I covered the PokerStars.com European Poker Tour London which was hosted at the historic Grosvenor Victoria Casino, known fondly among locals as "The Vic." They originally capped the tournament at 500 players, but almost 600 showed up looking for a shot at the first place prize of £1,000,000.
Some of poker's biggest names played in the event, including the likes of Ivey, Negreanu, Jesus, Devilfish, Fossilman, and tennis legend Boris Becker. But it was a young American and his mother who stole the spotlight. Twenty-four-year old Michael Martin from Washing Cross, PA came from behind to win the PokerStars.com EPT London in truly dramatic fashion.
Michael had a rough summer at the WSOP and took a hiatus from playing tournament poker. After a welcome break from the grind of playing cards for a living, Michael decided to buy in to the EPT London. His time away from the felt must have worked because it was the first tournament he played since his return ...and he won the entire thing.
When Michael advanced to the final table, he arranged to fly his mother and his girlfriend to London from the States. He also called up his good friend Brandon Schaefer (EPT Deauville Champion and runner-up in the 2005 EPT Grand Finale), who was in Germany celebrating Oktoberfest. Brandon got a call from Michael at three in the morning. Michael told him to book the first flight to London, since he made the final table.
Brandon arrived just before start time. He joined Michael's team of railbirds which included his extremely nervous girlfriend and his jovial mother, Nancy.
"My mother got interested in poker and now she plays quite a bit. She enjoys poker more than I do. Sometimes she wins more than I do, too. "
Nancy even won a seat to the WCOOP main event by winning a satellite on PokerStars.
"She calls me up the night before the WCOOP and tells me that she won a seat in the main event," explained Michael. "I'm baffled. I couldn't believe it. It forced me to wake up at 5 a.m. the next day, and I played every single satellite to try to win my seat."
Michael's friends joked that he learned everything about poker from his mother. One thing is for sure, the appearance of his railbirds inspired him to dig deep and pull out the victory. Coupled with a fortunate run of cards, or what EPT founder John Duthie called "the rush of a lifetime," Michael managed to outlast a tough final table that included WSOP bracelet winner Alan Smurfit, and two Team PokerStars pros: Johannes Strassmann (Germany) and Marcin Horecki (Poland). Also at the final table were two big cash game players, Eric Liu (USA) and Antony Lellouche (France).
At one point at the final table, it appeared that Martin was dead in the water. He was on the brink of elimination before he mounted an impressive comeback. At his lowest point he had 95,000 remaining in his stack and 80,000 of it was posted in the big blind. He tripled up and then doubled up. He ran his stack from 95,000 up to 1.5 million inside of ten minutes. A couple of orbits later, he busted Liu to take over the chip lead.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in poker," said Martin.
Although he lost the lead briefly during heads-up play against Michael Tureniec (Sweden), Michael Martin remained composed as he rallied to victory. He did not disappoint this family and friends, making their last-minute trips to London well worth the hassle.
When EPT hostess Kara Scott asked Michael what he was going to do with his £1,000,000 windfall he remarked, "I guess it's time for me to open a European bank account."
Congrats to Michael Martin, one of the good guys in poker.
Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire is a writer, poker player, and avid traveler from New York City. He's the author of the Tao of Poker blog which can be found at taopoker.blogspot.com. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.