Padraig O'Neill Turns 12 Big Blinds into 1,030,000 En Route to 2023 EPT Prague Main Event Victory
The road to PokerStars European Poker Tour glory always has plenty of twists and turns, and the record-breaking EPT 5,300 Prague Main Event was no exception.
Jon Kyte, who had led the tournament from Day 3, entered the finale with 229 big blinds and a historic chip lead, one that was assumed to be unassailable. Padraig O'Neill had other ideas and was unexpectedly awarded the final EPT Trophy of the 2023 season after overcoming the Norwegian in heads-up play.
O'Neill was nearly the first bust out of the day after he was flipping with fours against Kyte's ace-king. A king on the flop had O'Neill with one foot out of the door, but a four on the turn ensured his survival and began one of the best comeback stories of the year.
Known affectionately as "Smidge" in the Irish poker community, O'Neill came into the day as the shortest stack and turned his 12 big blinds into a 1,030,000 payout. With the victory, he became Ireland's second-ever EPT Main Event champion, 11 years after Steve O'Dwyer reigned supreme in Monte Carlo.
The high-flying Kyte was brought back down to earth after a turbulent session and collected a career-best payday of 643,000 for his runners-up finish. Umberto Ruggeri took third, while Cheng Zhao and Adam Wagner bowed out in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The event garnered 1,285 entries, a best here in the Czech capital, and saw 191 players get a portion of the 6,101,300 prize pool.
2023 EPT Prague 5,300 Main Event Final Table Results
Player Booted from EPT Prague Main Event for Head-Butting Opponent
O'Neill expressed his delight PokerNews after the triumph. "It feels amazing. It's just happened. It hasn't sunk in."
"I was hoping to get fourth," said O'Neill after being the smallest stack as Day 6 began. "Third would've been amazing. To get heads-up, I never thought it would've happened. I booked a flight last night for 7 p.m. today. That's how optimistic I was," O'Neill joked.
The newly minted champion was complimentary to Kyte after the pair battled for nearly five hours.
"He's really tough. I didn't want to play him for 300,000 or 400,000 heads-up. He put me in lots of tough spots." said O'Neill. "He would've been a really worthy champion."
The seven-figure up top was the perfect early Christmas for O'Neill as he has recently become a father for the first time.
"I won't be jumping up in stakes. I might have more of myself in some of the tournaments that I play," he added.
All his current plans centre around spending as much time with his family, with maybe the odd appearance at one of the 2024 EPT stops.
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How the Finale Unfolded
The first casualty of the day was Wagner, the last Czech resident in the competition. His stack went over to O'Neill, who had picked up two doubles in the early goings of the session to shoot up the counts. Wagner moved all in with ace-five and ran into the Irishman's tens to bring the tournament to its final four players.
Ruggeri doubled up twice through Kyte to stay alive before Zhao departed in fourth place. Zhao started second in chips but was left short after O'Neill pulled off an incredible bluff with the nut-flush blocker. The Greek resident was quickly ousted by Kyte after jamming his ace-queen into the chip leader's big slick.
After the first break, O'Neill crossed the ten million chip mark after picking up pots off Ruggeri and Kyte. Ruggeri then scored a trio of doubles through Kyte to remain in contention and bring the chip stacks close to even. Ruggeri held with ace-deuce when up against ten-five and remained best. The second came when Ruggeri turned a flush to crack Kyte's two pair. The latter then jammed into Ruggeri's full house soon after to level out the field.
O'Neill found some momentum to take the top spot, while Kyte found himself at the bottom of the chip leaderboard by the time the second break came around. Ruggeri dented Kyte before the players took some time away from the table after picking off a triple barrel bluff with top pair.
When play resumed, O'Neill further extended himself away from his two opponents with a series of value bets and well-executed bluffs. The table captain set up heads-up play with Kyte after busting Ruggeri in third place. O'Neill paired up on the river to bring the Main Event to its final two participants and held more than a 4:1 chip advantage over Kyte.
Before the end stage of the tournament began, there were discussions of a deal, but no agreement was reached between O'Neill and Kyte. O'Neill said he would agree to an ICM chop, but Kyte wanted an extra 15,000, which his adversary declined.
O'Neill had Kyte on the ropes after getting the best of his opponent in the first part of a several-hour duel. Kyte fought back and closed the gap, not relinquishing his hopes of the title that many predicted him to secure with ease. At the dinner break, Kyte had reclaimed the chip lead after a huge bluff with missed clubs and was once again the favorite. Had O'Neill called, Kyte would have been down to just a few big blinds.
A top pair vs. top pair encounter allowed O'Neill to double back in front. Both players hit a jack, but Kyte was outkicked and couldn't get away from his hand. It did not take long for Kyte to regain the lead. He turned trips kings and got through a sizeable bluff of his own to put the ball back in his court.
The chip lead continued to switch, but eventually, someone had to give. O'Neill managed to erode Kyte down without any response, and his king-ten sealed the stunning comeback against Kyte's ten-five after both players committed their stacks preflop.
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