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Vive la France!

Hellmuth, Esfandiari continue their domination at WSOP-Europe

by Sean Chaffin

“I know people don’t expect me to use this word, but I’m humbled by this,” an emotional Hellmuth said after his victory.  “I’m still trying to figure out if this is real or not.  This was the best poker I’ve ever played in my life.  I know that for certain.  In Hold’em, I played as good as I could possibly play; and I caught a few breaks and here I am.  I’m just very thankful.”


The French city of Cannes attracts movie stars and paparazzi to its annual film festival.  However, it recently played host to another marque event.  For the second time, poker’s biggest names converged on the Gold Coast for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Europe.  After four years in London, the Casino Barriere and Croisette Casino played host to seven bracelet events in late September and early October.  Two familiar names dominated the action – Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari.



      Phil Hellmuth is on a roll and continues to prove his card-playing brilliance.  After a massive WSOP in 2011 that included three runner-up finishes, the lightening rod of the pro circuit followed up in 2012 with six cashes; three final tables (including a fourth-place finish in the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop for $2.6 million); and largest of all, a win in the $2,500 Razz event to extend his WSOP bracelet record to 12.

In France, Hellmuth piled on to his recent successes by cashing in four events, plus winning the €10,450 Main Event, which featured 420 players from around the globe.  That accomplishment netted the Poker Brat his 13th bracelet, more than €1 million, and the distinction of becoming the first player to win both the Main Event at the WSOP and WSOPE.  Hellmuth dominated for five days of play, using any two cards and incredible reads to wage war against his opponents.  He now is the career leader in WSOP cashes (95) and final table appearances (45); and is third all-time with a whopping $17.48 million in WSOP event earnings.  His latest championship gives the intercontinental cardsharp a three-bracelet career lead over fellow poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.

“I know people don’t expect me to use this word, but I’m humbled by this,” an emotional Hellmuth said after his victory.  “I’m still trying to figure out if this is real or not.  This was the best poker I’ve ever played in my life.  I know that for certain.  In Hold’em, I played as good as I could possibly play; and I caught a few breaks and here I am.  I’m just very thankful.”

Poker pros offered their congratulations via Twitter to Hellmuth, including these from Brunson:  “Congrats buddy. You proved you are the BEST!”

The victory makes Hellmuth the leader in the WSOP Player of the Year standings.  Only Greg Merson has a chance to pass him.  To do so, Merson must win the WSOP Main Event Championship.  He sits third in the chip count for that event which reconvenes Oct. 28 at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.



      Coming off an enormous win at the Big One for One Drop ($18.3 million), Antonio Esfandiari still had some magic left and used it to top the field of 626 to win Event 2 (€1,100 No Limit Hold’em) and pocket €126,207 and his third gold bracelet.  The win brings the 34-year-old’s winnings to $19.5 million and he continues to roll after cashing seven times at the WSOP this summer in Las Vegas.  Esfandiari became just the third player in history to notch a bracelet at the WSOP and WSOPE in the same year.

“Life is the same.  I’m just a tad bit more popular in the poker universe these days,” Esfandiari said jokingly about his recent success.  “I went to London for the Olympics; then to the Maldives for a vacation; followed by home; then to the Burning Man festival, which was the greatest experience of my life.  I haven’t made any crazy purchases, but have been ordering cheese on my burgers though.  Life is good.”


In other WSOPE action:


• Event 1 (€2,700 Six Handed NLHE) – Imed Ben Mahmoud, of Tunisia and now living in France, topped a field of 277 to earn his first gold bracelet and €147,000.  The 37-year-old kitchen worker began the final day in sixth place before advancing his way to heads-up play.  Mahmoud has been playing three years and planned to buy an apartment with his winnings.


Event 3 – (€5,300 Pot Limit Omaha) – Roger Hairabedian became the WSOPE’s first French winner.  The 60-year-old poker pro took home €142,590 by besting a field of 97 and a final table that included well-known pros Jason Mercier, Joe Hachem, and Michael Mizrachi.


• Event 4 (€3,250 NLHE Shootout) – Another Frenchman struck gold when Giovanni Rosadoni, 52, conquered the 141-player field to win his first bracelet and €107,614.  Amazingly, this was his first WSOP event of any kind.  One event, one bracelet – that’s a pretty nice track record!


• Event 5 (€10,500 Mixed Max NLHE) – This event featured variations of Hold’em with nine-handed play on Day 1 and six-handed on Day 2.  There was also a heads-up draw with 16 players remaining.  In the end, Los Angeles native Jonathan Aguiar outlasted the competition and took home his first bracelet and €258,047.  His total heads-up play against Brandon Cantu lasted 15 hours.


• Event 6 (€1,650 Six Handed Pot Limit Omaha) – Francisco Da Costa Santos became the first Portuguese bracelet winner and took home €82,275 in the process.  The full-time poker pro also runs a construction business, and says poker is new to Portugal.  He may become the country’s new poker ambassador after his recent success!


The setting might not have been the neon lights of Las Vegas, but the French Riviera proved to be a great stop for poker’s elite.  They bluffed, bet, folded, and raised en route, at least for a few, to bringing home some hardware and cold, hard cash.


Check out Sean’s new book, RAISING THE STAKES:  True Tales of Gambling, Wagering and Poker Faces, available as an eBook and in paperback at,, and  The book features crazy tales of gambling and poker from underground casinos to cockfights in Puerto Rico.  He is also editor of, all about poker history, lore, and people.  If you have a gambling or poker story idea, email



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