Truce! 2014 Battle of Malta Title and €122k Goes to Antoan Katsarov!

Antoan Katsarov Alan Brincat
Brothers in poker arms.

In the end, the only thing that could stop the Battle of Malta was the clock.

Facing a hard 5 am stop imposed by the Portomaso Casino our two heads-up combatants - Bulgaria's Antoan Katsarov and Malta's Alan James Brincat - played to a virtual stalemate.

The clock was forced to decide the champion according to the chip counts when no more hands could be played.

The chip leader at the time of the stop? Katsarov, who collected €122,750 and the highly sought after Battle of Malta Main Event trophy.

Runner-up Brincat kept €107,250 of the massive €701,795 prize pool, generated by a record 1,447 entries, right here at home on the island.

Alan James Brincat
Keeps a big piece of the prize pool on Malta.

Play On!

With 35 players returning to start the final day we anticipated a long one and that's exactly what we got.

At about 8 pm with about 12 players left, Tournament Director Elio presented the remaining players with a couple of options.

Stop the tournament when the final nine was reached and come back to play tomorrow, or play on to the 5 am stop and the forced deal.

The players unanimously decided to play on, and that's how we proceeded.

Eight Countries Including Malta at Final Table

The Battle of Malta has truly become a bonafide draw for the entire continent and players from dozens of nations across Europe were in attendance this year.

Eight of them were represented at the 10-man final table with Sweden having the most at three players.

The Netherlands, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Poland and Italy all had players in the mix while Brincat represented his home country of Malta.

The complete list of players and results at the 2014 Battle of Malta Main Event final table:

1 Antoan Katsarov, Bulgaria €122,750*

2 Alan James Brincat, Malta €107,250*

3 Pär Ebenhardt, Sweden €53,000

4 Oskar Szwed, Poland €42,500

5 Hugo Lemaire, France €32,000

6 Declan Connolly, Ireland €23,000

7 Pontus Dargren, Sweden €16,095

8 Johan Krans, Sweden €12,100

9 Wouter Beumers, Netherlands  €9,100

* Indicates a two-way deal

All told the final 10 players split up €431,935 between them - a record-breaking number for the Battle of Malta.

Watch Full Battle of Malta Recap Video with Maria Ho

Four More Battle of Malta Champions

While the Main Event was the maruqee event on the schedule there were four more side events that drew in players from around the world.

Aarno Kivelio
Aarno Kivelio

Over 593 players battled it out over two days in the Siege of Malta Second Chance Event before Russian Alexey Kovalev turned his €220 buy-in into a tidy €24,000 and the title.

Finland’s Aarvo Kiveliö won the €165 PLO Knight Crusade for €4,300 (after a deal). Tomasz Olszewski and Francesco Ruffo each took home €16,300 after chopping up the €330 BOM NLH Deepstack Turbo.

Nicodemo Piccolo, who won the first-ever Battle of Malta main event title back in 2012, made the Deepstack Turbo final table.

Arsen Sakanjans captured the Grand Master High Roller yesterday.

Check our Battle of Malta Live Coverage page for the complete rundown of all the action.

Battle of Malta Runner-Up Brincat Eyes Bigger Poker Future

Alan Brincat was as close to being the first local to win the Battle of Malta title as you can be.

In the end - and we mean the absolute end - Brincat finished as the runner-up because he had a smaller stack than his opponent Antoan Katsarov when the tournament had to be stopped per casino regulations.

If he had a bit more time, Brincat says, the story might be slightly different:

“I was catching up to him," Brincat says in a follow-up interview at the PokerListings office a few days later. “I think he was a little scared, but I would have needed more time.

"At one point during the heads-up he folded K-Q pre-flop, so I knew he didn’t really want to play anymore. I changed my strategy to playing more post-flop to force him to get involved in hands, but in the end I didn’t get there.”

Gaming Industry Vet Knows What to Look For

Alan James Brincat
After 10 years playing and time spent in the industry, Brincat knows what he's looking for.

