No one ever won a poker tournament without making the odd bluff, hitting the odd card, laying the odd trap and making the occasional hero call that might also have sent them to the rail. The 28-year-old Moritz Kranich from Hamburg, Germany, has shown all the requisite skills and more in Deauville this week, and is the worthy champion and winner of the €851,400 first prize.
But the most significant hero call of Kranich's poker career to date was actually made by his opponent, the 19-year-old Tristan Clemencon, when he and Kranich were the dominant bullies in a three-handed battle. There was only a 100,000 difference in the two-million-plus chip stacks of Clemencon and Kranich when the German moved all in on a board of Tc-Th-8s. The third player - France's Arnaud Esquevin - looked on with delight.
Clemencon thought for more than five minutes as he searched for the hero inside himself. But when Clemencon made that call, it was Kranich pumping his fist. The German had laid the perfect trap with his J-10 and Clemencon, drawing dead, mucked what he later revealed to be 8-2.
"I played my trips fast thinking of he has anything at all, he will get it in," said Kranich. "He fell for it and called my check raise."
With that, Kranich vaulted into a commanding chip lead for a brief heads-up battle with Esquevin.
That ended within an hour with the crowning of the second German EPT champion of the season.
"Poker has boomed in Germany for the last two or three years," he explained. "And there are a lot of good players."
Including Kranich. He had been a massive chip leader at the end of day two in Deauville, and he had played some of the best poker seen on the tour this year to get to that position. He seemed nailed on to take his place as chip leader around the final table after he also cruised through day three. But Clemencon had belied his tender years and led a spirited French charge on home soil.
When we reconvened in the Casino Barriere de Deauville at 2pm this afternoon, Frenchmen occupied five of the eight final table seats, with Clemencon out in front.
It was a fairly top-heavy chip ladder as the first hand of the afternoon was dealt. Clemencon, Kranich and the Italian player Andrea Benelli each had comfortably more than a million chips, while none of Jorn Walthaus, a lone Dutch representative, nor the French quartet of Esquevin, Jonathan Azoulay, Bruno Launais and Thomas Delattre had much more than 500,000.
And so those small stacks began to fall. First, Delattre's A-10 ran into Launais' A-K. One down. Then Launais received a taste of his own medicine when his A-7 slipped into the big slick of Esquevin.
Walthaus and Azoulay then fell in consecutive hands - again an accident with A-rag against A-K for Walthaus, then a plucky J-8 shove from Azoulay running into Benelli's A-2.
The only short stack from the start of the day still alive at this point was Esquevin, and it was going exactly according to plan for him. He said yesterday that despite trailing in chips, he knew that "anything could happen". And he was right.
Benelli, the only player with previous EPT final table experience, was flexing his muscles all afternoon and had even strong-armed himself past Clemencon and Kranich to the chip lead. But the wheels came off in spectacular fashion for Benelli: his pocket jacks cost him a bundle against Clemencon's 9-7, which had made two pairs, and then the same knaves, this time in Esquevin's hand, cost him and his Q-8 his chance at the title.
So that left us with the three who would cash in such epic circumstances. Clemencon later told French reporters that he thought he misplayed the huge hand against Kranich, and described it as "the worst hand of my life". Certainly the result was a disaster for the young Frenchman, but he has been outstanding all week in Deauville, and is still a hero in the making.
Likewise Esquevin, who wound up with €495,400 for his second place, almost precisely one Euro per unit of tournament chips he had at the start of the final. It looked like a short stack then; it looks better in the bank account now.
As for Kranich, he now joins his friend Sebastian Ruthenberg in the season five EPT winners' enclosure, and he also intends to join his wife Jessica in a new house in their home town of Dortmund, bought with a small slice of his €851,400 win.
All in all, it was a hugely welcome return for the whole EPT circus to the Normandy coast and Deauville. Let's not leave it three years next time, huh.
Next stop, Copenhagen.
All images (c) Neil Stoddart