Former pro basketball player wins WSOP Europe Main Event

16 November 2023

Max Neugebauer

Max Neugebauer

Max Neugebauer is a hard man to miss in a crowd. Standing six-foot, eight inches tall, he towers over the competition in any poker tournament. And tonight, at the final table of the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event, he was left looking down on everyone as he hoisted the gold bracelet in the air.

The 26-year-old Austrian is the newest WSOP Europe Main Event champion, prevailing over a record-setting field of 817 players to earn the title and €1,500,000 top prize. He did it in spectacular fashion, with a hero call against Eric Tsai on the final hand of the tournament that ensured his name will forever be etched in WSOP lore.

"It means a lot. I mean, the bracelet itself means a lot. And then it's actually the WSOP Main Event means even a bit more,"; he said, surrounded by a crowd of supporters that cheered every pot won and held up a sign that read "Max" throughout the final table. "What means most to me, honestly, is my friends being here and cheering me on. It was really wonderful. I don't know what the experience would've been without them."

Neugebauer is a poker world champion, but his first career aspirations were in a different game. He was a professional basketball player before turning to poker, playing for BC Vienna in the Austrian first division. He also represented the Austrian Under-18 team. When his athletic career came to a premature end, poker seemed like a perfect avenue to funnel his competitive fire.

"I had huge knee problems. When I stopped playing basketball, I started playing poker as well. Just the competition part and the part of improving and working on your game was really important to me and I felt like there was some void that needed to be filled. Poker was that for me," he said.

Neugebauer's previous best tournament cash was for $27,000 in a tournament in Las Vegas last June. He also cashed twice at the WSOP this summer. His total live earnings stood at just $84,000 before the Main Event, the first prize he earned today dwarfing anything on his poker resume just as he stands over his fellow players. Neugebauer attempted to satellite into the Main Event this week but couldn't win a seat and instead directly paid the €10,350 entry. It was an investment that paid off in a big way.

Final Table Action
The eight-handed final table began at 2 p.m. local time here at King's Casino in Rozvadov with Tsai holding a big chip lead with 23,650,000. Neugebauer started out in third place with 10,325,000.

Alf Martinsson, a Swedish high-stakes cash game pro, began the day as the short stack and quickly moved all in for 2,500,000 with ace-three. Michele Tocci called with pocket tens and finished with a full house to eliminate Martinsson in eighth place.

The Italian continued his hot start to the final table when he made two pair on the river to beat Michael Rocco's pair of aces, then flopped trips with king-jack to crack the queens of Kasparas Klezys. The deck was certainly in Tocci's favor as he flopped a set of jacks and shoved on Tsai to move into the chip lead.

Rocco, the most accomplished player at the final table with more than $4 million in live earnings, was involved in a three-way pot against Tsai and Nils Pudel. Rocco flopped a set of nines and raised the flop. Tsai called with top pair and a flush draw, while Pudel got away from his pocket aces as Rocco and Tsai got the rest of Rocco's 4,600,000 in the middle on the turn. Rocco held on to double up and knock the start-of-day chip leader down to a short stack.

Ruslan Volkov was the next player to fall, Klezys spiking an ace on the turn to beat Volkov's two tens and eliminate him in seventh place.

Neugebauer was down to 7,000,000 when he moved all in from the small blind with ace-eight. Tocci called with king-queen and, seemingly for the first time at the final table, failed to connect with the board as Neugebauer doubled up. Klezys also doubled when he flopped a set of tens against Tocci to take the chip lead over the remaining six players.

Tocci got those chips back, making the nut flush to beat Klezys' flopped trips. Pudel then shoved for 6,600,000 with ace-five on the button. Rocco, though, woke up with aces and snapped him off to send Pudel out in fifth place.

Rocco moved up to 23,000,000 and his long-awaited first WSOP bracelet was firmly in his sights. It took all of one hand to end that hope. On the next hand after busting Pudel, Rocco ran into Tsai's aces as the Taiwan poker ambassador doubled up. Rocco was knocked down to less than 8,000,000 and was eliminated shortly after against Tocci's tens.

Neugebauer began his charge up the leaderboard when he bet 5,000,000 on the river with a pair of nines and Tsai called with just ace-high. Neugebauer also eliminated Klezys in fourth place with king-jack against queen-eight, hitting two pair by the turn.

It looked like it would be a heads-up battle between Neugebauer and Tocci as Tsai got his last 7,800,000 in the middle with deuces but Tocci had him at risk with sixes. A lucky deuce spiked on the turn to crush Tocci's hopes, and he picked up jacks the next hand and called off his last 2,600,000 when Neugebauer shoved with king-four. Tocci remained in front until the river, but Neugebauer hit a king as Tocci suffered a two-outer and a three-outer on consecutive hands to hit the rail in third place.

Neugebauer led 64,100,000 to 17,400,000 at the start of heads-up, but most sizeable pots at the start of the match went to Tsai. He won the first when he turned two pair and raised to 6,000,000 on the river as Neugebauer gave up a flopped pair of queens. Tsai then rivered a Broadway straight and Neugebauer paid him off on the river this time.

Then came the hand that will be talked about for years to come. Tsai raised to 1,200,000 on the button and Neugebauer called. The flop came queen-eight high with two diamonds and Tsai bet 1,000,000. Neugebauer called and an ace fell on the turn. Tsai then overbet the pot for 6,300,000 and Neugebauer again called to the river, which came a seemingly unhelpful four of spades. Tsai then moved all in for 16,000,000, sending Neugebauer into the tank for several minutes.

Last night, Neugebauer set the final table when he hero-called Andrea Radicchi with jack-eight. He now did it again, eventually calling with third pair on the board and Tsai could only show a busted draw with jack-nine of diamonds. The title, in a flash, belonged to Neugebauer. Tsai, a popualar YouTube vlogger back home in Taiwan with more than 125,000 subscribers, had to settle for second place.

After the hand, Neugebauer explained how he used Tsai's aggressiveness against him. "I just thought, he wouldn't c-bet from how he played before. He wouldn't c-bet his range. I think he would've checked a lot of ace-x. So I discounted a lot of ace-x," he said.

"I thought it was very, very easy to overbluff this spot because he has all the bluffs. He doesn't have all the ace-x. Also, it seems like a very good card for him to bluff, and with those wide ranges I felt like it's just a very decent call because he was playing somewhat aggressive. I felt like he wanted to push it and overtake the chip lead. With those wide ranges in that spot I felt like it was a good call, and I called."

Neugebauer survived a grueling five days of long nights and tough opponents on his way to his crowning achievement. He has the bracelet, he has the money, and now it's time for a little break. "Next for me is a few days off. Actually, I already planned going to the spa with my mother and my sisters in a week. Just taking a bit of vacation," he said.

The battle between Neugebauer and Tsai, with the significant difference in stature between them, seemed like a David versus Goliath matchup. Only this time, the giant won.

Final Table Results
1 Max Neugebauer Austria €1,500,000 $1,631,588
2 Eric Tsai Taiwan €891,000 $969,163
3 Michele Tocci Italy €639,000 $695,056
4 Kasparas Klezys Lithuania €464,000 $504,704
5 Michael Rocco United States €341,000 $370,914
6 Nils Pudel Germany €255,000 $277,370
7 Ruslan Volkov Ukraine €193,000 $209,931
8 Alf Martinsson Sweden €148,000 $160,983

Related Links
Ranked Online Poker Rooms
World Series of Poker Gaming Vendor Information
King's Casino Details


(Article courtesy of World Series of Poker)
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