Heads-Up at the WSOPE Lands in France

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The World Series of Poker expanded beyond the borders of the United States entirely in October 2007, holding the first three bracelet events ever contested outside of Las Vegas over the course of 12 days.

After four years of WSOPE action in London, the festivities moved to Cannes, France in 2011. In the three years that followed, there were numerous famous and infamous moments in Cannes and eventually Enghien-les-Bains - and the three Main Events brought heads-up action that included some of the world’s best.

After a year’s hiatus to set it on an alternating timeline with WSOP Asia-Pacific, the 2015 WSOPE kicks off October 8 at Spielbank Berlin - the fourth different city and third country to host this prestigious series. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look back at how each WSOPE Main Event played out, changing the course of a number of lives and the WSOP brand altogether.

In Part 2, we look at heads-up matches that included some true legends of the game. This time around, you’ll hear from the players who were in the thick of things as they played heads-up for the bracelet - including comments from the Poker Brat himself, Phil Hellmuth.

2011: Elio Fox vs. Chris Moorman

The WSOPE moved to the opposite side of the English Channel for 2011 and onto the sunny shores of Cannes, France. Le Croisette Casino Barrière played host to seven bracelet events, including the first ever ‘Mixed Max’ (later dubbed Split) format tournament ever held at the WSOP.

A record 593 players showed up for a shot at the Main Event, which went from 10,000 pounds to 10,000 euros with the change in venue. The final table size was reduced from nine to eight, leaving Patrik Antonius to be excluded on the bubble in ninth. An absolute murderer’s row of young stalwarts made up this final table, including three Brits in Chris Moorman, Jake Cody and Max Silver.

Moorman, among the most prolific online tournament players of all time, would eventually get heads-up with American Elio Fox - but that was no easy task. “I knew I had to play my A-game to be in with a shot of winning,” recalled Moorman. “Every player on the final table had great results, and there really were no weak spots. I knew I had to take some risks and hoped my timing and intuitive reads would be right on the day.”

Fox and Moorman were quite familiar with one another from many confrontations in online tournaments, as well as all of the hands they played leading up to and including the final table. However, this confrontation would provide a significantly different set of circumstances.

“I knew he would be a very tough opponent heads up, especially as he plays high stakes Sit & Go’s. He probably had a lot more heads up experience than me. We had a lot of experience in tournaments together, but had never played heads up before. I knew that he would be looking to take a lot of spots and put me to tough decisions.”

Key Hand: With blinds of 50,000/100,000, Fox raised to 200,000 on the button and Moorman called. The [Jc] [6c] [5c] flop saw Moorman check and Fox bet 250,000. Moorman raised to 625,000 and Fox called.

“I remember thinking my hand was a bit too weak to check-call, so I decided to semi-bluff and check-raise to win the pot right there [on the turn], with some outs if I was called. I planned on barrelling off on brick runouts on the turn and river.”

The [As] turn led Moorman to bet 950,000 and Fox eventually called. The [Tc] river led both players to check, with Moorman’s [Ah] [6s] falling to Fox and his rivered flush with [Jh] [2c].

“Once I made two pair on the turn I obviously felt really good about my hand and was just praying for no club on the river,” said Moorman. “I feel like his turn call was borderline, but he probably has enough equity to continue against my overall range. That big hand was the turning point in the match.”

Moorman would soon run [Ah] [7s] into [Ad] [Ts] in a preflop all in, and Fox held to claim the bracelet and €1,400,000.

2012: Phil Hellmuth vs. Sergii Baranov

WSOPE returned to Cannes for a second straight year with seven bracelets on the line, along with a special €50,000 High Roller event.

The Main Event had 420 players, and both the French locals and the young stars of the game made a good showing of things. Scott Seiver and Timothy Adams narrowly missed the final table, but Jason Mercier and Joseph Cheong both made the final eight. Phil Hellmuth, as he often tends to, stole most of the headlines. Fresh off his 12th career bracelet, Hellmuth picked off a big bluff with [Js] [Jd] four-handed to take the chip lead and never really looked back. He’d eventually play Sergii Baranov, whom he battled with through much of the final table, heads-up.

Before the tournament even began, Hellmuth was approached at the table by a man he’d never spoken to or even seen before in his life. Somehow, this player accurately predicted just how the tournament would play out in its final stages.

“I had never seen Sergei before that tourney,” said Hellmuth. “It was amazing - he told me, before the event began, that I would win and that he would finish second.”

Key Hand: After taking the lead, Hellmuth took small chunk after small chunk from both of his opponents as he steadily distanced himself for good. He put Stephane Albertini on life support in a hand where he limped on the button; Albertini raised to 235,000 from the small blind and Hellmuth called. The flop was [5h] [4c] [4s], Albertini checked, Hellmuth bet 350,000 and Albertini raised to 775,000. Hellmuth definitively called, the turn was the [2d] and Albertini checked. Hellmuth shoved, and Albertini thought it over for almost four minutes before letting it go. Hellmuth showed [Js] [Jh] to take the pot and climb to 8.5 million of the 12.6 million total chips in play. He’d get lucky with [7c] [7s] against a severely short-stacked Albertini’s [Jd] [Jh], and then he dispatched the prescient Baranov with [Ah] [Td] to [As] [4c].

“Well, I like to avoid getting too proud of accomplishments like these,” said Hellmuth. “I have a long ways to go and many more bracelets to win, but only if I stay sharp, focused, and pay close attention - too much ego kills all of that. I was psyched that I won a bracelet outside of Hold'em in 2012, then it felt amazing to win the WSOPE Main Event because it may have been the best I have ever played No Limit Hold'em - and often times that level is not rewarded!”

Hellmuth hesitates to hold any particular achievement up as the pinnacle of his career, but acknowledges that winning both the WSOP and WSOPE Main Events is something singular and impressive in the scope of the history of the tournament poker world.

“It’s nice, but I don’t dwell on it at all,” said Hellmuth. “I need to end my career with a stack of accomplishments and, maybe, when I’m 80 years old, I can look back and feel really cool.”

2013: Adrian Mateos vs. Fabrice Soulier

The WSOPE stayed in France for one final year, but the action moved from Cannes to the suburbs of Paris. Eight bracelet events took place at the Casino Barrière in Enghien-les-Bains, France, including the first ever WSOPE Ladies’ Event, which was won by Jackie Glazier.

There were 375 hopefuls with dreams of a bracelet, a Main Event title and €1,000,000. The final eight included the likes of Shannon Shorr, Benny Spindler, Ravi Raghavan and Dominik Nitsche, but they’d all be on the sidelines to watch as 19-year-old Adrian Mateos battled French poker legend Fabrice Soulier for the Main Event Crown.

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