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The European Poker Tour stop in Barcelona wrapped its festival of live poker tournaments. The many tournaments had winners and losers, some well-known pro players and others names new to most fans. For the typical recreational poker player who doesn’t have time to sift through days’ worth of live reports, videos, and updates, most of the action went unnoticed.

For the vast majority of poker enthusiasts – people who love the game but cannot relate to Super High Roller buy-ins and payouts – they cannot imagine the type of bankroll required to attend EPT Barcelona and play the big tournaments, afford the accommodations, or even take the time off work for such a trip. It’s simply not realistic.

And then, along came Sebastian Malec and his emotional EPT Barcelona Main Event victory.

Malec Magic


CREDIT: PokerStars

The EPT Main Event began on August 22 at Casino Barcelona, and players bought in for €5,300. Of course, there were those like Sebastian Malec of Poland who won a seat via an online poker satellite for less money. In Malec’s case, it was €27 to win that Main Event entry.

In all, there were 1,785 players in the tournament – 416 of whom qualified for less than the buy-in – to set a record for the event. The top 359 finishers cashed and took home pieces of the €8,925,000 prize pool.

When the last seven players took to the final table on August 28, Uri Reichenstein of Germany was the chip leader with Thomas De Rooij of the Netherlands not far behind. Malec was several million chips behind them but not a short stack like Harcharan Dogra Dogra of Spain.

From the beginning of the action, Reichenstein was serious and ready to compete, but Malec was aggressive while remaining jovial and quite talkative as he quickly took over the chip lead within the first 40 minutes. De Rooij tried to get in on the fun by buying the entire table a round of beers, but when no one accepted, he gave them to onlookers.

As some of the shorter stacks exited, Malec soared but so did Reichenstein. De Rooij finally busted in fourth, and the third place elimination of Adam Owen put Malec into heads-up play with 21.45 million chips versus the 32 million of Reichenstein. Malec began play by telling his opponent, “Have fun.”


Credit: PokerStars

Throughout the match, Malec talked to himself as much as to Reichenstein, stayed animated, pacing, singing, and choosing to stand rather than sit much of the time. Malec lost ground over the hours but eventually chipped up and retook the lead just after midnight. While Reichenstein seemed exhausted, Malec continued exerting as much energy as most 21-year-olds can offer. “My happiness grows exponentially the longer we play,” the Polish player said.

With Malec holding a slight lead, Malec pushed all-in with A-3 of hearts on a Js-6h-Qh-8h-8d board. Reichenstein had Th-9c for the straight and felt that it might be good. While he considered his options, Malec went to sit with the audience and take a selfie with the crowd. When Reichenstein called, Malec headed back to the table to show the better hand.

Malec exuded pure joy and a few tears at the amazing accomplishment of turning €27 into €1,122,800 and winning the last EPT Barcelona Main Event trophy ever to be awarded.

What’s the Big Deal?

Young poker players win life-changing money on a regular basis in the poker world. However, many of them are desensitized to the money due to the online stakes they play or the culture of the game. Some of them have no emotion to display for whatever reason, and some are just ready to collect the cash and move on to the next tournament.

Malec was different. He was excited and happy to be there. He was energetic when most others were stoic. He enjoyed the decisions, whether agonizing over them or seeing that his intuition was correct. He shared a high level of energy with the fans. He absorbed all of his surroundings and relished every moment. And when he won, he cried. “It means everything to me,” he told the PokerStars reporter.

According to the final tournament report on the PokerStars blog, Malec had been a fan of the game since he was nine years old, confessing to loving the game and having learned it from his chess instructor. He worked at it for several years and put it all on the table in Barcelona.

There was joy expressed on social media, from people watching the updates online to the reporters and staff at the event in Barcelona itself. It was a truly genuine and touching moment in poker, one that clearly changed the life of the person who won the game.

It’s not often that a poker tournament summons true emotion from the audience, especially when most of them had never head of Sebastian Malec until last week. But more of those types of moments captured by the words and photos from the likes of the PokerStars crew is something that poker desperately needs. When the masses are drawn into that joy and able to experience that type of moment alongside a player like Malec, poker will experience another growth spurt – a boom, as some might say.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.