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No Joke for Naujoks

With the European Poker Tour setting up camp in Westphalia for its customary stopover, it was German native Sandra Naujoks who dominated proceedings in Dortmund. GOM’s Duncan Wilkie followed the rise of the home nation’s very own ShootingStar.

With the a French-flavoured final in Deauville and a Finn conquering Copenhagen, Germany’s Sandra Naujoks became the latest player to take their regional EPT leg by storm after powering her way to victory at the final table in Dortmund. In doing so, the 27-year-old Dessau local became only the second lady after England’s Vicky Coren to win an EPT title, and further cemented her status as one of the hottest emerging talents in European poker.

After besting a 667-runner field littered with poker talent, Naujoks—a member of the prestigious ShootingStar team—eventually emerged victorious against her fellow compatriot Holger Kanisch in an utterly engrossing heads-up showdown to scoop her first EPT title and the €917,000 first prize. Beginning two-handed play virtually even in chips, the two Germans scrapped away at each other until a cooler of a hand saw all the money go in pre-flop with Naujoks’ pocket aces holding a commanding lead over her opponent’s jacks.

The bullets held up to swing the game firmly in Naujoks’ favour, and despite Kanisch rallying when his As 7s got the better of her Kc 4c, the 26 year old from Koblenz never fully recovered from the crushing setback. The final hand occurred when Naujoks opened for 300,000 and was promptly re-raised to 1 million by Kanisch. Undeterred, she moved all-in and was called without hesitation by her opponent, who tabled A-Q. With Naujoks A-9 in decidedly ragged shape, Kanisch looked to take control of the match, but a sickening 9 on the turn put an end to the economics student’s hopes and sent him to the rail €533,000 richer in second place.

When the ensuing celebrations finally abated, a delighted Naujoks told reporters: “I can’t believe it–it’s such a great feeling to win my home EPT. The ShootingStars are such a great team and we have so many excellent tournament players. I honestly think we will win two bracelets at this year’s World Series and, of course, I’m aiming to win one of them.”

Nicknamed the “Black Mamba” by her fellow ShootingStar pros, Naujoks certainly lived up to her poker moniker as a combination of good play, good cards and good timing allowed her to discretely slither her way from sixth place at the start of play to the chip leader going into the heads-up phase. However, her surge to the title didn’t really gather momentum until after the dinner break, by which time three competitors already fell to the wayside.

First to go was Turkey’s Cengizcan Ulusu, who arrived at the table as the short stack and busted out just an hour or so into eight-handed play. Having already lost the majority of his stack in a clash with Canadian Mike “Timex” McDonald, Ulusu was forced to make a stand with Jh 9h and was called by the pocket jacks of Germany’s Marc Gork and Sweden’s Johan Storakers holding sixes. The case jack arrived on the flop to ensure that there was no miracle escape for Ulusu, and Gork’s hand held to propel him into the early chip lead.

Storakers, meanwhile, was able to bounce back from losing the pot when he eliminated Team PokerStars pro William Thorson after the latter moved in from the button holding 9h 8s. Storakers made the call against his fellow Swede holding Kc Jd and despite falling behind on a 7c 9s 10c board, he managed to spike a king on the turn to send Thorson packing in seventh. A short while later, he was joined by the only other Team PokerStars member at the table, Luca Pagano, when the Italian’s pocket sevens failed to hold up against the A-9 of Gork before play was halted.

When the remaining five runners returned to their seats, the coiled Black Mamba finally struck with the eliminations of McDonald and Storakers in quick succession to ensure an all-German final three. First her pocket 10s held up against the Kd Jh of McDonald to send him packing in fifth place and then Storakers became the next victim to fall to Naujoks’ bite when his A-Q failed to improve against the new chip-leader’s A-K.

Early front-runner Gork did manage to wrestle back the chip lead from Naujoks briefly, but he soon began to falter and it wasn’t long before he became the third successive scalp to be taken by the pro. Facing a raise to 160,000 from Kanisch and a smooth-call from Naujoks, Gork decided to squeeze the action by moving in his remaining 900,000 with K-10. Kanisch got out of the way but, after a long think, Naujoks made the call with pocket sevens and the board bricked out 2c Qd 5c Jd 5h to eliminate Gork in third, bagging him €307,000.

Despite Kanisch’s valiant efforts in the all-German finale, it was clear that Naujoks was now very much in the ascendency—and from the moment she was dealt aces against Kanisch’s jacks, the writing was on the wall. Though the final hand may have been a tad fortunate for Naujoks, the result was no more than her impressive final table performance deserved, and in capturing the trophy the German ShootingStar proved once again that she’ll be one to watch in 2009. Move over Vicky, the EPT has a new leading lady.

EPT Dortmund Final Table Payouts

1st -- Sandra Naujoks (€917,000) [Germany]
2nd -- Holger Kanisch (€533,000) [Germany]
3rd -- Marc Gork (€307,000) [Germany]
4th -- Johan Storakers (€237,000) [Sweden]
5th -- Mike McDonald (€197,000) [Canada]
6th -- Luca Pagano (€153,000) [Italy]
7th -- William Thorson (€116,500) [Sweden]
8th -- Cengizcan Ulusu (€83,500) [Turkey]
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