Tom Middleton: How I won the 2013 EPT Barcelona

Tom ‘hitthehole’ Middleton kicked off season ten of the EPT in style by winning the Barcelona main event for just under €1 million but poker insiders have been hearing his name for a few years.

The unassuming 26-year-old from just outside Leeds has consistently been posting great results in online tournaments and was just a coinflip away from a WSOP bracelet in 2011. However, when your best friends are superstars like Jake Cody, Toby Lewis and JP Kelly it’s easy to be overshadowed – until now.

In the first EPT of season ten, Middleton snatched the chip lead in Barcelona early on and never let go, riding it all the way to a stunning victory worth €942,000. He now joins an elite roll call of UK EPT champions including Liv Boeree, Rupert Elder and friends Lewis and Cody. Middleton’s win, over a huge field of 1,234 top players, was just reward for a player that many feel has been due this type of success for a long time. As if to prove it wasn’t a fluke just one week later Middleton won the PokerStars Sunday 500 for an $89k top-up to his bank account.

We caught up with Middleton to talk about his spectacular Barcelona win, the pressures of making a deal on the final table and just what it takes to finish the job heads-up with an EPT Championship on the line. 

Hole in one

Tom Middleton: I called myself ‘hitthehole’ online because when I was younger I used to watch a lot of golf on TV. When players were taking putts I thought the crowd were all shouting ‘hit the hole’ when they were actually shouting ‘in the hole’.

I’ve only ever played tournaments really – I can’t beat cash games! Every time I try I just get bashed up. I heard an interesting theory from a poker player on why tournaments are easier than cash games. He said that in sports betting there is a lot of value in short priced options because the average punter wants to go in a betting shop and bet £10 on a 20/1 shot to win £200 rather than betting £200 on a near-certain winner at low odds. That’s the same in poker – those same punters would rather take a shot at winning big in tournaments than grind out small wins in cash games.

I probably have a bigger edge live than I do in online tournaments just because you’re only playing one table so there is a lot more information out there than when you multi-table online. 

Ready to start

I’d only played three EPTs before Barcelona and I’d always had ridiculously tough tables. I’d know two thirds of the players and then the other few would be tough young guys. There is a lot of luck with the table draw in tournaments. There are loads of really good players in these big field tournaments, but if you’re lucky you could get a table full of punters taking a shot.

In Barcelona I was the oldest guy on the table – and I’m only 26! It was pretty weird, everyone was playing aggressively and sometimes they would go a bit too far and not slow down. It’s a six day tournament but every hand in level one was three-bet or four-bet! I won the first hand by taking down the blinds and was never below starting stack from there, it went really smoothly.

I finished Day 1 with 90,000, then Day 2 with 300,000 to put me in the top ten. There was a huge hand which made me the chip leader. The cutoff opened, I three-bet A-A on the button, he four-bet and I clicked it back. He shoved with J-J and I held up. That was huge for me, just after the bubble. 

TV times

I have a little bit of experience on TV tables and I think the cameras can definitely affect things. On Day 3 I was playing this super-aggressive guy who was splashing around a lot. I opened and he three-bet me. We were very deep so I called with 8-8. The flop was 8-9-3. I check-raised him and he calls. The TV cameras now come rushing over as it’s a big hand. I bet again on the Five turn and he folds Aces face-up! I think he’s way more inclined to show the cameras that he could fold Aces – if they weren’t there he might have played differently. Of course, I just mucked my 8-8 and didn’t show him. After play finished each night I went for a couple of beers with my friends. We went to the same bar every night, it was a rungood bar! 

I was pretty excited when I made the final table. I had a lot of chips and position on Kimmo Kurko who was the best player at the table. My plan was to try and put people in tough ICM spots when they would want to ladder up. A great thing is that a load of friends from England like Lil Dave Nicholson and Dave Jones flew out that morning to join some others on the rail. It was nice to have all that support. 

