Unibet Open in Valencia seemed to turn back the calendar to late summer, as the by turns balmy and stormy coastal city hosted one of the most hard-fought events of the year. The increase in starting stacks from 10k to 15k meant that the extra play on the two Day Ones pushed the felt-time to eleven hour-long levels, and gave the competitors the room to manoeuvre they’d been asking for. With the pressure off the stacks, tables stayed in roughly the same formation for most of the day, allowing players to get the feel for each other and really turn up the pressure pre and post-flop. The structure, €1,500 buy-in and of course excellent location drew a host of pros, eager qualifiers and the usual peppering of Unibet Open ambassadors. Players like Pieter de Korver, Jan Sjavik, Claus Nielsen, Joachim Buch and Maria Maceiras, who’ve been known to descend on the Unibet Open and take it more or less by storm, didn’t fare so well this time round – and it was a new selection of players who made it all the way to the final table on Day Three.
Both starting days ended with leaders head and shoulders above the pack, with the first day bringing Lassi Peltola and Joris Springael in as top finishers, but it was Day 1B which saw the much quicker growth of monster stacks, including those of Samlane Phomveha, Rudy Blondeau and Alberto Padilla, led with a margin of 30k by Atanas Gueorguiev with 200k. Gueorguiev had previously won the €500 side event at Unibet Open Prague, but was angling for a final in the Main Event. He got his wish eventually, but there were 94 other players who made the second day to get through first. While the start had been slow and measured, Saturday’s play which included the money bubble at 45 was frenzied – perhaps because they all knew that if their bid for tournament glory didn’t work out there was one of Unibet’s legendary parties to attend that evening. Tim van de Riet (along with what seemed like half a room full of players from the Netherlands) sailed through the second day along with Thomas Thang.
The unlucky bubble was Daniel Filipovic who ran top pair of Queens into Day 1A’s big stack Juuso Aaltonen’s Aces. Aaltonen, a volatile Finn who’d busted one of the first players to leave back over 14 hours of play previously, looked for a long while like he’d be a deep-run contender, but didn’t make a final table appearance this time. Finishing in the money, but outside that special Day Three tenth spot were also Simeon Naydenov, Sander Braaksma, Nino Ryschawy, Kenny Nielsen and Koen de Visscher, with 11th place going to one of just a small handful of British players, Charlie Combes.
When the final table reconvened on Sunday, there were some early casualties as the blinds were on the increase – plus the short stacks were picking up some big hands. They did no good, however: Andre Joranger’s Jacks failed to hold against Jose Ramon Diez’ pocket Fours and he was the first one out, despite a fingernails-on-cliff-edge stack for Jose Luis Melia. He survived a couple of all-in confrontations but with just a couple of big blinds was picked off by Andreas Hofmann who found pocket Kings at the right moment to send him out in ninth.
It was around now that Andrei Grigoras started to appear in almost every pot – and on the right end of them too. A double through from Gueorguiev started a meteoric chip rise which included busting Tim van de Riet in 8th place with Tens against the Dutchman’s KQ suited (the suckout-re-suckout board causing him some degree of aggravation as the river finally ended the race in favour of Grigoras). Michael Schuerpf was more sanguine about his elimination in 7th, facing the wall as his pocket Sixes unsuccessfully took on Gueorguiev’s AT off.
However bad they felt, probably the harshest beat seen on the final table was that endured by Frenchman Yoni Houri, who found Aces at the same time as Grigori picked a bad spot to put pressure on the shorter stack. Grigori’s KQ suited looked in dire shape, but somehow managed to hit a straight by the river and the shell-shocked Houri (who’d built a stack well during a strong Day Two performance) headed out. Grigori didn’t win ‘em all, however, doubling up Andreas Hofmann’s Kings and propelling him into a position which would eventually end as runner up, while he himself finished in fifth place.
Right from the start it was Gueorguiev with the commanding stack and aggressive table presence who was widely picked for the likely winner. But never in the bottom end of the rankings, Thomas Thang played a measured, confident game, and when he finally overtook Gueorguiev by busting Grigori, his chip lead was instantly cemented as a well-timed AK found the Bulgarian with a weaker Ace and a willingness to get it in preflop. This enormous pot propelled Thang to such a dominant chip position that the tournament was over within one level. Diez and Hoffman gamely gave it their all to double or bust, the latter eventually busting the former (effectively – he was down to less than a big blind after this) with a pair of Eights vs. A4.
By virtue of taking most of local hero Diez’s stack, Hofmann had closed the gap significantly on Thang, although the meaty blinds meant the pair were destined to collide head on as soon as they were both dealt good hands. It took only a few hands before they went to war, Thang’s pocket eights holding sway against the German’s AT offsuit and in the blink of an eye, we had our champion!
After four hard-fought days of poker, Danish Poker Federation President Thomas Thang was crowned the Unibet Valencia Open to a healthy cheering contingent of Danish supporters. He lifted his cheque for €138,080 and the Unibet Open trophy as the press crowded round him; it’s still a relatively early night in a city which stays up and parties late.
The next Unibet Open event will run in London from the 4th-7th December. Hope to see you there!
Final Table Results
1 €138,080 – Thomas Thang (Denmark)
2 €89,350 – Andreas Hofmann (Germany)
3 €59,560 – Jose Diez (Spain)
4 €43,320 – Atanas Gueorguiev (Bulgaria)
5 €33,840 – Andrei Grigoras (Romania)
6 €23,010 – Yoni Houri (France)
7 €17,060 – Michael Schuerpf (Switzerland)
8 €12,180 – Tim Van De Riet (The Netherlands)
9 €9,750 – Jose Luis Melia (Spain)
10 €7,310 – Andre Joranger (Norway)