If anyone thought poker was a game lacking emotion, except perhaps that of over-achieving tub-thumpers; or if they believed it to be a game based purely on money, on ego and of one-upmanship against their fellow man, they need only look as far as the European Poker Tour's newest champion Roberto Romanello, for proof of otherwise.
Tonight, Romanello endeared himself to a poker community eager to see one of its natural talents succeed. After the last hand against runner-up Emiliano Bono, of Italy, Romanello simply couldn't help it. He covered his face with his hands trying to hide a stream of tears. His attempt to manfully cough it off failed as he looked for a steadying embrace from Thomas Kremser. Even those watching from the stage began to choke up.
So, six days and 562 eliminations after it began, the defining image of EPT Prague will not be one of cards, nor towers of chips or the arms-aloft celebration of some lucky outdraw. It will be of a 34-year-old man, alone in the corner of a room, sobbing helplessly into his arms, completely overcome by emotion, to the utter delight of a contented crowd.
"This means everything to me," Romanello would say when he'd had a few deep breaths and a sip of beer. "I felt I had so much support here, and I would like to thank everyone who has given it."
Tournament Director Thomas Kremser embraces Roberto Romanello
It marks the end of a breakthrough year for Romanello who just ten months ago knew exactly how it felt to fall as this final stage. A few hours after his sixth-placed finish in Copenhagen, he was picking at a consolatory dinner in the hotel restaurant, his face speaking more than any words. "It felt like it was my tournament," he'd said, wondering if he would ever get as close again. Well today he found his answer, one worth €640,000.
Romanello with Emiliano Bono
To see Romanello in action today was to see skilful poker at its best and in its purest form. Serious, and playing with unbroken concentration, Romanello angled his stack for attack, he never weakened, he never lost his resolve and he's an EPT champion because of it.
For his part Bono showed all the good grace that defeat demands. Today he had been a bundle of contradiction. Quiet while the others put in the legwork, Bono would explode in jack-in-the-box fashion and chest-thump his way through several vital double-ups. With a curious black cloth draped over his head, Bono led a charmed existence which seemed pre-ordained to end with over-achievement. That meant second place for the amiable Italian, who leaves Prague happy with €435,000.
Runner-up Emiliano Bono
The final got off to a lively start. Within minutes Roberto Nulli, one of three remaining Italians, was bidding his opponents farewell, to be followed minutes later by Frenchman Manuel Bevand. Any notion of a quick staccato final seemed assured when Slovakian Jan Bendik followed in sixth place. But then the frost settled. Four hours and nine minutes would pass before Marco Leonzio was dispatched in fifth.
The EPT trophy
Leonzio had been Italy's brightest hope, reaching the final day as chip leader and was on course to emulate his countryman Salvatore Bonavena's win in Prague two seasons ago. But while his rise to the top had been swift yesterday, that same impetus vanished today, and he proved unable to counter the precision of Romanello and the quiet focus of Team PokerStars Pro Marcin Horecki. Ultimately it was Romanello who sent him on his way.
Peter Skripka would go next, a player with obvious talent and the right degree of ambivalence to be a perpetual thorn in others's sides. Horecki had been victim of Skripka's nonchalant panache but got the last word, out kicking him into fourth place.
PokerStars player Peter Skripka
Horecki's hopes of a first EPT title would also be lost some two hours later. Three-handed, the man from Poland suffered in two key hands, against both Romanello and then Bono, before Bono, in an Ace-Jack vs Ace-King encounter, delivered the coup de grace. The Italian edged a jack on the river, leaving Horecki with a result equal to his third place in London back in 2008.
Romanello and Bono console third-placed Horecki
An hour and 15 minutes later, after an exhausting final table, Romanello had what he'd come for, an EPT title. We'd be happy to see him get a second.
That concludes our live coverage from Prague, made memorable for snow, dancing Santas, and a Welshman in a fuzzy hat, sobbing gently and clutching his EPT trophy. We're now going to take advantage of the early finish and the free bar proffered by Mr Romanello by way of celebration. Maybe after that we'll check-up the travel news from home, peer through the window at the snow in Prague, and gulp.
The Prague Hilton, going weird
Provided we get through the ice blockade we'll be back on 6 January 2011 with live coverage of the first events at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure on Paradise Island. As ever it promises everything that poker players would want, with all the conch chowder and pink drinks you could wish for.
Until then it's good night, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Prague.