In real life Brincat works as an Operations Manager at Quasar Gaming, a Maltese gaming company that, among other games, features Novomatic content.

He’s also worked for Everest Poker, where he was responsible for detecting fraud like collusion and chip-dumping.

“Of course there are tools that help you," Brincat says, "but there are also patterns of behavior that you can spot and that are suspicious.

"For example, if someone is losing an unusual amount of money to another player in a relatively short time. And if, for example, both players come from the same country or have the same IP address, there might be something wrong.

"Safety is about the most important thing for a poker provider.”

As his background indicates, Brincat is no poker newbie. He’s been playing for about 10 years, mostly in home games.

“But I’ve played several live tournaments too," he adds.

None have been close to the size of the 2014 Battle of Malta.

"I played last year as well, but I never made the money. Also, I spent a lot of time queueing. This year it was better.”

"Sad to See Someone You Like Busted"

Given the massive field this year (1,447 entries - a Maltese record) and a mid-tourney boost to 60-minute levels, play stretched well into the early hours each day.

In the end, the "battle" part of the Battle of Malta was a very apt moniker.

Alan Brincat
Had momentum but ran out of time.

“Yes, I know, and I’ve been there to the very last hand. I played on Day 1B so I had over 40 hours of poker within three days.

"The tournament was great, though, despite the long hours. I enjoyed the last day the most. Well, obviously.

"Still, even so all of us players were getting tired, it also became more competitive, and while it became more competitive, it also became more social and more fun.

"It got to a point where you would be almost sad when someone who you liked busted. Of course, you would never show that, but then hey, we’re only human."

With 12 players left after the dinner break on Day 3 the Tournament Director gave players the choice of stopping at 9 players or playing until the 5 am hard stop required by law.

Should the tournament still be going play would be halted and the chips would decide the winner. Players unanimously decided to play on.

"I think that some people were a little disappointed about the ending of the tournament, there not being a final hand with all the chips in the middle.

"On the other hand, I understand that we had to stop it at one point. Personally, I didn’t care if we came back to finish it on Monday.

"But I was the only local and everybody else had early flights with connections, so I didn’t interfere with the discussion. It would have been a little unfair.”

Definite Plans for More Live Tournaments, EPT Malta

As we're doing our interview with Brincat in the PokerListings Malta office a colleague from Malta’s largest newspaper, Malta Today, also arrives to get a word from the local hero.

James Alan Brincat
Plans to live up to his poker reputation.

It looks like Alan Brincat is becoming a local celebrity - something he's not about to shy away from.

“Yes," he says with a big grin. “And to live up to my reputation I want to play more live tournaments in the future.

"I will be in Paris next month (for a WPT National event), and I will definitely play the EPT Malta next March.”

Does Brincat have any worries about a tournament like an EPT main event with its myraid pros and higher-stakes hurdles? Not that he lets on.

“Although I didn’t have any of BOM's celebrity players at my table, I’m pretty sure I can handle it. Mind you, I would have really liked to have Maria Ho or Sofia Lövgren at my table.”

Antoan Katsarov: €10 Qualifier to €122,750 Battle of Malta Champ

Stories like Antoan Katsarov’s are a big reason for the general public’s fascination with poker. Last November the Bulgarian qualified online and turned €10 into €122,750 at the 2014 Battle of Malta.

Pokerzeit.com's Lars Liedtke met up with him again six months later, at the place of his biggest success, to find out what’s happened since.

PZ: Hello Antoan, thank you very much for taking the time. Can you introduce yourself to the audience and tell us when and where you first came into contact with poker?

Antoan Katsarov 3
Back where it began.

AK: I started playing poker four years ago while studying dentistry. At that time I was not sure if this is what I want to do with my life.

Then I discovered online poker. My first money I made in freerolls and after that I grinded my way up from NL2 before I decided to become a professional poker player.

PZ: Since Dimitar Danchev won the PCA in 2013 Bulgarians have become more and more a force in live tournaments. What do you think is the reason for the success? Do you exchange knowledge with each other? Can you describe the poker scene in Bulgaria?

