Theodore McQuilkin's friend, a professional poker player who would know these things, advised against McQuilkin playing the €1,650 Six-Max at World Series of Poker Europe. It would be one of the toughest fields of the series, he told McQuilkin.
McQuilkin himself admitted he isn't the biggest fan of the format. Still, he took a shot. And boy, did it pay off.
The 24-year-old recreational player from France made it through a 240-player field to take down the €88,043 first-place prize and a gold bracelet. He bore a wide grin as he posed for his winner's photos.
"It's awesome," he said. "I'm not a poker professional at all but I love playing poker. It's a real passion."
McQuilkin admitted that his friend's reservations proved spot on — it was the toughest field in which he'd competed. Used to playing full ring private games a few times per week, McQuilkin found himself immersed in a series of tough hands against formidable opponents.
"Every table was very hard," he said. "Each decision was very, very hard."
Still, McQuilkin made it to the final table, although he was sitting just fifth of seven when Day 3 began. McQuilkin mostly sat our early but seemed to get his sea legs under him when he got a bluff through after floating against Andrej Desset in a medium-sized pot.
Shortly after the official final table got underway with the elimination of Ognjen Sekularac, McQuilkin eliminated Maksym Shulga when tens held against pocket fours after Shulga jammed over a raise for nearly 20 big blinds.
Jan Bednar looked like he wanted to be table captain, and when he surged into the lead after busting Petr Setka in fifth, the Czech player began ratcheting up the aggression. However, McQuilkin didn't back down, playing back both when he had and when he didn't.
Of course, it also helps to get dealt big pairs when shorter stacks are pushing small pairs. That's what happened again when Jerry Odeen raised with fives and four-bet shoved his remaining chips over McQuilkin's three-bet. The Frenchman called with jacks and took command of about two-thirds of the total chips.
It took less than 30 hands for McQuilkin to roll through his remaining foes, Bednar and Andrej Desset, hitting Bednar with a heads-up cooler when pocket kings held up against ace-queen.
McQuilkin was certainly dealt more than his share of big hands at the final table, and it didn't go unnoticed by the freshly minted champ.
"I have to say, I was running good," he said.
A player with only about $24,000 in live cashes coming into the event, McQuilkin said he's been getting away from home in Strasbourg, where he co-owns a real estate company, to travel the European circuit when he can. It hadn't exactly filled his pockets with dough, but McQuilkin enjoyed the travel and the poker, so he kept at it.
McQuilkin headed to Rozvadov for the weekend, and after he bagged Day 2 and zeroed in on the final table, he begged his poker-playing buddy to come sweat him.
"I told him I have a special feeling, please come," McQuilkin said.
Eventually convinced, the friend came out, and hours after McQuilkin picked him up, the two posed for a winner's shot together.
"My feeling was right," McQuilkin said with a smile.
While McQuilkin admitted he'd like a more robust celebration, he'll be keeping it mild. After all, the streets of Rozvadov aren't exactly lined with rocking clubs, and he's got to get back to Strasbourg tomorrow to be ready for work on Monday.
"We're going to drink a very nice bottle of whiskey," he said.
Official Final Table Results
|2||Jan Bednar||Czech Republic||€54,410|
|5||Petr Setka||Czech Republic||€16,618|