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New poker champion rakes in $9.15 million

Peter Eastgate of Denmark became the World Series of Poker’s youngest champion early Tuesday morning, eclipsing a 19-year mark held by Phil Hellmuth.

But to say Eastgate, 22, is anything like Hellmuth, one of poker’s most dominant players who won the 1989 World Series of Poker crown at 24, would be a tremendous bluff.

Eastgate, who earned $9.15million after surviving a nearly four-hour heads-up final table with Russian Ivan Demidov in the $10,000 buy-in no-limit World Championship of hold ’em at the Rio, is quiet and unassuming. He seemingly said little that was audible during the competition.

The boisterous Hellmuth has earned the nickname "Poker Brat" for his nonstop talking and over-the-top tantrums at the table. When he won his World Poker Championship at Binion’s, his brashness put off some of the game’s grizzled veterans.

In just a few months, Eastgate has earned the respect of his peers. Demidov, who earned $5.8 million for second place, said the resident of Odense, Denmark, was the player he most feared coming into the final table. Third-place finisher Dennis Phillips of St. Louis thought Eastgate could become one of the game’s top players.

Hellmuth, meanwhile, was admonished by World Series of Poker officials in July for his profanity-filled beat-down of a fellow player during the late rounds of the Main Event. Some observers thought he should have been thrown out of the tournament. When he was introduced to the audience Sunday during final table play at the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater, he was roundly booed.

Eastgate seemed bemused Tuesday morning, fumbling with the opulent World Series of Poker diamond encrusted bracelet awarded to all event champions. It wouldn’t surprise any poker fan to see Hellmuth, who owns a World Series of Poker record 11 champion bracelets, wear the entire collection to the table just to draw attention to himself.

Still, on Sunday night when they were introduced, Eastgate said Hellmuth congratulated him for reaching the final table and wished him luck.

The victory hadn’t set in with Eastgate on Tuesday, even after posing for hundreds of photos next to $9.15 million in cash, 136.9 million in tournament chips, and his winning hand, a five-high straight.

"I do not think I have realized yet what a big moment this is," said Eastgate, who speaks both English and Danish. With his curly, blond locks, he resembles a Southern California surfer and barely looks old enough to legally gamble.

"It will come the next days and weeks. I expect I will get emotional about it later. But not as much now," he said.

Eastgate dropped out of college to become a professional player, making his mark on the Internet. He paid the $10,000 entry fee in cash to get into the Main Event, but wouldn’t say if he had any backers.

"I like to gamble," he said. "The way I have learned to play poker is by putting a lot of hours into it and learning from my mistakes."

The end came quickly and without warning on the day’s 104th hand. Eastgate, who entered heads-up play with a chip lead of 80.3 million to Demidov’s 56.6 million, had built up a six-to-one lead shortly before a 20-minute break at 2 a.m. Demidov had lost a 44 million pot before the break and a roughly 17 million pot on the 101st hand.

Demidov, who held a four and a deuce, declared all-in on the river card after making two pair, fours and deuces. But Eastgate, who held ace-five, immediately called the all-in, after making a five-high straight, known as a "wheel," on the turn card.

"There wasn’t much drama, kind of like the Super Bowl," World Series of Poker spokesman Nolan Dalla said.

Eastgate had lost his chip lead to Demidov early in the competition, but slowly built it back up and regained the lead. By 12:30 a.m., Eastgate had collected some 100 million in tournament chips.

"There were swings and I didn’t make any real mistakes," Eastgate said. "He was catching hands. I really didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t afraid or terrified. I was confident in my game."

Eastgate was backed by a large contingent of Danish poker fans who were often led in song by two-time World of Series of Poker bracelet winner Jesper Hougaard.

"I knew most of them," Eastgate said.

Eastgate also had kind words for Demidov, 27, who finished third last month in the Main Event at the European World Series of Poker in London.

"This was the first time we played heads-up, and I’m sure we’ll play heads-up again," Eastgate said. "Just because I won the heads-up does not make me a better player than him. It goes to show that it is sometimes good to be lucky."

Demidov, who was backed by his own army of fans, some of whom dressed in Russian and Soviet military garb, was disappointed with the outcome, but conciliatory toward Eastgate. He said the final hand didn’t cost him the tournament. There were others he was more upset about.

"I think I played really well at the start," Demidov said. "I caught him, but it is really tough to say what went wrong. Every time I tried to bluff, he called and had a hand."

A field of 6,844 players began the main event in July. After the event was cut to the final nine players July 15, the tournament took a 117-day break. ESPN televised the event Tuesday, but it is expected to be repeated.

Eastgate’s win instantly put him up in second place on the World Series of Poker’s all-time money winners’ list. Only 2006 world champion Jamie Gold has won more prize money, $12 million. Last year’s champion, Jerry Yang, won $8.25 million. Hellmuth’s 1989 World Series of Poker victory was worth $755,000, but that was before Harrah’s Entertainment bought the tournament, brought in sponsors and expanded the field.

The last non-American to win the World Series of Poker was Australian Joe Hachem in 2005. With Eastgate’s win, foreign-born players have now won six of the last 11 world championships.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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