AK: There are a couple of groups with 5 or 6 good players respectively, who exchange knowledge. 

Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in Europe and in my opinion that’s why poker is quickly growing there as it gives people the chance to make a living.

With $1,000 you can live two to three months there.

PZ: You live in the capital, Sofia. Do you like living there? What makes up the charm of this city for you? Do you have casinos or poker rooms there where you can play live?

AK: In general Sofia is a great city for poker players as it is very cheap and Bulgaria has one of the fastest Internet connections in the world.

On the other hand crime is high, because the country is poor, and the rake on PokerStars is high since it became the first legal poker room last August.

In addition to that the market is getting more and more regulated. Online poker is legal now but there are much more restrictions than a year ago.

PZ: How did you hear about the Battle of Malta? And why did you decide to play the tournament?

AK: When I played the satellite I didn’t even know what exactly the Battle of Malta was.

I play poker professionally but don’t really care much about the poker scene.

PZ: You prevailed over 1,447 players and turned your buy-in of €550 into an unbelievable €122,750 at BOM 2014, which was the biggest poker tournament in Maltese history. What’s happened since then? Did this win change your life?

Antoan Katsarov
The biggest difference is I consider myself a much better player now.

AK: In fact it was much less as I qualified through a €10 satellite.

Since the win my life hasn’t changed that much. The biggest difference is that I consider myself a much better player now than I was back then.

At that time I was mostly playing mid-stakes and I learned a lot through playing high-stakes MTTs online afterward as those games are really tough.

I got some coaching and started to talk more with other players. In addition some of my friends are really good online players and they helped me become a better player.

PZ: The heads-up at the Battle of Malta was heavily discussed as you weren’t able to play it out and finish the tournament because of regulations in Malta. You had to make a deal in the end. What do you think about this way to end the tournament and did it affect heads-up play a lot?

AK: I was not happy at all because I played mainly Heads-Up Hyper Turbos at that time.

Heads-Up is my best game and I wanted to play to the end, as I was pretty sure that I would win.

PZ: You have your own coaching site and you also analyze hands for PokerStrategy Bulgaria. How did you become a poker coach? Do you also give private poker coaching or take coaching from other famous players? Does it help your own game when you coach less experienced players?

Antoan Katsarov
"I started from the bottom and invested a lot of time."

AK: I started from the bottom and invested a lot of time in the last few years to work on my game.

I analyzed around 4,000 hands for PokerStrategy. Regarding Sit & Gos I learned the most from “Unam,“ a Heads-Up Sit & Go coach from the German community.

When it comes to MTTs I recommend the public coaching of “bah22.”

Collin Moshman also helped me a lot. He became a good friend of mine. At PokerStrategy it is very common to exchange strategies.

Furthermore I have my own coaching site called “YourPokerSchool” where I have around 35 private students.

Analyzing their hands also helped me a lot and gave me a good unders

tanding of situations and ranges.

PZ: Can you compare the Battle of Malta to EPT Malta? What are the similarities and differences?

AK: The best tournament players in the world are playing in the EPT Main Events.

It is basically a REG-fest and the buy-in is above my bankroll, so I only play the satellites and wouldn’t buy-in directly as I don’t see myself at the same level of players like Vanessa Selbst.

The average player in an EPT Main Event is much better than at the Battle of Malta. BOM is more comparable to the IPT Main Event.

Antoan Katsarov
Reigning champ will be back to defend his honor.

In those two tournaments the average skill level is almost the same. There were good players at the Battle of Malta, but the number of them is much less than in an EPT and the value therefore is much higher.

PZ: What are your plans and goals for the future? Will you defend your title at the Battle of Malta 2015?

AK: My plan is to play more live tournaments and select them wisely. So I will travel next to the UKIPT Nottingham and then maybe to the Estrellas Poker Tour.

In November I will defend my title at the Battle of Malta. I am the reigning champion, so it is a question of honor.

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