The European Poker Tour Championship this year was held March 7 to March 11, 2006 at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort. The setting was beautiful and the 297 runners came to do battle on the orange table tops that Poker Stars provided, the mix seemed to include a lot of Europe's most successful playersclearly wanting to add to their credentials, a scattering of other poker stars from around the world, and some internet qualifiers from all over the world. I will list some of the starters below and what immediately strikes you is how few players came here from the United States, other than some internet contenders. This makes me wonder if we have finally reached that point in big tournaments (calling "big" all of those tournaments with a buy-in of over 5,000 US dollars) where more and more players are simply not willing to go across multiple time-zones to chase glory and television exposure? An even simpler explanation would be that it is incredibly expensive to play in many events of this size every year and so many players are stepping aside to let a more local group contend for each and every title. Even having said all that I am surprised that more 'stars' did not contend for this prestigious titlein my view this is tournament will likely become one of the 'Grand Slam' events when our circuit shakes out. It has an important title that goes with winning it, and it was kind of shocking that a young American stole it.
Amongst the many competitors to sit down behind a starting chip stack that represented the 10,000E buy-in were Marcel Luske, Isabelle Mercier, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Lee Nelson, Patrick Antonius, Jan Boubli, Johan Storakers, Carlos Mortenson, Mads Anderson, Ram Vaswani, Bruno Fituossi, Kirill Gerasimov, Dave Colclough, Patrick Bruel, Thor Hansen, Andrew Black, Julian Gardner, the Boatman brothers, Anthony Holden, Tony Bloom, Rob Hollink, Surinder Sunar, Liz Lieu, Bengt Sonnert, Martin de Knijff, Eric Sagstrom, and Nick Gibson. The first player out was Julian Thew who picked up KK and found himself against AA, no help and gone.
Day one ended with 132 survivors and an average stack size of 22,500 and the largest stack from day one (two flights combined) was Arnaud Mimran with 88,050. How do you get a big stack at any large event at the end of any day? You have the right match-ups, or the cards hit you and hit you again, or you play aggressivelymost often the path to a good result happens because of aggressionbut where is the line between being aggressive and being an out-of-control maniac? The modern game has misplaced this line and older distinctions are blurred, our judgmental processes are suspended, or even in disbeliefso is this the lemming effect that I talk about where in trying to go over the cliff so many bodies pile up that someone ends up on top? Or is it intelligent decision making at its best? I suppose that we will find out over time.
Isabelle Mercier is a treasure for the poker community as she embodies a universal style and has the demographic stature that television covetsshe is a young beautiful woman who plays far above average poker and is always a threat to do well. Unfortunately she held AA twice early in day two and lost to Ross Boatman's 99 on a flop of K96 and called an all-in by Jason Thomas, who held KK only to see the flop bring a K. After these two blows she had only 5,000 and could not survive, moving all-in with 33 and being against 99 again.
Nick Gibson seemed to have the chip lead at the dinner break with about 115,000, and extended it afterwards, winning a key hand after flopping a set of 3's. Jeff Williams, a 19 year-old internet qualifier from Atlanta, Georgia got noticed again as he had a big stack of over 150,000 after having been near the chip lead at several points in day one. The eerie thing for many of us was his physical resemblance to Bobby Baldwin (the "owl") at a similar age. The "flying Dutchman" Marcel Luske got into the running as his stack was doubled up to close to 40,000 plus by winning with 6c6s versus Wendt's 5h5d. Rolf Slotboom continuously referred to Marcel as the 'flying fox' in reporting this tournament and I have to say it made me smile every time. If you know Marcel you know how appropriate this is as he is so crafty and clever as he befuddles his opponents and hornswoggles his way to successwhile singing you a song!
Day three began with 31 competitors still in the running, 27 would be in the money and then could set their sights on winning the 900,000E first prize. The big news was related to the one table sit-and-goes that ran frequently at sizes up to the hard-to-imagine. Greg Raymer won one of the 20,000E's entry, you would have to come 5th in the main event, beating 292 opponents to do better than he did with ten (yes, ten) opponents! Arnaud Mimran held the chip lead for the second day in a row with a count of 226,800. Fredo Fagerli was all-in with J7 and became the bubble person, with all other competitors breathing better as they now would get 16,800E if they slipped on a banana peel.
Eleven handed on two tables the chip leader is Ross Boatman and he tangles with Jeff Williams in an enormous pot that is key to what follows. Holding 10s10c on the button Ross makes it 25,000 and Jeff re-raises to 100,000 from the big blind, Ross now announces all-in, Jeff stands up, obviously stunned, asks twice "You've gone all-in?" and calls, showing QcQh and yells "YES!" when he sees Ross's cardswell I cannot imagine Bobby Baldwin doing that but hey, we get bad behavior as a standard on televised poker shows these days (when did you see Phil Ivey act like that, though?). The layout comes Ac7c6h9h9d and Jeff has a huge stack.
On day four only the final eight are left in contention; by chip count they are Thierry Cazals [FRA] 766,600, Alex Strandli [NOR] 633,500, Jeff Williams [USA] 495,000, Marcel Luske [HOL] 486,000, all with plenty of chips to make any type of play, with Marcel being the betting favorite, and the four shortstacks; Mark Karam [CAN] 231,900, Arshad Hussein UK] 131,600, Frazer Dunphy [UK], 125,600, and Ross Boatman [UK] 119,700. A really diverse representation of countries, although the final 3 spots are all held by players from the United Kingdom.
Dunphy doubles up right away through Cazals's AK when his AJ sucks a J on the river. The brutality of this game! The river can make any of us look like a nincompoop, when in truth we just got mugged. Thierry looks like a Marine to me and this hand is more than an indication of a day gone bad, unfortunately for him it is a peek into the future. Later on he gives his chips away by overplaying one hand and calling inappropriately in another.
Ross now doubles through Marcel in a classic matchupAhKh versus Marcel's QhQc with the board reading 3hKcJs3dAs.
Not long after this Marcel raises from the button and the big blind moves all-in, Marcel calls and the big blind shows QhQc and Marcel holds AhQs, 4382K comes off and suddenly Marcel is short-stacked with 8 players still alive.
Fraser Dunphy now gets AA and loses to Jeff's 10-10 when the flop brings a 10, sending him out in 8th. Blinds move to 7500/15000 with antes of 1500.
Marcel goes out 7th with 8c8s versus Karam's Jh7s when the board shows 10-4-4-7-7. Marcel is revolted and makes it clear that puking would be the appropriate response to getting flummoxed on this match-up.
Boatman goes out 6th and Thierry 5th and the final four are all internet qualifiers to the supreme delight of Poker Stars, whom has been the key supporter of the EPT, getting it off the ground and now on the threshold of being very important in the worldwide scheme of things. The final table has not gone at all the way that I would have predicted!
Marc Karam goes out 4th and Aleksander Strandli is rivered by Jeff and out 3rd. During the late stages of this event it seemed like Jeff won when he started with the better hand and that the rest of the time he had the other players in fear of every card.
Ten minutes into the heads-up battle the players get it all-in and Jeff (prematurely?) punches the air again when he shows Ad10c versus Arshad Hussain's Ah8d. Not a match-up that he is likely to lose (today). It comes 5h9h7s7d3c and the kid is not only in hog heaven, he is the champion!
Til next time...play good and get lucky!