The boisterous crowds that supported Germany’s Hossein Ensan and Italy’s Dario Sammartino turned their heads-up showdown at the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event into something akin to a World Cup soccer match between the two countries.
They waved flags, sang songs and clapped and chanted for each player into early Wednesday at the Rio Convention Center.
“It was like an Italy-Germany final,” Sammartino said. “It’s really fun for poker. We need this.”
Germany won in the end, as Ensan eliminated Sammartino after more than four hours of heads-up play. Ensan topped a field of 8,569 to claim the $10 million first-place prize and the coveted gold and diamond bracelet for winning the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold’em World Championship.
“This is the best feeling I have in all my life. I can’t believe it,” said Ensan, a native of Iran. “I must go to sleep and wake up. Then I know I have bracelet. Maybe it’s a dream. I don’t know.”
Sammartino, from Naples, won $6 million for second place.
“The problem with words is you can’t explain how you feel,” said Sammartino, who wore a tuxedo and mirrored sunglasses as he played. “Even in Italian, I can’t explain how I feel. But it’s something crazy. You really feel something amazing.
“I think I play good. Not perfect, how I think I have to play. But I play nice.”
Ensan, 55, joined 2011 champion Pius Heinz as the second German to win the Main Event and is the oldest champion since Noel Furlong won in 1999 at age 62. He’s the third-oldest to win — Johnny Moss was 67 when he won in 1974.
Ensan is the first champion in the 50-year history of the Main Event to win the final hand on a pair of kings. Sammartino had a straight and flush draw after the turn and went all-in for 140 million in chips. Ensan called with pocket kings. A queen of clubs on the river was no help to Sammartino, and poker’s most prestigious event was over 14 days after it started.
“Dario is a friend of mine. He’s a big name and a very good player,” Ensan said. “Short-handed, you need cards, you need hands and, for sure, luck. And luck and hands was on my side. Otherwise, I was second. I lost a lot of my chips.”
Ensan entered Tuesday with more than 60 percent of the chips in play before relinquishing the lead to Canada’s Alex Livingston, whom he later eliminated in third place. Livingston, who splits time between his native Nova Scotia and Las Vegas, won $4 million for finishing third. In 2013, Livingston placed third in the Main Event.
Shortly after starting heads-up play at 9:20 p.m., Sammartino won a huge pot to almost double Ensan’s chip stack. But Ensan climbed back into the lead after winning a steady stream of pots and almost quadrupled Sammartino’s stack on a key hand.
Ensan had two pair, 10s and 5s, and bet 35 million in chips. Sammartino, who only had a pair of 5s, went in the think tank for three minutes before calling and losing the monster pot. “Super Dario,” which was printed on his supporters’ T-shirts, never recovered.
Sammartino, 32, was the most accomplished poker pro at the final table, with total live earnings of more than $8 million. He finished with eight cashes at the 2019 WSOP for $6.4 million.
Ensan said “I tried to do everything” for work after high school. He didn’t pursue a pro poker career until he was almost 40 and didn’t cash in his first event until 2013, when he was 49.
He won $860,000 for placing third in a European Poker Tour event in Barcelona in 2014 and entered the Main Event with $2.6 million in total live earnings. The $10 million first prize is his second cash in the United States.
“Wow. Wow,” the overjoyed Ensan said. “What I do with the money? I don’t know. Maybe after tomorrow I know.
“I need beer and some fun with my friends.”
There was plenty of beer and fun to go around at the Main Event.
“It was like a football stadium” Ensan said. “Very nice.”
WSOP Main Event final table
Place, name, country, prize money
1. Hossein Ensan, Germany, $10 million
2. Dario Sammartino, Italy, $6 million
3. Alex Livingston, Canada, $4 million
4. Garry Gates, U.S., $3 million
5. Kevin Maahs, U.S., $2.2 million
6. Zhen Cai, U.S., $1.85 million
7. Nick Marchington, England, $1.525 million
8. Timothy Su, U.S., $1.25 million
9. Milos Skrbic, Serbia, $1 million