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Unleashed in East Europe

Despite a deep-winter freeze putting a stranglehold on the Czech Republic, poker heroes gathered for the EPT Prague and Duncan Wilkie found a good amount of warmth from the whole experience.

With the final hand laid bare and the chips safely in the possession of a new champion, it was the full-throated roar of the Azzurri that rattled around the cobblestoned streets of Prague, as Salvatore Bonevana carved out his place in the annals of European Poker Tour history by becoming the first ever Italian to lift the coveted trophy.

Bonevana, an estate agent and father of two from Cessaniti in the south of Italy, secured the title and a healthy €774,000 payday after defeating fellow countryman Massimo Di Cicco in a cut-and-thrust heads-up encounter that saw him relinquish the chip lead before battling his way back to claim the first major victory of his career.

As you’d expect, the hour-long duel between the two Italians started in typical cantenaggio fashion, with neither player wanting to give their opponent an inch as small pot after small pot was pushed back and forth and Bonevana tenaciously scrapped to maintain his 3:1 chip lead.

However, for all his dogged resistance it was PokerStars online qualifier Di Cicco who eventually started to make clear headway, as a period of sustained pressure saw him claw back his initial chip deficit to take a narrow lead for the first time at the final table. Unfortunately for Di Cicco, the setback seemed only to further galvanise Bonevana, and he rallied strongly to reclaim his position with considerable aplomb.

The final blow was eventually landed when Di Cicco raised pre-flop with Ad-4s only to be called by the 8d-7d of Bonevana. With the flop coming down 8h-3h-2h, Di Cicco certainly wasted no time in pushing his remaining chips into the middle, but after what seemed like an eternity in the think tank, Bonevana eventually managed to find the call with his top pair.

With the cards now on their backs, Di Cicco was facing elimination unless he could find an ace or a five to complete his wheel draw in the two remaining cards, but a 6c followed by an irrelevant Js meant he was consigned to second place, taking home a none-too-shabby runner-up prize of €445,000 for his efforts.

His departure meant that Bonevana now stood alone as the sole survivor of the 570-runner starting field, becoming only the sixth amateur player to win an EPT event in the tour’s history and taking a boatload of national pride back home with him to his native Italy for the fantastic achievement.

Indeed, the sight of Bonevana draped in Il Tricolore was a fittingly patriotic image to end of what had been very much an international affair in the cosmopolitan capital of the Czech Republic. The event attracted representatives from no fewer than 40 different countries from all across Europe and the rest of the world, mirroring the hosting city’s diverse population and the contrasting cultural influences that have combined to make Prague the sixth most-popular tourist destination in Europe.

In recent years, the historic city has become something of an adopted home for British holiday-goers who—no doubt enticed by the prospect of cheap beer and wild nightlife—favour Prague as the destination of choice for weekend city breaks and stag-dos. In fact, while an altogether more sober air prevailed as the remaining EPT competitors got down to the business end of the tournament, those ‘unfortunate’ enough to bust-out early will have no doubt consoled themselves with the fact that the average pint of pilsner in Prague will set you back considerably less than a pound.

Of course, had they managed to resist the allure of the city of a hundred spires’ multitude of bohemian bars—or simply managed to shake off the fog of alcohol long enough to explore the city proper—visitors to the EPT will have found no shortage of alternate reminders as to why Prague is such a popular stop-off on the tour’s yearly circuit; the city suffered considerably less damage during the Second World War than many of its neighbouring towns, so Prague has managed to retain most of its original architecture, which is well worth exploring.

The Old Town is perhaps the truest example of the city’s original character, with its Old Town Square housing a number of awe-inspiring constructions including the iconic Astronomical Clock, while a short walk across the bustling Charles Bridge sits Prague Castle, home to the Czech Crown Jewels and the largest building of its kind anywhere in the world.

In contrast, Prague’s southernmost quarter, New Town, is the city’s more modernised tourist hub and the home of the majority of its museums and arts venues, including the prestigious National Theatre, which plays host to some of Prague’s more extravagant opera, ballet and drama events. In addition to the quarter’s wide range of cultural venues, New Town’s most recognisable landmark, Wenceslas Square, is also the site of many of Prague’s trendier bars and night clubs.

Certainly for Bonevana and the rest of the final table, finding a place in Prague to party until the early hours to burn their way through the first wedge of their hard-earned prize money was undeniably no problem. After all, €774,000 gets you a hell of a lot of pilsner round these parts.
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