Current Match Poker World Champions, Ukraine, played host to the 2019 European Nations Cup after their incredible debut performance in Dublin at the 2018 Nations Cup where they managed to dethrone the Irish on home soil to become gold medalists.
The European championships this year sees 13 nations come together to determine who will join Ukraine on the Road to Peru as European qualifiers at the Nations Cup Finals in December, and to see if Ireland can defend their continental crown!
Participating nations were Ukraine, Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Spain and the UK. All apart from Belarus have participated in a Match Poker event previously, some more often than others. Day one started with an opening ceremony and dinner where president of the Ukraine Sports Poker Federation, Sergey Efimenko, thanked all participants for being there and welcomed everyone to Kyiv and Ukraine. IFMP president Patrick Nally then spoke about the events calendar for the rest of this year which includes continental championships in Asia and America’s to determine the qualifiers for the Nations Cup Final in Peru. These regional qualifiers leading up to a grand finale event will be an annual occurrence for Match Poker athletes going forward.
100 hands were played on day one and we saw a familiar sight in Ireland ending the day in the lead with Lithuania and Ukraine behind them. Only 20% of the group stages had been played and the bottom 3 of UK, Spain and Denmark could use the night to analyse their play and return the next morning with a new team strategy. Day two was scheduled to see 6 sessions of 50 hands each with the balance 2 sessions of 50 hands being played on the morning of day 3. The Estonians put in a strong performance in the morning and after 200 hands held the lead going into lunch with Ireland, Ukraine and Germany on their heels. The fan zone was buzzing as team analysts and strategists carefully observed their teams play, taking meticulous notes which were conveyed during the breaks in play. Along with the athletes having to fulfil their anti-doping obligations, the breaks between sessions were as important as the actual time spent playing!
The next 100 hands saw Spain and Italy climb up the leaderboard but not enough to topple Germany, Ireland and Ukraine in the top 3 with the Germans in the lead overall after 300 hands had been played. Day 2 ended with the first Match Poker world champions, Germany, in the lead! 400 hands had been played with another 100 to go before the top 6 and bottom 7 are separated for the finals. Fierce competition throughout with various teams outperforming the others in certain sessions but after a marathon 500 hands of highly competitive Match Poker we had our top 6 – Germany, Ireland, Spain, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. The 3 most consistent teams in Germany, Ukraine and Ireland making the top 6 was no surprise. Big push from the Spaniards towards the end ensured they cemented their spot along with the Poles and Belorussians.
Ukraine finishing in the top 6 meant that the winner of the Plate Championship (bottom 7 teams) would also secure their spot to Peru and the Nations Cup Finals. All to play for now as the scores were reset to zero and the finals of the Cup (top 6) and Plate (bottom 7) kicked off after lunch on day 3. These would have 4 sessions of 60 hands each to take the total number of hands to be played to 740! The scoreboard was hidden after the halfway point so players would have to wait till the awards ceremony to know who won the championship and which nation was joining them in Peru.
Excitement and nervousness enveloped the room as thanks were offered by Sergey as Patrick was handed the microphone to make the final announcements. When Lithuania was announced as the winners of the Plate and the last team to qualify to the Finals in Peru, they erupted with joy as though they’d just been crowned World Champions! Skirmantas, team captain and president of the national federation, thanked the other teams and expressed his gratitude in being the last nation to qualify. To top if off, Dainius from Team Lithuania was awarded Player of the Tournament! Now it was time to announce the European Champions – Ireland were looking confident and the others quite nervous. Surprisingly Germany finished 6th, Belarus 5th, Poland 4th and Ukraine 3rd – these 3 teams had just 3.5 points between them!!! Then Ireland were announced as runners-up and the roar that emerged from the Spanish contingent was absolutely incredible! They all began jumping and screaming with joy, hugging each other and unable to contain their emotions! Congratulations Team Spain, on a very well deserved and hard fought Match Poker European Championship.