and Chrisanthopoulos made the call before Kostritsyn re-popped from the big blind.
Seidel folded but Chrisanthopoulos shoved, pinning his tournament life on A♣ 6♣ and finding himself in need of improvement against Kostritsyn's pocket tens. That improvement never came, and after the board came down 5♠ 5♦ 3♣ 3♠ T♥ Chrisanthopoulos was out, busted in third place for a $700,000 payday.
And then, after a prolonged pause during which a succession of dour-looking men practiced and re-practiced unloading bags of money on a granite table while a showgirl stood statuesque in the background, it was time for heads-up, with Kostritsyn holding roughly $9.9 million and Seidel $5.68 million to start the proceedings.
What followed was a seesaw battle that stood in testament to tournament director Jonno Pittock's impressive structure. Both players had substantial stacks relative to the blinds and could afford to pick their battles without resorting to desperate all-in moves and a crapshoot conclusion.
That said, though, Alex Kostritsyn was clearly not afraid of his eight-WSOP-bracelet-winning counterpart, raising and re-raising at will and forcing Seidel to decisions for huge pots repeatedly. Seidel was left off balance, and to a large extent unable to find much traction. Although for a brief period he took the lead in the heads-up match, it wasn't to last, and soon the Las Vegas-based pro found himself short-stacked once more.
The finale would come at the end of a two-hour battle during which Kostritsyn ground down his older opponent, finally getting the last of Seidel's chips in the middle on a J♦ 8♠ 7♠ flop holding J♥ 9♥ to his rival's A♣ Q♣. The board finished out 3♥ K♥ and Seidel couldn't dodge elimination for a third time, thus conceding the last of his chips to Kostritsyn and settling for the $1 million consolation prize.
Meanwhile, to Kostritsyn went the spoils of victory, namely the $1.65 million and all the baubles that come along with the title of Poker Champion of the Southern Hemisphere. Congratulations are due both Alexander and Erik, and beyond that to Jonno Pittock and the staff at the Crown Casino for organizing one of the most impressive tournaments in recent memory, in either hemisphere. Congratulations all, and see you next year!