ElkY wins first WSOP title, $331,639

15 June 2011

If Lady Gaga has a poker twin it’s most certainly Bertrand Grospellier.

Outrageously flamboyant, gifted beyond compare, and famous on multiple continents, the international maven gamesman is one of those rare individuals in our midst who commands attention without even trying.

He changes a room by his very presence inside it. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s his towering stature. Maybe it’s his rock-star lifestyle. Or maybe still – perhaps it’s his natural talent.

Grospellier, better-known for his anomalous moniker, “ElkY” (that’s not a typo – the Y is capitalized) is one of the few poker players in the world who commands the ability to be and become his own “brand.” Exceptional star athletes have this capacity. A few poker players have also been able to capitalize on their fame as well.

But very few in this game were famous before they played poker. Fewer still transitioned into a sort of daily double of celebrity in the manner Grospellier has succeeded.

Grospellier, who is from France but now resides in London, is the perfectly-packaged global poker superstar who up until the early morning of June 15th had accomplished just about everything in the poker world except one thing: He had never won a World Series of Poker gold bracelet. In fact, his WSOP results up to this night had been a preposterous serious of letdowns.

First, there was the fact that all he could muster for five arduous years was one relatively inadequate final table finish – a pedestrian ninth-place showing in 2007. Then, there was his epic meltdown in the 2008 WSOP Main Event Championship, when he enjoyed a chip lead following three long days, then dissolved into dust once the money payout was reached, finishing in 370th place. A few critics began to whisper that the 6-2 multilingual Frenchman with peroxide-frosted hair was all show, and no go.

Grospellier won far more than just a poker tournament tonight. He even won more than a gold bracelet. He erased countless memories of personal and professional disappointment in the world's most prestigious poker series. Indeed, no one would dare suggest Grospellier wasn’t a monumental success story both within poker and -- prior to that -- as one of the top-ranked cyber-gamesmen in the world. But if winning the WSOP gold bracelet means “validation” for an average poker player, it meant a sort of predestined coronation for Grospellier.

Indeed, up until his moment, Grospellier had earned more than $7 million in live poker tournaments on four different continents -- all in just eight years. He’d won multiple European Poker Tour titles and owned a World Poker Tour victory. In the poker world, however, his prior victories were the equivalent of going into a fancy steakhouse and being served a vegetarian meal. The juicy porterhouse of this game is a WSOP gold bracelet.

Finally, Grospellier’s voracious appetite was satisfied with all the trimmings. It was a meal served the right temperature -- well done. With his victory in the $10,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud World Championship, he not only won what had been an elusive title, he managed to triumph in an event comprised almost exclusively of fellow professionals and peers with a globally-respected designation.

Confirming his dexterity as a master gamesman, Grospellier revealed afterward that he had never previously played in a Seven-Card Stud tournament before. He was able to outlast players who for the most part had been playing the game most of their lives.

“I have really good memory for the cards," said Grospellier. "Some of my friends helped with the strategy, too. I tried to catch on quickly. But the first day, I made a lot of mistakes. And even earlier tonight there was a big hand where I acted out of turn because I was not sure of the rules. But I caught on quickly and in a way all these card games are similar. Of course, I had a lack of experience, but sometimes that served me well because I was playing really aggressively. I got my opponents to fold in some spots where they are not supposed to fold. So, it kind of worked out for me because sometimes (my opponents) had no idea how I was going to play.”

The triumph netted Grospellier a nice paycheck amounting to $331,639. But everyone who watched the Frenchman high-fiving dozens of fellow countrymen and - women in the gallery of spectators (packed inside the Rio at 2 a.m.) could recognize immediately that his satisfaction had little to do with money.

Grospellier was born in Melun, France. He moved to South Korea as a teenager in order to play and compete in various cyber games, most notably Starcraft. He became a professional gamesman and was a major celebrity among the youth in South Korea. He still holds several performance records in various cyber games.

Grospellier finished second in the 2001 World Cyber Games – which is somewhat equivalent to what the WSOP is to poker.

Grospellier started playing poker with friends about 10 years ago. This was the eighth consecutive year Grospellier has attended the WSOP in Las Vegas. His best previous
finish was a ninth-place showing in 2007.

Grospellier becomes only the third player in history from France to win a WSOP gold bracelet. The two previous winners were Patrick Bruel and David Benyamine.

In the heads-up battle between Grospellier and Steve Landfish, Grospellier overcame a massive chip disadvantage. He started off as the chip leader when play began at two-handed. But two hours into the match, Grospellier was down approximately 15-to-1 in chips. In fact, he had only enough chips to post a few big bets, which means if he lost one hand, he would have been eliminated. But he battled back, regained the chip lead, and won the tournament.

Landfish, from St. Albans, Vt., received a nice consolation prize amounting to $204,924. Maxwell Troy of Los Angeles was third for $128,341, Las Vegas poker pro John Hennigan was fourth, Moscow's Alexander Kostritsyn was fifth, Florida poker pro Chad Brown was sixth, Kevin Tang of Alhambra, Calif., was seventh, and Chris Tryba of Las Vegas was eighth.

Among the former gold bracelet winners who cashed in this tournament were – Hennigan, Nick Schulman (9th), Men “the Master” Nguyen (10th), Ville Wahlbeck (13th), Jason Mercier (14th), and Matthew Hawrilenko (16th).

Nguyen’s 10th-place finish gives him 71 career WSOP cashes. This currently ranks second on the all-time cashes list, nine behind career leader Phil Hellmuth. Nguyen won this same event last year and was the second defending champion at this year’s WSOP to come back and make a top-10 finish. The other player to do so was David Baker (No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw Lowball).

Tournament summary provided by Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director, reprinted by permission.

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