Throwback Thursday: When Soccer Stars Took Over EPT Barcelona

Gerard Pique and Arturo Vidal

It is no secret that football players, or soccer players to some of you, enjoy playing poker. There is a lot of traveling to and from games, and much downtime for footballers as they hang around hotels and airports. Many of "the beautiful game's" stars are currently out in Qatar for the World Cup, away from family and friends, and are probably playing poker to pass the time.

Most football players play poker for fun, but others are much keener, and sometimes the poker and football worlds collide, with football's stars mixing it up with poker's elite.

Back in August 2019, the PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) Barcelona stop was in full swing. Several events had already crowned their champions, including the €100,000 EPT Super High Roller that Spaniard Sergi Reixach took down, defeating Sam Grafton heads-up. All attention was now on the €25,000 Single-Day High Roller, a tournament that saw 70 entries. Two of those entrants stood out from the crowd: Gerard Pique and Arturo Vidal.

Two Goliaths of the Beautiful Game

Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique

Pique and Vidal, at the time, played for Spanish football giants FC Barcelona. Both had made more than 350 appearances for the Catalan club and were both feared and respected on the football pitch. Pique, the FC Barcelona captain, had five cashes, all at previous EPT Barcelona stops, with a fifth-place finish in a €25,500 High Roller event banking him €129,350.

Vidal's poker skills were a little less known, with no cashes on his Hendon Mob profile. However, everyone knew that if Vidal approached poker like he did football, he would be fearless and anyone at his table would be in for a rough ride. The Chilean star had and still has a reputation for being tough-tackling, with him earning the nickname "King of the Tackle."

The €25,000 Single Day High Roller players fell by the wayside throughout the day, until only nine players remained in the hunt for the title of champion. Both Pique and Vidal had navigated their way to a final table where the likes of Michael Addamo, Joao Vieira, Juan Pardo, and Mike Watson were all present and correct.

Watson busted in ninth place when he lost a coinflip with pocket eights against Pardo's ace-king. Vieira followed Watson to the payout desk. Like Watson, Vieira lost a coinflip, his pocket eights proving no match for Pique's ace-queen courtesy of two ladies on the flop.

When Ramin Hajiyev and Kazujiko Yotsushika were eliminated in the same hand by Pardo, a crowd began converging on the final table because there was every chance one of the two FC Barcelona players could beat the poker pros in their backyard.

Vidal Bows Out

Arturo Vidal
Arturo Vidal

Vidal's impressive run ended in a fifth-place finish worth €134,460. Pardo min-raised to 80,000 and Vidal called. Pardo continued for 80,000 on the jack-deuce-deuce flop, and quickly called when Vidal raised all-in for 305,000 in total. Vidal flipped over ace-nine of clubs, which needed to improve against Pardo's ace-king. A king on the turn locked up the hand for Pardo and sent a smiling Vidal to the rail to rapturous applause.

Pique, flying the FC Barcelona flag, doubled through Hirokazu Kobayashi, leaving the Japanese star with less than 2.5 big blinds. Kobayashi crashed out at the hands of the dominant Pardo a few moments later.

Three-handed play ended with Pardo eliminating Australian superstar Addamo with pocket nines versus pocket threes. After adding Addamo's stack to his, Pardo held a substantial 5,300,000 to 1,700,000 chip advantage over Pique. The gap proved to far for Pique to bridge.

Early into the one-on-one battle, all the chips went into the middle of the felt, Pique holding ace-nine of hearts, and Pardo pocket deuces. A jack-ten-six flop gave Pique running outs to a straight in addition to his overcards. The three of hearts on the turn gave Pique more outs, although he was still a 34.09% underdog according to the PokerNews odds calculator. The river was a non-hart king, and Pique fell in second place for €352,950, leaving Pardo to collect the €491,600 top prize and the tournament's trophy.

Pique's Spain are in action in the World Cup today, December 1, where they face Japan in their third and final Group Stage fixture. Pique is not involved, having retired from international football a year before his runner-up finish at EPT Barcelona, and calling time on his professional playing days earlier this month.

Vidal's beloved Chile failed to qualify for the World Cup, although he still turns out for the Chilean national team despite being 35 years old. Vidal is the fourth most-capped Chilean player in history, with 137 appearances. Only Claudio Bravo (144), Gary Medel (152), and Alexis Sanchez (152) have played more games for Chile.

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FC Barcelona Star Gerard Piqué Wins €352,950 at EPT Barcelona, Arturo Vidal Cashes €134,460 FC Barcelona Star Gerard Piqué Wins €352,950 at EPT Barcelona, Arturo Vidal Cashes €134,460