on 13:59

James Akenhead wins
Full Tilt Poker Million VIII

James Akenhead crowned a stunning year in his poker career by winning the Full Tilt Poker Million VIII title in London, scooping the $500,000 winner’s cheque.

Akenhead came into the final fresh from main event final tables in both the WSOP and WSOPE, and saw off Premier League Poker winner Juha Helppi heads-up to banish the memories of his cruel bad beat he suffered in his runners-up finish at the 2008 WSOP $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event.

“It's been such a great year and ever since I came second for a bracelet in such a brutal way I've just been striving to win a big tournament,” said Akenhead. “I've made lots of final tables but not come first so to win such a big event like Poker Million is just fantastic. I think I played really well tonight. I trusted my instincts and my reads and I didn't make many mistakes throughout the whole tournament.”

Helppi held a chip lead with 880,000 to James’ 620,000, but Akenhead made several aggressive raises against the Finn and soon levelled the chips up. The end to proceedings soon came when Akenhead raised with pocket tens and Juha reraised all-in with pocket sixes and James called – a 3-4-5 flop gave Helppi hope but a king on the turn was followed by an ace and Akenhead took the title, with Helppi – who came in as the second shortest-stack – taking home $250,000.

“I was lucky to get heads-up up because I had to win a few flips as one of the short-stacks,” said Helppi. “Before the start I was thinking that second would be good considering what I was starting with but also I knew I would be disappointed if I got heads-up and didn't win. I am pretty happy with the way I played; I don't think I made any mistakes. I could have reraised a bit more heads-up but I would have been bluffing as I didn't really have any good hands.”

Luke “Full Flush” Schwartz provided much of the entertainment at the table and looked like he might run away with the final when he came out on top of a big clash with Akenhead – James moving all-in with A-J and Luke insta-calling with pocket nines, dodging an ace or jack to take the chip lead. But as the blinds reached 15/30k, Akenhead won a crucial hand, shoving with As-7s and getting snapped again by Luke with pocket eights – Full Flush made a set on the 10-8-9 flop but there were two spades out there and two more followed on the turn and river to give James a massive chip lead and take Luke down to 135,000.

“When I had A-J against Luke's pocket nines I really thought I was going to win that race and when I lost I thought, 'hold on a minute',” said Akenhead. “But then I managed to get lucky – as everyone on the table did at one point – and I just got a bit luckier than Luke.”

Pre-final table chip leader Schwartz continued to dig in and earned a slice of luck when he moved all-in with 6-9 suited and ran into Helppi’s A-Q – spiking a six on the river to stay alive. But he had to settle for fourth spot to win $150,000 in his first Poker Million when he shoved with A-5 and the impressive Dag Martin Mikkelsen called with K-Q and hit a king on the flop.

Norwegian pro Mikkelsen finished in third spot eventually and briefly held the chip lead three-handed after Akenhead doubled up short-stack Helppi, but he chose this time to make his first punishable mistake, calling Akenhead’s A-5 raise with A-9. The flop came 2-7-7 and both players checked. James popped in 95,000 on the 10 turn which Dag called, allowing a five to come on the river which they both checked to give James the 355,000 pot. Mikkelsen didn’t last much longer, Helppi raising with A-Q, Mikkelsen moving all-in with pocket threes and Juha calling – hitting an ace to knock out his fellow Scandinavian who pocketed $200,000.

Craig Wakeham parachuted into the final via a special tournament at FullTiltPoker.com and started with 100,000 in chips but was unable to kick-on from an early double-up through Card Runners co-founder Taylor Caby and went out in fifth spot, moving all-in with pocket sevens and running into Helppi’s A-10, the Finn spiked an ace on the flop to send Craig back to Plymouth with $100,000.

Caby was left to rue doubling the short-stack up when he became the first player to get knocked out of the final, pushing all-in as the short-stack with pocket sevens and getting called by Mikkelsen with K-4 – Dag hitting trip-kings on the turn to send Caby home with $50,000.

Before Akenhead’s win, the story of the eighth Poker Million was Peter Vasiliou, the estate agent from London who q2ualified online to finish second in his heat then won the turbo heat to reach the semi-finals. His fairytale tournament ended with a sixth place finish despite an early double up through Schwartz early after Luke reraised with K-7 and Peter moved all-in with pocket eights which held. It was Mikkelsen who did the damage again as the blinds went to 10/20k, Dag raised with pocket jacks and Peter moved all-in with A-9. Mikkelsen called, dodging the ace to send the internet qualifier home with $75,000.

But the final word and the glory belonged to Akenhead, who has flown the flag for British poker all year: “I'm really looking forward to next year and all the events I'm going to play. Every year that I've played since I started I've won more than the previous year so I've got a big hill to climb next year!”

1 James Akenhead $500,000
2 Juha Helppi $250,000
3 Dag Martin Mikkelsen $200,000
4 Luke Schwartz $150,000
5 Craig Wakeham $100,000
6 Peter Vasiliou $75,000
7 Taylor Caby $50,000

Luke Schwartz 397,000
James Akenhead 338,000
Taylor Caby 202,000
Dag Martin Mikkelsen 160,000
Peter Vasiliou 154,000
Juha Helppi 149,000
Craig Wakeham 100,000