After two weeks of action in poker’s most prestigious tournament, the $10,000 buy-in main event of the 2019 World Series of Poker has come to a close with German poker pro Hossein Ensan securing the title, the bracelet, and the massive $10 million first-place prize.
“I am so happy I am here with bracelet in hand,” Ensan said in the early morning hours following his victory. ” [It’s] unbelievable. What can I say? It is the best feeling I’ve had in all my life.”
This is Germany’s second main event title overall, the first coming in 2011 when Pius Heinz came away as the champion. But while Heinz was just 22 when he won the bracelet, Ensan is 55, by far the oldest player to win the tournament in quite some time. In fact, not since 62-year-old Irish poker pro Noel Furlong won it all in 1999 has a player of Ensan’s age earned the title.
While he grew up in Germany, Ensan was actually born in Iran, which is a trait he shares with two other main event champions in 1990’s Monsour Matloubi, and 1992’s Hamid Dastmalchi.
Ensan entered the final day with the chip lead, but had to deal with the pesky Italian high roller Dario Sammartino before securing the win. The 32-year-old had been battling from the short stack ever since a dealer error with 11 players remaining led to him shipping over most of his stack to fellow finalist Nick Marchington.
Sammartino ultimately came up just short, however, settling for the $6 million payday. He is now no. 1 on Italy’s all-time money list with nearly $14 million in total earnings.
“He’s a big name and he’s a very good player,” Ensan said. “But, short-handed you need cards. You need hands and for sure luck. Luck and hands [were] on my side.”
Indeed the cards favored Ensan most of the match. On the final hand, his pocket kings held against Sammartino’s straight and flush draw to secure the title.
In addition to the money, Ensan also earned 3,300 Card Player Player of the Year points for his win. The POY is sponsored by Global Poker.
Here’s a look at a recap of all the action from the final table.
Following a one-day break after making the final table, the nine finalists returned to the Rio to play the first of three sessions to be filmed and broadcast on ESPN.
Garry Gates, who came into the tournament second in chips, strengthened his position in the standings when he took out Milos Skrbic in ninth place.
Surprisingly, the $1 million payout Skrbic received isn’t the biggest payout of the Serbian’s career. Just last December, Skrbic finished runner-up in the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic main event at Bellagio for $1,087,603. He finished fifth in the WSOP Europe main event last year as well. With $2.65 million in career earnings, he is now second on Serbia’s all-time money list behind Andjelko Andrejevic.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Skrbic following his elimination from the main event. “I’m still in shock. It was fun, for sure. It still hasn’t gotten to me. I’m not really sure. I’m very sad.”
Timothy Su wasn’t disappointed in the slightest, however, with the $1.25 million he picked up for eighth place.
“I think it was phenomenal,” said Su of his main event run. “As I said and have been saying for the for the whole tournament, I have no expectations. Just making a min-cash would be awesome. Yet somehow, I was able to spin it up.”
Su, who was the talk of the tournament for a bit after his fearless move with an open-ended straight draw cracked the pocket aces of high roller Sam Greenwood, will take his seven-figure prize back to his day job as a software engineer in Boston with a smile on his face.
The same can be said for seventh-place finisher Nick Marchington, who echoed Su’s sentiments about his performance.
“I felt really happy the whole way,” the British poker pro said. “I really enjoyed the final table. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t’ really feel too much pressure. Maybe I’m the youngest-ever seventh-place finisher.”
The 21-year-old Essex resident only had one previous small cash on his tournament resume, but added $1.525 million to his bankroll for his run.
Florida-native Zhen Cai went into the final table in third place, but ultimately lost two flips to see his stack evaporate. The 35-year-old former dealer, who also owns a WSOP Circuit ring, was hoping to best the runner-up finish from his good friend Tony Miles in last year’s main event with a win of his own, but had to settle for $1.85 million in sixth place.
“Tony and I have been friends pretty much ever since I started playing poker for a living,” said Cai. “We became really good friends, and started going to music festivals together. He was the best man at my wedding. He’s the godfather to my son. So, it’s definitely amazing for us to go back-to-back at the main event final table.”
As play wrapped up for the evening, Ensan had maintained his large chip stack while Gates climbed within shouting distance in second. The pair accounted for nearly 80 percent of the remaining chips in play.
On the second night of play, it took more than three hours before a player would hit the rail. Kevin Maahs found himself flipping against Ensan and failing to connect. The 27-year-old Chicago native’s only WSOP cash was worth $2.2 million for fifth place.
“I think the experience was almost worth more than the money. Earlier today I did the math: there have been 50 main events, so if you look at the top five from each of those years, that’s only like 250 people in the world that have ever made it this far. With a few repeats, less than 250 that have experienced this,” Maahs told Card Player after going out in fifth. “The experience is what I’m gonna take away. The money is nice, obviously, but the money isn’t why the best play… I think, I hope. The best play because they love the competition.”
In his post-elimination press conference, Maahs also addressed the internet backlash to his tanking with weak hands on the first night of final table action. Maahs drew the ire of some viewers for taking quite a while to fold J-7 facing an open raise from Skrbic and an all-in from Sammartino. Maahs even asked for a count before folding his hand.
