More northerly European cities might have begun the inevitable descent into autumn already, but Vilamoura, in the Algarve region of Portugal, was bathed in heat and sunshine on Saturday for the beginning of the PokerStars EPT Vilamoura. The first flight of 181 players took their seats inside the cozy casino, within cat-swinging distance of the bluest sky imaginable. Considering the scale of the PokerStars opening party last night, this was a pretty large turnout, and there will be even more tomorrow who’ve recovered by the beach while today’s field narrowed itself to 102.
With 30,000-chip starting stacks and blinds starting at 50/100, there was more than enough room to maneuver, or even drop a ways, without feeling pressure too early. No one epitomized the coolness-after-initial-setback more than Team PokerStars Pro Arnaud Mattern, who though losing over half his stack in the first hour or so, made the most startling comeback of the day to steal the mid-day chip lead after a couple of dramatic double-ups. He hovered in the top five counts for the remainder of the day, ending with a stack that could propel the Frenchman all the way through to yet another EPT final table. At the very least, it puts him in a good position for Day 2 on Monday.
A good number of French players hoovered up the Day 1a chips. Michel Abecassis ended the day with a big stack, while Antony Lellouche, Ludovic Lacay, and Yann Brosolo also found their way to Vilamoura as part of a strong contingent. In fact, many countries were represented by very successful packs of players, with past EPT champions from Sweden (Anton Wigg), Denmark (Allan Bække), the U.K. (Vicky Coren), and Holland (Pieter de Korver) making it through the day. Other major title holders such as James Mitchell (Irish Open 2010) and JP Kelly (double WSOP bracelet winner) played today alongside successful online players such as Paul Foltyn, Lawrence Houghton, Annette Obrestad and Chris Moorman. The latter two busted before the sunny day turned into balmy evening, however, along with Liam Flood, Antoine Amourette, Barny Boatman, and nine tables worth of players who’d stumped up the €5,300 (or qualified for a little less) to enter this tournament.
The late stages of the day were dominated by players who probably know the European Poker Tour circuit as well as the route to their local supermarket. Dario Minieri, after an early double-up with aces against king-queen on a queen-high board, seemed rocket-propelled as he climbed over 160k at his stack’s highest peak, but ended the day on 131,400. Hot on his heels was Antonio Esfandiari, who managed to keep a series of prop bets and nonstop chat going on with his tablemates while building one of the first stacks to top six figures and keeping it through the end. The leader of the pack after the final hand of the day, however, was Portuguese Pokerstars Team Online pro Andre "acoimbra" Coimbra, whose ending count of 157,600 tops the field. Just behind him are those same few players who’d been vying for the top spot all day — with the addition of Foltyn whose 145,500 leaves him so close to the chip leader he can hear his shoes squeak.
The lack of scheduled dinner break here means a straight eight-level run and then the Day 1s are over, leaving the remaining players to enjoy the end of the evening by the beach or at one of the many bars and restaurants in this resort town. A day of rest will follow for these survivors, but our Live Reporting team will be back for full coverage of Day 1b from twelve noon local time tomorrow.