Jani Sointula and Juha Helpp, long-standing rivals at the Grand Casino in Helsinki, were the two left standing in the world's most exclusive poker tournament, the Monte Carlo Millions.
American ace Phil Ivey had dominated the tournament since Day One and was the odds-on favorite among players and spectators alike. The final table began at 3pm with Phil in a commanding lead, having nearly double the chips of Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Vince "Vinny Nap" Napolitano in second and third place. It looked like at least one American would take home the $400,000 first prize.
But soon Chris was eliminated, along with Kevin O'Connell and Victor Ramdin. They were followed after the dinner break by Daniel Larsson, Krister Hanson of Sweden and Vinny Nap.
That left Phil Ivey to battle two Finns, Juha Helppi and Jani Sointla. Phil, who at one point had amassed $1.1 million of the $1.58 million in chips, made a move on Jani with an Ac6c and Jani raised from the small blind with a pair of 9s.
Phil moved all-in over the top and Jani called. The 9's held up and Jani doubled up for nearly $300,000. The next hand brought more action between the two when Jani called on a pre-flop raise by Phil. When J, J, 10 came out on the flop, Phil bet $100,000 and Jani moved all-in for $405,000 more. Phil contemplated his move for more than five minutes before calling with a 10, 6 off-suit. Jani showed an 8c, 9c for a possible open straight. The turn card helps no one and a 7 came on the river, giving Jani the straight. Phil thought he had more chips than Jani but the count came out exactly even and Phil was eliminated.
In the final hand Jani had a 5, 7 off-suit and Juha had Ac, 7. When the flop came down 4, 8, 10 both checked. The turn was a 6, giving Jani the straight and Juha a double gut straight draw and a nut flush draw. Jani bet $50,000 and Juha went all-in for $360,000. Jani called and when an Ah came on the river Jani took the championship and $400,000.
Jani and Juha are two players that formed part of a team of seven Gaming Club players in the Monte Carlo Millions. Jani summed up his experience at the Monte Carlo Millions: "It was an honor to play and win against the best poker players in the world. We Finns attribute our victories to what we call 'SISU' or the 'fighting spirit.' "
Final standings of the Monte Carlo Millions:
1. Jani Sointula $ 400,000
2. Juha Helppi $ 200,000
3. Phil Ivey $ 100,000
4. Krister Hansson $ 60,000
5. Vincent Napolitano $ 45,000
6. Daniel Larsson $ 35,000
7. Chris Ferguson $ 30,000
8. Victor Ramdin $ 25,000
9. Kevin O'Connell $ 20,000