College dropout proves a great Dane at poker table

Las Vegas (AP) – A 22-year-old college dropout from Denmark won the World Series of Poker and its USD 9.15 million prize, then spent the night partying with friends at a suite reserved for this city’s biggest gamblers.

And why not? He’s one of them.

Peter Eastgate became the tournament’s youngest champion early Tuesday, making a wheel straight and eliminating his final opponent, 27-year-old semiprofessional card player Ivan Demidov. Demidov held two pair, twos and fours, when Eastgate called his all-in bet.

Phil Hellmuth, perhaps poker’s most famous ambassador, was 24 in 1989 when he won the first of his 11 tournament titles.

Eastgate hit poker’s jackpot about 2 1/2 years after he started playing no-limit Texas Hold ‘em from high school friends in Denmark. He said he tried college for a week, but got into poker and found out he was good enough to make a living as a pro. He started at the lowest stakes and worked up to build a sizable bankroll.

Eastgate now wants to take a long vacation with his family before examining his options, although a life of scholarship might not be one of them.

“I’m not necessarily going back to college, but I will look for more opportunities to become a more wise person,” he told The Associated Press.

After capturing the tournament and the gold bracelet that goes to the winner, Eastgate celebrated with some two dozen friends and family at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in a room that’s usually the territory of A-list celebrity guests.

Eastgate had said he would have been happy with a top-five finish, but he thought he had a chance to win it all after eliminating a few players from the final table.

“My motivation was USD 9 million and a bracelet,” Eastgate said.

Eastgate eliminated five players, including Demidov, at the final table.

“He was playing me very aggressively so I was kind of looking to kind of trap him,” Eastgate said. “It worked out in different spots.”

Nine players met Sunday to settle the title after taking a nearly four-month break to build hype for the tournament. The final table emerged from a field of 6,844 players that had been cut to nine over 11 days in July.

Demidov did not exactly leave a pauper. He took home more than USD 5.8 million for second place.

“I’m someone who’s not going to cry,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m going to be happy. That’s the way it turned out.”

Eastgate had to collect all the chips in play – nearly 137 million – to win the tournament. The chips had no monetary value and each player started the tournament in July with 20,000 each.

Both players were deliberate early on. As Eastgate distanced himself, it became apparent that Demidov would need to double his stack in a less-than-favorable spot to keep his bets powerful enough to challenge.

“I learned that I need to improve my hands-on game,” Demidov said.

Demidov completed a tournament run that included final table finishes at the series’ main events in Europe and the United States. He intends to play in more high-stakes live tournaments and hopes his performances will help poker grow in Russia.

“A few years ago it was mostly U.S. players,” Demidov said. “Now you see more European, South American and Asian players. Poker is growing in the world.”

Eastgate said Hellmuth called him before the finish to wish him luck.

“It feels good to beat Phil’s record,” Eastgate said after taking pictures with stacks of USD 100 bills and his new gold bracelet. “I was not focused on the record that I could break. I was just focused on the game.”