No deal

[When we were four-handed] there was talk of bringing up a deal. The ICM numbers came through and we were to leave a little bit of extra money to play for. I was wanting to get €50,000 more [on top of the ICM deal] but they were only willing to give me €15k more. I was tempted to take it but I spoke to my friends and they said I needed more than that so I had to go and play it out. I was glad they said that now!

It sounds really big-headed but there were some inexperienced players there and I felt like I had a reasonable edge so the ICM split was a bad deal for me. Every deal is a balance. When people try desperately to get a deal they know everyone knows they are keen to lock up money. Sometimes this means they play mental. It happened here, one guy lost a huge pot with a weak top pair just after we failed to agree on a deal.

The money was a really big deal for me. I was staked by Toby Lewis and Chris Brammer in this event but I don’t really think the business side of things should be talked about, except with the people involved. But those two both had big pieces. 

Duking it out

I got heads-up with Kurko and there was a €440,000 difference between finishing runner-up and champion. We were effectively playing a €220k sit-and-go, which is insane! So we made a bit of a deal here, but we were still playing a €100k sit-and-go! The most important and biggest pay jump is in the top two spots so we were still both pretty serious. We both respected each other’s game, and knew that we were the one to avoid at the table. I was confident, but heads-up anything can happen. You have to be confident in yourself – who else will think you can win if you don’t believe in yourself?

I was happy when I won – my mates were all fairly smashed at that point and loving it! It didn’t take me that long to catch up with them because I was buzzing from playing. I was soon in the party mood! We went out to the same bar in Barcelona that we had been in all week long and then had a flight home the next day. I’ve been playing online a lot since and some of the guys I play against have been congratulating me in the chatbox, I love that. I’m grinding WCOOP hard and I’m straight back on it.  

The hands that won the tournament

1. Tom Middleton T9 vs Pasi Sormunen A-J

Sormunen raises in early position and Middleton calls on the button with T9. The flop is 56-T. Sormunen check-raises Middleton and the Brit calls. Sormunen bets big on the K turn and Middleton calls again. Sormunen now moves all-in for 1.7 million on the 5 river. Middleton eventually folds and Sormunen turns over A-J for an audacious bluff.

I was really close to calling the river. I have a blocker to Tens full, which just leaves Sixes full and one combo of quads [as his most likely hands]. The whole check-raise the flop line is like he is trying to make me fold too. I got to the river and I wanted to call but he needs to be bluffing and gone off his head! I didn’t know anything about him at that point and it’s pretty ballsy to do that at this stage of the tournament!

He shoved for 1.7m on the end and I had 2.8m total – if I called and was wrong I would be down to 30 big blinds. I had a good seat and a good table so I folded.

There’s a big difference between having 2.8m and 1.1m chips at that point, if I had called and was wrong. You try to keep your head as much as possible but obviously a hand like that plays on your mind a bit. I was thinking that if I had called there I’d now have so many chips but folding was the best decision in that spot. I would have been sick if I had got it wrong. I was talking to him after and he said he did the exact same thing at EPT London with 15 left! He’s an MMA promoter and all he cares about is having fun. 

2. Tom Middleton 55 vs Kimmo Kurko A-4

Kurko raises on the button to 800k with A-4. Middleton three- bets to 2m with Fives. After a short think Kurko moves all-in for over 12m and Middleton calls. The board runs out T-6-7K8 to declare Tom Middleton the 2013 EPT Barcelona champion.

He was down to just under 30BBs. When he has that sort of stack I was putting in a few light three-bets because he’s in a situation where he has to either shove it in or fold. I had done a couple of bluffs and three-bet him one time when I had 8-8. Then I was dealt 5-5 and I felt that due to our history it would be good enough to go with. If he folded [to my three-bet] that was fine too but 5-5 has enough equity to call a shove with, even though it is at the bottom of my range.

[He shoved A-4] and I expected him to shove a wheel Ace there. It’s pretty standard. I’d shown I was willing to three-bet/fold in that situation and most of the time he will have about 30% equity even if called. 

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