You might think the idea of staging a major poker tournament in an Alpine ski resort would detract somewhat from the real business at hand. With ski slopes just a short walk away, and with winter sports leaflets glossily presented to every hotel guest, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Alpine Palace hotel in Hinterglemm, wasn't really a poker kind of place. Well, any doubts were erased today by one of season seven's best final tables.
The short version of the day's story is that Vladimir Geshkenbein is the new EPT Snowfest champion, winner of €390,000 and a seat in the Champion of Champion event, having beaten Kevin Vandersmissen heads-up.
EPT Snowfest winner Vladimir Geshkenbein
The long version is an epic tale of engagement, of ego, of stubbornness and Twitter, as characters collided in a nine-hour scramble that added together was about more than a simple game of poker.
Geshkenbein now reigns, one of the European Poker Tour's most unusual champions. The Russian may have started the day fourth in chips, but few doubted that he was the player to watch. Wildly unpredictable, fantastically cheeky and maddeningly smug, Geshkenbein at times dominated, at times infuriated, but always looked the champion he now is.
But despite such astounding levels of swagger, no one should have been in any doubt as to Geshkenbein's instinctive talent, as his friends who lifted him onto their shoulders at the bell, certainly felt.
The final table
This day started just after 2pm this afternoon. Morten Mortensen started things off in admirable spirit, shoving on the first hand to no avail. He may not have got business, but when Italian Giacomo Maisto tried the same thing he doubled up - twice - first against Vandersmissen, then Philip Meulyzer. Suddenly the impulsive Italian was a contender again. No one would know it at the time but this five minute spell would be pivotal, shaping the final for the next seven-and-a-half-hours of play.
Mortensen went first, departing in eighth place when his eights fell to the ace-jack of Koen de Visscher. A short while later Irishman Denis Murphy would follow, this time taken out by Vandersmissen.
The short stacks continued to struggle, Philip Meulyzer, assuming the role and going next in sixth place, countryman Vandersmissen dispatching him when his queen-jack made two pair to topple Meulyzer's ace-king.
As the final developed, two players began to take key roles.
First Geshkenbein. So raw with confidence, he seemed to believe that if he simply thought he was the best player - and he arguably was - that would be enough. In the levels before the dinner break he began to struggle, as if he'd started to believe his own propaganda. That cost him, losing hands to Cristian Dragomir, an arch rival from earlier main event days.
He also spent much of the day combating Vandersmissen, both on the table and off. On the table, the two seemed up for a scrap. Away from the table, that extended to Twitter also, where Geshkenbein fired off some un-pleasantries. Vandersmissen, in response, did what anyone else under attack would do - he returned the fire.
Vladimir Geshkenbein: Up to two mil.. Valuetowned a fat Belgium guy.
Kevin Vandersmissen's response: Valuetowned the russian alcoholic! 6.6mill now play resumes in 5 min.
It made for some interesting dramatic irony, as anyone with a smartphone picking up the free hotel wireless knew exactly what was going through the minds of the two main protagonists.
The other key player was Maisto. Written off as the weaker player, playing tight to edge deeper in the money, it's unwise to write off his performance as an anomaly. Maisto filled the roll of fourth place finisher ably, and, as suggested, his double double-up gave him the ammunition to be the thorn in the side of everyone, even Geshkenbein, who had the knack of scaring everyone but couldn't always challenge Maisto's habit of re-raising the Russian off of hands.
Dragomir would go in fifth place but until Maisto was dispatched he took on the role of kingmaker, and until his elimination in fourth place the others played the waiting game, fearful that the Italian would snatch the top-three finish they believed they rightfully deserved.
So it was a backhanded compliment when, following on from his departure, the other three players celebrated with a €600 bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Vintage 1998. Liberated, and now friends, play loosened, and soon big towers of chips went into the middle. Ultimately De Visscher gave way.
Geshkenbein toasts a top three finish
A word on De Visscher, who throughout the event never engaged in the petty recriminations that had created rivalries aplenty. Instead he put in a solid performance, worthy of at least third place, taking his champagne and prize money to the rail with the instruction to his friends, paraphrased I should add, that they should perhaps, energetically, have another drink or two.
Koen de Visscher
Heads-up, and with chips relatively equal, there was every chance that play would go on into the early hours of Saturday morning. Instead it was all done within half an hour, the coup de grace delivered by Geshkenbein in five minutes, first when his two pairs snatched him the lead ("Don't be sad," Geshkenbein had said to Vandersmissen. "second place is good as well."), and then again five minutes later with the chips in the middle. The Russian flopped two pairs and Vandersmissen was beaten for good.
Vladimir Geshkenbein waits...
Vladimir Geshkenbein wins...