Hossein Ensan Rolls, Wins 2019 WSOP Main Event
1995 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Dan Harrington once said that nobody over the age of 50 would win the Main Event again. Poker is a young person’s game now and especially with the massive fields in this era, it would just be too tough for an “old” person to outlast everybody. On Tuesday night, bleeding into Wednesday morning, Germany’s Hossein Ensan proved Harrington wrong, winning the 2019 WSOP Main Event. For his efforts, the 55-year old Ensan banked $10 million and a gigantic 50th-anniversary diamond-encrusted bracelet worth about another $500,000.
We have seen some dominant final-table performances in recent years – Scott Blumstein and Joe McKeehen rolled over their final tables – and this was no exception. Ensan did not go wire-to-wire, but the time he did not hold the chip lead was short. He ran into a few hiccups along the way, but on the whole, Ensan did what he wanted to do. Small pots, large pots, when he had it, when he didn’t, even when things took a downturn, he stuck to his strategy and never wavered.
Ensan began three-handed play, the final night of the final table, with 325.8 million chips, an overwhelming chip leader over Alex Livingston, who had 120.4 million chips, and Dario Sammartino, who had 67.6 million.
Poker is a Roller Coaster
At the ESPN analyst desk, 15-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth said that Livingston, who finished 13th in the 2013 Main Event, was the best player of the three. And it certainly looked like that in the early stages of Tuesday night. He and Sammartino both gave Ensan some body blows, sending Ensan’s stack down to 217.2 million at one point. Livingston, in particular, was making every right move, when he had the goods and when he didn’t. About two and a half hours into play, he took the lead with 233.2 million chips, compared to 231.4 million for Ensan and just 50.2 for Sammartino.
Nine hands after he did so, though, he doubled up Sammartino when his kings fell to Sammartino’s turned two pair with T-6. That was the moment the poker gods turned against Livingston, sending him into a freefall. Just as everything was working a short time ago, nothing was working here and he soon found himself out of the tournament in third place.
Going into heads-up play, Hossein Ensan had a 279.8 million chip to 235 million chip lead over Dario Sammartino.
On the very first hand of heads-up, Ensan had two pair with J-9 going into the river, but Sammartino made a better two pair with A-9 to take a sizeable lead, 329.6 million to 185.2 million. But as I mentioned earlier, Ensan never let setbacks shake him and he just kept doing his thing, regaining the chip lead in short order.
Over the course of the four-hour heads-up match, the chip counts stayed close for quite a while and the chip lead changed hands a couple times. But Ensan eventually pulled away, spending much of the final portion of the contest far above 300 million chips and keeping Sammartino at bay. The two men traded frequent small pots, often limping pre-flop, not willing to stick their necks out unnecessarily. Sammartino became visibly frustrated at times that he couldn’t break through, all the while the rails of the two competitors remaining loud and rowdy.
Quiet on the Set?
In a particularly interesting moment while Sammartino was tanking on the river of a hand, Ensan’s rail, positioned behind Sammartino, got increasingly boisterous. They were finding a second wind after a long night of drinking, standing, and cheering, as they had been going toe-to-toe trying to “out-loud” Sammartino’s supporters. Hossein Ensan actually turned to his crowd and told them to tone it down so that Sammartino could think.
At the analyst desk later, Kara Scott, Maria Ho, and Phil Hellmuth discussed the moment. While they tended to agree that it was a nice gesture by Ensan, Ho put forth a half-joking theory that it could have been gamesmanship on Ensan’s part, wanting things to get very quiet for his opponent so that he might overthink his decision and make an error. They all felt that the enthusiastic crowds were great for poker – it is a sport broadcast on ESPN, after all – but Hellmuth would have liked it to be toned down about 50 percent.
Sometimes You Just Have to Go for It
Sammartino continued to have trouble taking those one or two big pots that he needed, fluctuating between 130 million and 200 million chips while trailing Ensan. Eventually, he made a move that will likely be debated for a while, primarily because it did not work out in his favor.
Starting the hand with 169.5 million chips to Ensan’s 345.5 million (it’s hard to believe there were over a half billion chips in play, by the way), Sammartino had 8s-4s in the big blind (the blinds were 2 million/4 million with a 4 million chip big blind ante). Ensan raised to 11 million pre-flop with pocket kings and Sammartino defended. The flop came down Ts-6s-2d, giving Sammartino a flush draw, while Ensan’s kings were still the best hand. Sammartino check-called a 15 million chip bet and seemed apparent his wheels were turning.
With the 9c on the turn, he picked up a gutshot straight draw and checked to Ensan, who bet 33 million chips. There were 89 million chips in the pot and Sammartino had 139.5 million behind. You could tell that he was thinking of making the big move at this point. ESPN commentator Jamie Kerstetter said this, as well, noting that if Sammartino wanted to continue in the hand, he would probably have to shove because of the pot size. And that’s what he did, getting snap-called by Ensan.
It may seem like an odd play, moving all in heads-up at the World Series of Poker Main Event on essentially a bluff, but as Kerstetter said, if Ensan had almost any other hand, he probably would have folded. If he had one of the few hands that would call – like kings – Sammartino still had 12 outs.
Unfortunately for Sammartino, none of those 12 outs appeared on the river. Hossein Ensan’s pocket kings held up – the only time the winning player had pocket aces or kings on the final hand – and he proudly wrapped the bracelet around his hand as he basked in the glory of being the new World Series of Poker Main Event champ.
2019 World Series of Poker Main Event – Final Table Results
1. Hossein Ensan – $10,000,000
2. Dario Sammartino – $6,000,000
3. Alex Livingston – $4,000,000
4. Garry Gates – $3,000,000
5. Kevin Maahs – $2,200,000
6. Zhen Cai – $1,850,000
7. Nick Marchington – $1,525,000
8. Timothy Su – $1,250,000
9. Milos Skrbic – $1,000,000
Lead photo credit: WSOP.com