Maria Lampropulos became the first female ever to ascend to the throne at PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). The 36-year-old from Buenos Aires, Argentina conquered the 2018 Main Event for a whopping $1,081,100 first prize.
Lampropulos lifted the trophy after beating a 582-strong field, claiming the prestigious title along with a Platinum Pass to the 2019 PokerStars Players NL Hold'em Championship (PSPC).
"I feel very, very happy. I know that it's incredible. It's great," the queen of PCA 2018 said.
Lampropulos is the second Latin-American champion of a PokerStars flagship event in history and first in almost seven years, following 2011 European Poker Tour (EPT) Grand Final winner Ivan Freitez.
Lampropulos triumphed in a spectacular fashion, coming back from a short stack during three-handed play against Shawn Buchanan and Koray Aldemir. She patiently nursed her belongings, waiting for a moment to make her move. Lampropulos eventually correctly called off with king-high when Aldemir put her at risk with queen-high. The board stayed on her side, and Lampropulos then found her way to a heads-up against Buchanan.
She was still a huge underdog, given the spread of the chips. Buchanan was a two-to-one favourite and stretched the lead even further but Lampropulos was relentless. She scored two doubles in three hands to completely change the narrative of the match, suddenly vaulting to a dominant lead.
Lampropulos downed Buchanan to his last 12 big blinds and then put him to a test with ten-seven suited. Buchanan called and discovered he was slightly ahead with king-high but a ten on the flop made the dream come true for Lampropulos who seized her second seven-figure reward.
After her tremendous victorious run, Lampropulos moves to a third place on the Argentinian all-time money list with $2.8 million, a leaderboard led by her boyfriend Ivan Luca. The poker power couple is also well-known for their remarkable heads-up rendezvous in the Eureka 6 Rozvadov Main Event.
"I am extremely grateful for the people who believed in me, especially my boyfriend. Ivan always trusted me and helped me to improve and grow. Whenever I had doubts about how I'd played a hand, he helped me regain my confidence by telling me that I can get it," Lampropulos praised Luca.
Until two years ago, Lampropulos would be often seen railing Luca on the big stage while playing only smaller tournaments herself.
"I Iove to play poker but I never imagined this. It's incredible," the humble Lampropulos said.
Shawn "buck21" Buchanan came close to capturing the title but the all-in clashes went all the other way and he had to accept the silver medal and $672,960.
"I had her down to 2.5 million and then just boom-boom-boom. Three races and you're out, that's kind of how it goes sometimes," Buchanan observed.
Despite going through the shell-shock of losing a commanding lead to bust within a few hands, Buchanan looked at his performance from the positive perspective.
"I feel happy. It's a lot of focus for six days straight," Buchanan said.
Coincidentally, it was Lampropulos who first allowed Buchanan vault to the lead, sending him a large chunk after she tried to catch him bluffing with queen-high only to find out that Buchanan had the goods with a full house.
Buchanan's day got even better as he significantly extended his lead, knocking out Daniel Coupal and Adrian Mateos. He was suddenly possessing two-thirds of all chips in play.
"I felt good, I thought I was gonna hit that one," Buchanan described what was going through his mind at that point.
Buchanan, however, soon doubled Koray Aldemir in a coin flip and the German star closed the gap. Aldemir later took over the lead in a highlight hand of the final table, pulling off a gutsy triple-barrel bluff with pocket threes, putting his tournament life on the line on the river. Buchanan tanked for four minutes before releasing his two-pair hand.
Aldemir and Buchanan kept trading the pole position, leaving Lampropulos far behind. But it was Aldemir who exited in third place after doubling Lampropulos and losing another all-in only four hands later, falling to Buchanan. Aldemir's bronze was worth $481,560.
"Third is really good, if someone had told me before the tournament that I'd get third, I'd, of course, sign it. Winning would've been awesome but I think third place is fine as well," Aldemir said about his performance.
Start-of-day chip leader Adrian Mateos was all-in at risk on a flop with top pair top kicker against Buchanan's flush draw. Buchanan connected immediately on the turn, sending Mateos packing in fourth place. Mateos, who won the European Poker Tour (EPT) 11 Grand Final Main Event, added another great result to his outstanding poker career, earning $372,600.
"I came here with a lot of desire to do well and earn my second Main Event title. But sometimes, poker is like that," Mateos said before adding: "I'm happy with my game, my decisions and my performance in general. I'm sure that in a few days, I'll feel more proud of my result."
Canadian farmer Daniel Coupal punched his ticket to the Main Event through a big Road to Bahamas Ultra Satellite that gave away 100 packages. Coupal turned his investment into a $293,560 profit, navigating his way to the final table. Coupal's run was halted in fifth place after he bluff-raised all-in on a flop that saw Buchanan hit a top pair.
Christian Rudolph came back for the final day with just 11 big blinds and his tournament was over after six hands. Rudolph three-bet shoved with ace-eight over Lampropulos' open-raise, and the Argentinian called off with pocket sixes. Another six came on the flop and the turn card left Rudolph drawing dead, forcing him out in sixth place for $229,760.
Team PokerStars Pro Liv Boeree fell shy of the last two tables. Boeree was eliminated in 17th place just before the end of Day 4 after running with queens into Lampropulos' kings. Boeree picked up her fourth and best PCA Main Event, pocketing $49,680.
Among the top 87 players who shared the $5,645,400 prize pool were also New York Times best-selling author Maria Konnikova (42nd for $22,020) and Team PokerStars Pros Barry Greenstein (47th for $22,020) and Victor Ramdin (69th for $19,760).
PCA 2018 Main Event final table results:
1st - Maria Lampropulos, Argentina, $1,081,100
2nd - Shawn Buchanan, Canada, $672,960
3rd - Koray Aldemir, Germany, $481,560
4th - Adrian Mateos, Spain, $372,600
5th - Daniel Coupal, Canada, $293,560
6th - Christian Rudolph, Germany, $229,760
7th - Oleg Titov, Russia, $169,920
8th - Adalfer Morales, Colombia, $116,860