About 10 months and 11 stops ago, season seven of the PokerStars European Poker Tour began in the beautiful city of Tallinn, Estonia, on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Since that day, numerous champions have been crowned, the last just a few days ago in San Remo. Now, all eyes are in Madrid and the massive Casino Gran Madrid for the culmination of this season's tour for the €10,000 buy-in EPT Grand Final which kicked off Saturday.
Day 1a attracted 302 players, but after nine levels, one player stood above everyone else. This was David Sonelin, who may be remembered for his deep run at Deauville at the beginning of the year where he was chip leader for a while.
Sonelin finished the day with 275,900, ahead of anyone else but the most interesting thing about this was that members of the press could not recall any big pots that he had played that had specifically made it to showdown. Simply put, a constant application of pressure at all times slowly squeezed the chips and consequently the life out of his opponents who found it virtually impossible to deal with his relentless raising.
It's often a given that the first day of a tournament will always be considered slightly softer than the Day 1b flight – the latter usually being a much more "pro-heavy" field. Anyone in the casino today would have doubtlessly argued that, in this event, it was not the case. Not a single table went by where any spectator with even just a passing knowledge of poker could identify at least three or four of those taking part.
A field this strong was like gold dust for the watching media and fans as players such as the triumvirate of Team PokerStars Pro World Champions, Jonathan Duhamel, Chris Moneymaker and Joe Cada mixed in with many of winners of the EPT both this season and previous ones. Michael Tureniec, Rupert Elder, Ben Wilinofsky, Michael Eiler, Lucien Cohen, Toby Lewis, Kent Lundmark and David Vamplew (from this season alone!) all took their seats today to varying degrees of success.
Also involved was one of the most recognizable faces in high-stakes poker:Tom Dwan. The American had a pretty good start before losing all his chips to new San Remo champion Elder in two quick hands. Those chips wouldn't last too long with the Brit; however, he lost a 110,000 flip to another San Remo champion – Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier – who made his first trip to the EPT since London in October.
Another EPT winner, Ben Wilinofsky (233,400) (from EPT Berlin this year), had an excellent day, finishing high up among the chip leaders. The Canadian had been sparring all day with wily Frenchman Fabrice Soulier, but the former managed to finally get his opponent when he back-doored into the nut flush with on a board to eliminate his foe.
Meanwhile the casualty list for the day was as long as the bus ride here from central Madrid. Nicolas Levi was one of the very first out, losing with kings to queens for a 50,000 pot in the very first level when all the money went in preflop. Others left to think on what might have been included: Theo Jorgensen, JP Kelly, Andrew Lichtenberger, Andreas Hoivold, Vitaly Lunkin, Dan O'Brien, Vanessa Selbst, Mike McDonald and Tobias Reinkemeier.
On Sunday, the second half of the field will be in action and the tournament staff are confident that the number of runners could be as high as 400. Expected to play Sunday are Team PokerStars Pros Daniel Negreanu, David Williams, Bertrand 'ElkY” Grospellier, who won the €25,000 High Roller today, as well as the man ElkY beat heads-up, Benny Spindler. PCA winner Galen Hall and EPT Champions Kevin MacPhee and Kevin Stani are also expected to join the play, which will begin at 1200 CEST (0300 PDT).
The PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be back on Sunday for all the action as the EPT Grand Final plays on, so be sure to check back for all the updates, and as always, follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.