For most players, winning the the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure would be the culmination of a lifelong dream to win a major poker tournament. Even steely and well-traveled pros would count it among their greatest accomplishments on the felt.
In the case of Mike "SirWatts" Watson, it almost felt like an inevitability, another chapter in one of the most outstanding careers in the history of tournament poker. Watson's first European Poker Tour win left him thrilled, far from another day in the office, the longtime Canadian pro admitted.
"It feels amazing," he told PokerNews' Remko Rinkema in the aftermath of his fourth-biggest live cash, $728,325 after a deal was made heads-up with Tony Gregg, a player who also cut his teeth online under the moniker "wwwBTHEREcom" and was sitting at his record third PCA Main Event final table.
"To win a big main event, especially one as prestigious as the PCA... it feels great," Watson continued.
The win pushed Watson over $9 million in live cashes, good for fifth on Canada's all-time list after Daniel Negreanu, Jonathan Duhamel, Mike McDonald, and Sorel Mizzi. Watson also crushed online for years, racking up more than $3 million in winnings on the virtual felt.
Watson's victory didn't come easily, which perhaps makes it all the sweeter. His reward for navigating through a 928-player field, including a very tough final table that included foes like EPT champ Toby Lewis and Russian high roller Vladimir Troyanovskiy, was a heads-up match with feared pro Gregg, sometimes dubbed "End Boss" by respectful peers.
The two battled for about two hours even after making a deal that saw both secure more than $600,000, with $30,000 left to play for. Neither would move a false muscle as each stayed stone-faced throughout the match. Watson began with about a 2-1 lead that he quickly stretched to 3-1, but like the video game bosses after which Gregg was nicknamed, he regrouped and made it a battle.
"Tony was obviously a really tough opponent, he played great," Watson said. "He was back in it, and I was getting worried for awhile there."
Watching the back-and-forth match, one might have never guessed a chop had already decided the majority of the prize pool, something Watson acknowledged. When two great players clash, their competitive instincts simply won't allow them to let up.
"I don't think it affected me at all," Watson said of the deal. "I still wanted to win and there's still $30,000 on the line, which is a huge amount of money. It's pretty big stakes still."
Despite drawing about even, Gregg couldn't overcome bad luck in a decisive four-bet pot that essentially sealed his demise. At Level 34 (125,000/250,000/50,000), Gregg opened to 500,000 with the and saw Watson make it 1.35 million. Gregg came back with 2.875 million, and Watson called. The Canadian then check-raised all in on a flop holding the , forcing Gregg to release.
Left with just 22 big blinds, Gregg couldn't recover and it was over shortly thereafter.
Now, the Canadian tournament legend has added an EPT win to his World Poker Tour victory from 2008, and he's just one leg away from live poker's triple crown. It's the leg that has long eluded Watson, the one hole in his stellar résumé — he has yet to claim a World Series of Poker bracelet despite a slew of final table appearances.
Except, as PocketFives president and editor-in-chief Lance Bradley pointed out on Twitter, Watson does have a WSOP win, it just didn't result in a bracelet. He took down the€51,000 Majestic High Roller at the 2012 WSOP Europe. At the time, the WSOP didn't award a bracelet for the European high roller event, something that has since changed. Bradley dubbed Watson's achievement the "Fake Triple Crown."
Watson knows this is the last box to check on his résumé, and he's determined to do so.
"I'd like to get the bracelet and make it the real thing," he said.