The 50th annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) concluded with its centerpiece tournament early Wednesday morning at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Main Event lived up to this year’s milestone edition in more ways than one, too. With the WSOP celebrating its golden anniversary, 55-year old Hossein Ensan put on a dominant performance to defeat fellow poker pro Dario Sammartino heads-up and don the most prestigious gold bracelet of them all.
Hossein Ensan became the third-oldest World Champion of poker, behind three-time Main Event victor Johnny Moss (67 years old in 1974) and Noel Furlong (62 years old in 1999). That’s no small feat either, given the average age of WSOP Main Event champions over the last 16 years was only 29 years old entering this summer’s historic series.
The $10 million top prize payout earned by Ensan tied for the second-largest Main Event haul of all-time. Martin Jacobson took down the same eight-figure amount in 2014, while Jamie Gold bagged $12 million in 2006.
And speaking of 2006, this year’s Main Event attracted 8,569 entrants, making it the second-largest field ever behind only the 8,773 defeated by Gold. All told, the prize pool held $80,548,604, of which Ensan claimed the lion’s share, with 1,285 others divvying up the rest.
Ensan also became the first WSOP Main Event champ to emerge from the ranks of former European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event winners. His 2015 triumph at EPT Prague for €754,510 ($825,151) , one of 122 Main Events hosted by the EPT since 2004, was Ensan’s second-largest career live tournament cash before his resume swelled to $12,673,206 with his World Championship score.
Born in Iran, Hossein Ensan moved to Germany at the age of 25, and only took up Texas Hold’em poker in 2002 when he was already 38 years old.
After completing the grueling marathon Main Event – which began way back on July 3 with the first of three starting flights, before concluding two weeks later – Ensan told the assembled poker media that he couldn’t quite believe it was him who wound up capturing every last one of the 515,000,000 chips in play:
“This is the best prize after long time and very hard work. It’s unbelievable, I cannot understand this moment. I must go to sleep and wake up, and then maybe I know I have the bracelet. Maybe it’s a dream. I don’t know.”
A few minutes later, with dozens of family members and friends from the professional ranks on hand to serenade him with songs of celebration, Ensan seemed to let the staggering success sink in:
“I am so happy I am here with bracelet in hand. What can I say? It is the best feeling I have in all my life.”
Following a strong start on Day 1C which saw him run the 60,000-chip starting stack up to 180,000, Ensan emerged from the pack of 3,647 survivors to sit in 137th place for the flight. He then trod water in the middle of the pack on Day 2C and Day 3, before rocketing up the leaderboard to end Day 4 in 14th place from 354 remaining.
Ensan ended Day 6 as the second-largest chip stack with 34.5 million with just 35 players left.
Entering the nine-handed final table, Ensan had accumulated 177 million chips, while poker media industry figure Garry Gates (99,300,000) was the only opponent holding more than 60.6 million.
Gates dispatched Milos Skrbic in ninth place to start the final table action, then Ensan ousted Timothy Su in eighth place, and Nick Marchington in seventh place. Zhen Cai fell in sixth place to end Day 8, and the final five players reconvened for Day 9.
Ensan continued his tear by dismissing Kevin Maahs in fifth place, and by that point, he had extended his lead to a staggering 302.3 million chips – nearly triple that of his closest competitor in Alex Livingston (108.7 million).
In an age where poker strategy is increasingly defined by supercomputers and algorithms, Ensan blended optimal theories with “feel” plays that stunned commentators and the worldwide ESPN audience alike. In a particularly notable hand, he slow-played a flopped pair of Kings against Gates, earning two streets of value before leading out on the 10 river. Gates held Ace-10 for a rivered second pair, and he paid off the hefty river raise to send Ensan soaring.
Gates exited in fourth place at the hands of Livingston to complete the former’s collapse, and Ensan sent Livingston packing in third place to set the heads-up match with feared pro Dario Sammartino.
Veteran Italian Sammartino – who already had over $8 million in live tournament earnings before the Main Event – fought valiantly, even briefly wresting the chip lead away from Ensan at one point. But Ensan put on a heads-up clinic from there, eventually ending the contest once and for all when his pocket Kings held up after Sammartino shoved the turn with a combo flush / straight draw.
Asked about the 301-hand heads-up duel, Hossein Ensan credited Sammartino for surviving despite a disparity in getting dealt strong hands:
“He’s a big name and he’s a very good player. But, short-handed you need cards. You need hands and for sure luck. Luck and hands [were] on my side.”
For his part, Sammartino was gracious in defeat, praising his friend for accomplishing every poker player’s dream:
“He’s a really good guy. I met him a long time ago; we are friends and I really love him, so I’m really happy for him. Of course I wanted to win this, but he is the winner, so bravo.”
See below for a full rundown of results from the nine-handed WSOP Main Event final table:
|4||Garry Gates||United States||$3,000,000|
|5||Kevin Maahs||United States||$2,200,000|
|6||Zhen Cai||United States||$1,850,000|
|7||Nick Marchington||United Kingdom||$1,525,000|
|8||Timothy Su||United States||$1,250,000|