Methodical would be an understatement in describing the final table of the 2008 World Series of Poker Europe. Clocking in at a record 22 hours, the finale was as much an endurance test as a poker tournament, as John Juanda finally prevailed over Stanislav Alekhin to take down his fourth WSOP bracelet and the £868,800 first prize.
The nine final-table competitors made a fascinating mix of experienced pros and WSOP first-timers, with Daniel Negreanu, Scott Fischman and eventual champion John Juanda combining for nine prior WSOP bracelets, while new faces Chris Elliott, Toni Hiltunen and Stanislav Alekhin made their first WSOP cashes with this event. The biggest story of the final table was Ivan Demidov, who made his second final table at the WSOP Main Event here in London. The WSOPE Main Event served as a warm-up for the WSOP US Main Event finale for Demidov, who finished up second in chips in Las Vegas this summer before the "November Nine" went on their extended break. Demidov became the first player in history to final-table both Main Events in Europe and the US with his third-place finish in London.
The chip stacks and seating assignments looked like this as the players settled in for the beginning of a very long ride:
Seat 1: Robin Keston - 849,000
Seat 2: Daniel Negreanu - 1,002,000
Seat 3: Chris Elliott - 281,000
Seat 4: Bengt Sonnert - 385,000
Seat 5: John Juanda - 1,349,000
Seat 6: Ivan Demidov - 1,006,000
Seat 7: Toni Hiltunen - 386,000
Seat 8: Scott Fischman - 732,000
Seat 9: Stanislav Alekhin - 1,278,000
Chris Elliott came into the final table on a very short stack, and wasted no time picking a hand to run with. Elliott called a preflop raise from Stanislav Alekhin to see a flop of . Alekhin fired at the flop, and Elliott called again. The came on the turn, and Alekhin bet enough to put Elliott all in. After a moment's thought, Elliott called with for top two pair. Alekhin was behind with , but the on the river gave him the nut flush, and sent Elliott to the payout line to collect £81,450 for ninth place.
The pace of play became deliberate after the elimination of Elliott, as it took several more orbits before the next departure. Toni Hiltunen re-raised Stanislav Alekhin preflop with , and Alekhin thought for a moment before re-raising enough to put Hiltunen all in. Hiltunen made the call, and was crushed to see Alekhin's . Alekhin made a set on the turn as the board read , and Hiltunen was drawing dead. The irrelevant officially ended Hiltunen's run in eighth place (£108,600).
After the slow pace of the previous hour, it took only two more hands for the next elimination to occur. Robin Keston moved all in over the top of Ivan Demidov with , and Demidov called with . No help came for either player on the flop of , as Demidov's nines held the lead. He picked up a set on the turn, but that also gave Keston the nut flush draw. The on the river was all Demidov needed to bust Keston, who picked up £135,750 for seventh place.
The action stayed quick and Scott Fischman became the next to fall, finishing sixth for £171,950. Just three hands after Keston's elimination, Fischman saw a flop with Ivan Demidov and Stanislav Alekhin. Fischman led out at the board, and Alekhin raised big. Demidov got out of the way, and Fischman moved all in. Stanislav quickly called with for the Broadway straight, as Fischman showed for top pair and an inside straight draw. No help came on the turn or river for Fischman, and he was done.
Play slowed to a crawl once the field reached five-handed, running for several hours without another elimination. Eventually, Daniel Negreanu was the next victim when he called all in from the big blind after a raise from Stanislav Alekhin in the big blind. Negreanu's needed help to survive against Alekhin's , but the board ran out and Negreanu departed. He picked up £217,200 for his fifth-place finish.
Bengt Sonnert came into the final table with one of the shortest stacks, but made it all the way to fourth place before his luck ran out. He moved all in from the small blind after another Alekhin raise, and tabled . He was dominated by Alekhin's , and the flop left him drawing to running cards to survive. The on the turn left him drawing dead, and when the hit the river, he was finished in fourth, good for £271,500.
The remaining three players had 21 WSOP final tables between them, but 20 of them belonged to John Juanda and Ivan Demidov's other final table won't occur until November. To say that Juanda had a slight experience edge on his opponents would be understating things a bit, but the two young Russians refused to let the Full Tilt superstar run over the table. From Sonnert's exit to the time Ivan Demidov busted in third (£334,850), over three hours of three-handed play occurred.
Finally, Demidov's chances at being a double Main Event winner came to an end, at least for 2008. Juanda raised from the small blind, and Demidov called to see a flop of . Juanda checked the flop to Demidov, who fired. Juanda called and the turn came the . Juanda checked again, and moved all in after Demidov bet. Demidov called with for a straight and flush draw, as Juanda tabled . The on the river was no help for Demidov, and his history-making performance was over in third place.
Juanda took a significant chip lead into heads-up play, but there were still hours of play awaiting the last two competitors. The chips stacks looked like this as heads-up play began:
John Juanda - 4,420,000
Stanislav Alekhin - 2,850,000
It took more than seven hours of play; with more lead changes than a NASCAR race, before Juanda was able to put away his talented young opponent. All told, it took an already lengthy 242 hands to dismiss Demidov and the other six challengers from the proceedings. Incredibly, it took another 242 hands and nearly eight hours of heads-up play before Juanda secured the win.
Alekhin had moved back into the lead as the critical hands unfolded; both players had survived multiple all-ins throughout the duel as outside, the London sunrise marked the new day. The first decisive hand found Juanda raising preflop and Alekhin calling with . The flop came down , and Alekhin bet out. Juanda thought for an instant before calling with . Juanda's top pair led Alekhin's flush draw, and the on the turn was no help for either player. The river came the , blanking out, and Alekhin was crippled.
Five hands later, on the record 484th hand of the final table, Alekhin moved all in preflop with . Juanda called with , and caught an all-but-perfect perfect flop – . Juanda's flopped trips were far ahead, and after the turn, Alekhin was drawing dead. The river gave Juanda decisive but unneeded quads and forced Alekhin to settle for second place and £533,950.
John Juanda's last WSOP bracelet came in 2003, causing the four-time bracelet winner to remark, "It's so long ago when I won my last bracelet, I can't remember. It's embarrassing." After starting the final table as the chip leader, Juanda came from behind several times to claim his first Main Event bracelet and £86,800. Admitting that he found his young opponent almost impossible to read, Juanda gave credit to his last two opponents in saying, "Today there are so many young excellent tournament players from all over the world. Like the two young Russians and the Scandis. Much more than it used to be. " Congratulations to marathon winner John Juanda, the 2008 WSOP Europe Main Event champion.
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