“When you don’t show your hole cards, you get in your opponent’s heads when you tank that long. If they are going to get angry, then more power to me,” said Maahs. “I’m not going to get angry over anything at the table. I’m gonna be happy and play my game. If everyone’s gonna blow me up on Twitter and stuff, get angry at me and I’m going to be hated by everyone, that’s fine. I’m cool with it.”
Gates had one of the biggest rails at the final table, thanks to his connections in the poker industry. Gates got his start at the WSOP as a poker reporter, not a player. These days, he works as an events manager and the senior consultant for player affairs at PokerStars.
The Titusville, Pennsylvaniva-native entered the day in great shape, but a few picked off bluffs and lost showdowns saw his stack tumble down the leaderboard. Gates then ran pocket sixes into pocket queens and was all of a sudden out in fifth, banking $3 million.
“It was a whirlwind. You come into a final table with as many chips as I had, you expect a higher result,” admitted Gates. “But at the same time, those are some world-class poker players and I don’t do this for a living. Just to get this far and to have as much love and support as I had along the way, I knew I had already won. On one hand, it’s a little disappointing, but on the other hand, I’m a lucky guy. This has changed my life.”
When play resumed on the final day, Alex Livingston sat in second place behind Ensan and the ever short-stacked Sammartino. It was no surprise the Halifax, Nova Scotia-native made a deep main event run considering his previous experience. Livingston also finished 13th in the 2013 main event, banking $451,398. The 32-year-old also had a solid summer prior to the main event, having finished ninth in the $1,500 eight-game mix event, and seventh in the $2,500 mixed eight-or-better event.
Unfortunately for the former chess champion, his pocket kings were cracked by the turned two pair of 10-6 held by Sammartino to ship over a big chunk of his chips. The rest went in a few orbits later when he ran A-J into Ensan’s dominating A-Q. Both players paired their kicker, but Livingston was sent to the rail to collect his $4 million payout.
While Maahs was criticized for his tanking, Livingston was praised for his speedy play and quick decisions.
“It’s possible I’m the fastest player in main event final table history,” said Livingston. “I don’t know. That’s how I play, and I don’t see and reason to deviate from that. And actually, if I can use whatever little platform I have now… I don’t play very many no-limit tournaments each year. Part of that is because there is so much tanking, the headphones. You guys know. It’s not fun. Maybe I play too fast… but the game is more fun when you speed it up a bit. I try to do my part.”
With Livingston out, it came down to Germany vs. Italy for the title. Ensan began the heads-up match with 279,800,000 in chips to Sammartino’s 235,000,000, more than 200 big blinds in play. Regardless of who won, however, it was ensured that the main event championship would go to a European for the first time since 2014 when Swedish poker pro Martin Jacobson won.
It was fitting that the two most experienced players at the final table would wind up heads up. Ensan, who came in with a massive chip lead to start, wasn’t much of a surprise. But Sammartino, who came into the final table in the middle of the pack, had to survive multiple all-in and double ups to make the final two.
Of course, both players had been in big tournament spots before. Ensan has tournament cashes dating back to 2013, but has been playing poker since he emigrated from Iran to Germany in 1990. The self-described amateur used to be a painter before finding poker.
Ensan finished third in the EPT Barcelona main event back in 2014 for $860,091, and then followed that up with a sixth-place showing at EPT Malta in 2015 for another $166,262. After back-to-back wins at the EPT Grand Final in 2015, Ensan won the EPT Prague main event for $825,151. In 2017, Ensan won a WSOP Circuit event, taking down the main event in Rozvadov for $219,036.
Despite being younger, however, the 32-year-old Sammartino had the most enviable list of accomplishments including a third-place finish in the $111,111 buy-in High Roller For One Drop back in 2017 for $1,608,295.
Sammartino also has numerous final tables at the EPT Grand Final and PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. In total, the former StarCraft standout had more than $8 million in career earnings before even playing the main event. By finishing third or better, he was guaranteed to overtake Mustapha Kanit for no. 1 on Italy’s all-time money list.
The two battled it out for 100 hands, with Sammartino even taking the lead at one point before Ensan wrestled it back and managed to increase his lead slightly to a 2:1 advantage. On the final hand, he raised to 11,000,000 on the button and Sammartino called from the big blind.
The flop came down 10 6 2, and Sammartino check-called a bet of 15,000,000. The turn was the 9, and Sammartino checked again. Ensan bet 33,000,000, and Sammartino shoved for 140,000,0000. Ensan called with pocket kings, and Sammartino showed 8 4 for a flush draw and gut shot straight draw.
The river was the Q, and Sammartino was eliminated in second place, earning $6 million. Ensan dragged the final pot of the tournament, taking the $10 million first-place prize and main event title back to Germany.
“I think I played perfect poker until heads-up,” said Sammartino. “I think I could have done much better in some spots, but I was [also] card dead for a long time.”
Despite coming up just a bit short of the title, Sammartino was overwhelmed with happiness after he was eliminated, with Ensan’s rail joining in on cheers for ‘Super Dario!’
“The problem is that I don’t have the words to explain how I feel. Even in Italian I can’t explain it. It’s something crazy. You really feel something… amazing.”
Here is a look at the final table results.
For more coverage from the summer series, check out the 2019 WSOP landing page, complete with a full schedule, results, news, player interviews, and event recaps.
*Winner photo courtesy of the WSOP/Joe Giron