We have a tale of two Barcelonas here; first the one where the glass is half full!
The heads-up no-limit hold'em tournament played in Barcelona was started seven years ago in Austria by John Shoreman and is directed ably enough by Thomas Kremser. The field is restricted to 128 players and only some of the famous players of Europe played in it this year. The field represented many countries of Europe, Norway, Russia, England, France, Holland, Sweden, Spain, Germany, and Austria among them. The United States and Canada was represented by about eight of us. Perhaps the World Series of Poker starting right after this hurt the North American continent's participation? Barcelona is a city that has a lot of tradition to offer to the older crowd—museums and famous architecture and historic tours; it has beaches, gorgeous women, discos, and other entertainment for the younger crowd, and a very nice run of poker tournaments every year. The Gaudi architecture is legendary, and his still unfinished St. Sebastian Church is breathtaking.
There is the bizarre—supposedly the cards are delivered in the opposite direction as would normally happen in many places in Spain, til this day. In all cases most flops are given in an almost classical way, but the turn, and then the river, are given to the left of the flop—usually, but not always! In the heads-up no-limit championship the floor-person comes over and announces the hands (in English) when there is an all-in and a call. There are two problems with that—1) at many angles the sound system is of a very poor quality, and 2) it is in English, which here is not the universal language it might be at most poker stops.
Then the Barcelona where the glass is half empty. The other side of the coin was foretold for me by many friends of mine in Europe, by at least two from each of the four Scandinavian countries, the English, the Dutch, and others—too many to enumerate here, and a sad thing, considering what they had to warn me about. This place is ruined by a greedy subculture. Not only is Barcelona famous as being the pickpocket capital of the world, it doesn't seem to care about tourists, nor offer help to those that don't speak Spanish. I am not guessing about this, try my actual experience—I must have a flashing neon sign on me that says "pigeon-to-pluck".
In any case I decided to walk to the beach on a busy main street called "Av. Parallel" as I had heard that it was nice to walk to the Grand Casino of Barcelona, and a fellow seemed to drop a notebook in front of me...I called him back and picked up the notebook, and the police, or a reasonable facsimile, were all over me—two guys with badges and guns and uniforms and an accusation of buying drugs. They hustled me off to the side and demanded my passport and wallet—which I gave them. They then removed my 100-dollar bills and held my passport up and screamed at me for 20 to 30 minutes, asking me when I was leaving town. I was happy to get the passport and my life back and return to the street.
So here are my survival rules in Barcelona:
1) Don't go anywhere alone;
2) Don't go anywhere unless you speak Spanish, or have someone that speaks Spanish with you;
3) Don't be distracted. Be prepared for the worst because it is common;
4) Don't carry any money more than you need with you;
5) Have the address of where you are going with you, and have it presented by the Spanish-speaking person to any driver of hire. Why? Because I was warned that taking a taxi was a form of roulette, and it turned out to be exactly that. I won't bore you with all the stories but I can tell you that simply going to the hotel where I was staying from the casino was everywhere from 6.5 euros to 15 euros, depending on the route taken!!!
In my first round I faced Peter Karall of Austria, an experienced player with many money finishes. Right away he called for the floor because I thought they were using the American TDA rules that I was familiar with—but they weren't. You started with 20,000 in chips and at hour three you arrived at blinds of 500-1000 and they stayed there, so the structure wasn't stressful. About 8 hands into play I picked up 9-9 in the big blind [100-200 the first 30 minutes] and Peter raised to 600 from the button, I re-raised to 2100 and he called [I started this hand with 23000 vs his 17000]. The flop came JT3 rainbow and we both checked. The turn came a 7 and I bet 4000 with him calling. It came another 7 on the river and I checked, not out of fear, but foolishly thinking I could induce a bluff, as unless he had TT in the hole (this seemed unlikely) his most likely hand was AQ. He bet 6000 and I called, pretty sure I would win…WRONG! He held KJ off-suit and I never got above 14,500 the rest of the match, eventually losing.
So play good, very good, and don't forget to get lucky.