There cannot be another time to feel better on Poker Stars than winning a tournament. It doesn’t matter too much how much you win (I say this probably because I never took a first prize greater than 200 USD!), but it is the increasingly joyous feeling as you move step by step to the first place that matters most.


It happened to me back in 2009, when Poker Stars had a very interesting promotion with a lot of 10.000 participants capped freerolls, each one giving 2.500 USD to the first 500 players. I played several tournaments, but on the 30th of November I started the tournament at 8 p.m. Romanian time and, after 7 hours of continuous play, I managed somehow to get the first price of 200 USD, beating 9999 other players in the process. I am going to bed usually at 1 o’clock in the night, but that night I felt exceptionally fresh. As I was approaching the first bubble and then the final table bubble I felt better and better and I was very confident that I can beat anyone, although my poker results until then were rather poor!

At the final table of 9 I found myself against a lot of Russians ( 5 out of  8 ). However, they were not too good. I have the files with all my hands played in that tournament, but, unfortunately, they were recorded in Romanian. The Hand Replayer did not recognize now that format and I cannot show you the interesting hands with its help. I’ll give a text description of them:

I reached the final table after more than 6 hours of play only with 900K, while the chip leader had 5.5M, and there were some other players with 3.3M, 2.1M and 1.5M. However, my stack was the fifth, so I put my eyes on the 70 USD 5th prize! 

First player left us after a fight with me. He had 870K, me just 800K, but I had AK in hand, while he had AJ. I was UTG+2 and made a 2BB raise of 70K. There was a player calling me, but the guy with AJ made it to 245K. Everyone folded and I entered all-in with my AK. The caller folded and the guy with AJ called my all-in. I was happy to see the flop 10 4 K, giving me top pair and him just a straight draw, and fortunate to escape his straight with 5 and 2 on turn and river. My stack doubled to 1.75M, while he was going all-in preflop next hand with QQ against the AA of another player, with a greater stack. The board showed 5 6 7 7 K, so no chance to survive for him!

The next hand another short stack was eliminated. He saw the flop 10 Q J with Q 10 in hand and entered all-in. Unfortunately, he was called by someone with K Q, the turn was still good for him, a 4, but the river J paired the flop and he lost with a lower kicker!

Then I won a hand on pure luck and due to the inability of another player. I had A 3 off suit in middle position and I limped in the pot with 40K. Horrible! (I can say this now!). The player in the small blind saw the opportunity to steal the blinds and antes, so made it to 160K with K Q off suit in his hand. Not a great hand either, having also a deficit of position over me. I decided to call and see the flop 6 7 8 (very coordinated, also with two hearts, but not favorable to both of us). He didn’t make a continuation bet that would have forced me to fold, but a check instead. I felt his hesitation, but I only made a min raise of 40K, almost saying louder: I also have nothing! He called and I saw a surprise turn, an ace! This time he raised it to 360K thinking that the ace could be a scary card for me. It wasn’t! So I called to see the river 9. He checked and I checked also, maybe frightened because of the 9 completing four cards in a straight on the board. My stack went to a healthy 2,3M, the third of the final table at that moment!

Another short stack left us with AJ off suit played all-in preflop against diamonds K 10. The flop was J 10 A, only one diamond, but the turn and river were 5 and 4 of diamond, so he was suck-out by a rivered flush.

I obtained another significant increase in my hand with AA against the same player above, and he had again only K Q off suit in small blind. I raised 2BB preflop to 90K and he was the only caller. The flop was 8 8 K, so he bet 135K on it, not allowing me to continuation bet. I called to see the turn 6 and his raise now of 405K. I decided to call and see the river 7. He did not have the courage to raise the third time, and I also was somehow afraid, so it was check-check on the river. Stack up to 3.7M, grabbing the second place at he table in the process, the same leader having only 4.5M at that time!

Then I became the table leader with a nice hand. I had 7 10 of hearts in big blind. Before me, just a raise of 2BB to 100K and a caller, the same player as above. The flop was very coordinated, 5 6 8 rainbow, only one heart, giving me a powerful straight draw. I could make it to half of the pot, but those times I was able to do just a check. The initial raiser checked also, but the fellow above raised it to 250K. I was the only one to call and see a wonderful turn, 9 of diamonds. I slow played with a check, the other one, having 9 8 of hearts in the hand!, raised it to 400K, I re-raised him to 800K and he called. The river was another diamond, a J, and now we had 3 diamonds on the board. I bet 50K (unbelievable, but that was my playing level!) and he just called, probably being afraid of the same flush. This straight took my stack to 5M for the first time in that tournament!

I gave a blow to the second stack (initial leader of the final table) with K J off suit in small blind against J 10 off suit in middle position. He min-raised preflop, raised the 7 J 8, two hearts, flop and I remained with him in the pot to see the turn Q of hearts. Three hearts on board now and he continued to fire the second bullet. I called and saw the river, another Q. He fired again, but not too much, so I called and get a hefty pot of 2M, going with my stack over 6M. Cool!

I was lucky then to see the other stacks leveled somewhere to 2M, while I kept the 6M one. We lost another player getting all-in with his short stack and AJ and being called by a player with 33. The board was against him, 4 4 3 K 9, and he was suck-out.

We remained four when a short stacked player went all-in preflop with 55 and was called by the initial leader of the final table, with 88. The board showed J K 2 6 4 and it was over for him, but with a 70 USD prize. I was happy to see at that moment a secured prize of 85 USD for me.

I got to an impressive stack of 7.4M with AK in hand and a lot of re-raising preflop. Being in big blind I just called the last 540K raise and we were three to see the flop A J 7. I fired a half of the pot bet of 840K that secured me the 1.6M big preflop pot.

I extended my lead by eliminating the player finishing in the 4th position for 85 USD. I was UTG with clubs AJ and limped. The player on the button folded, but three of us saw the flop 3 J A, with two diamonds. Not bad for me, being now also in position! The first player checked, the second one raised it to 120K and I just called that, probably in slow play mission! The third player folded, so we were two of us seeing the turn 9 of clubs. The other player had A 3, (also two pairs on the flop!!!) so it was a good opportunity for him to raise it to 300K. I re-raised him patiently to 600K and he forced the all-in to almost 2M. The river 8 bricked and I was sitting on a stack of 9M when only three were still in play out of the 10.000 initial runners.

The next hand I extraordinary sucked-out another player, the fellow with KQ twice above. Now he had only K 4 off suit. I had 55 and limped from small blind while he was in big blind. The flop was great for me A 4 5 and gave some hope also for him. Check-check. He was in position. The turn was A, giving me the full house! Check-check, again. Then the river K came. Beautiful for me, disastrous for him. I had the inspiration to bet high, 2.3M, a little more than his stack. He probably thought that I want to steal the pot, which was rather small before my raise, and he called. Lucky me, entering the heads-up with the player that was the initial leader of the final table, but having an advantage of 11.5M over 3.5M in stacks.   

I couldn’t believe that I will win at least 140 USD out of a freeroll, but on the other side I was almost sure that I could grab the first prize of 200 USD easily.

After 9 minutes of exchanging small pots in heads-up, the final hand came. I had A J off suit in small blind and I limped in the pot, but the other player was more aggressive, raising it to 280K with K Q off suit. I made it to 770K and he pushed his stack of 2M all-in. I gladly called and the flop did not help either of us: 8 7 7, while I was still in advantage. The turn was 9 and the river was a fabulous, but unnecessary 10, which completed a straight for me.

And so, a dream of 200 USD came true for me at the end of 2009 on Poker Stars!