In the final hand before the dinner break, a massive clash between Michal Mrakes, Randy Lew and Danilo Cangianiello in the €1,100 EPT National resulted in the Team PokerStars Pro Online biting the dust in 7th place (€33,740). After Mrakes had opened to 450,000, Lew moved all in for 3,230,000 to his direct left. Danilo Cangianiello called all in from the small blind for 1,445,000 and action was back on Mrakes.
The Czech tournament crusher thought long and hard before reluctantly putting a large stack of T-100,000 chips in to put both players at risk.
The flop was and Cangianiello clapped his hands in excitement. Neither the on the turn nor on the river changed anything and Cangianiello tripled up. Mrakes dragged the big side pot from Lew and has 4,300,000, while Lew said his goodbyes.
There are six players remaining as the field goes on a 75-minute dinner break. Runaway chipleader is Federico Petruzzelli, who's been on a tear since the start. Petruzzelli eliminated both Sorin Sufragiu in 9th (€18,910) and Giuseppe La Guardia (8th - €24,620) and already has over 50% of the chips in play in front of him.
Things kicked off early in the evening and players and staff — those who didn't have to work deep into the night, anyway — headed out to find a typical setup with a dance floor and an open bar, which everyone began to enjoy. There was also a food spread featuring appetizers, pasta and lamb among the entrees, and a table with numerous dessert choices.
But that's all fairly standard for a PokerStars party. What made this one unique was the spread of carnival games and performers around to liven things up.
Those looking to flex their athletic muscles could compete with either arms or legs. For the former, there was a classic "throw an object at a pyramid of cans" setup where competitors could win little plush prizes if they knocked over all the cans. For the latter, a carnival-style soccer goal had been erected, with players tasked to kick the ball through holes in the goal worth different point values.
Other attractions included the classic claw game, grabbing prizes from a bin, and a shooting gallery.
Perhaps nothing, however, proved more popular than the mechanical bull.
And then, there were the performers. A man on stilts sauntered about, spinning glowing sticks. Others piloted actual robots, wandering them on to the dance floor where they did anything but fit into the crowd.
Drinks were downed. Food was consumed. Dances ranging from the graceful to the drunk and sloppy were on display. PokerStars Team Pros Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov went at each other in air hockey so hard their knuckles were in mortal danger.
By the time things wrapped up around midnight, everyone seemed to be in agreement that PokerStars had put together a strong party, and it was on to after hours for the adventurous or bed for the faint of heart.
Victoria Coren-Mitchell took down EPT 3 London for £500,000, and then followed it up with a history-making second title at EPT 10 San Remo for a further €476,100. She spoke to us briefly and explained how she was enjoying a break with her husband and child.
"We took the train to Paris and then drove down from there," she explained, "It's a fun holiday now, but it's expensive! By the time you are here you have to come third to make your money back."
Coren-Mitchell could have been excused for thinking that, after the introduction of the PokerStars Championship tournaments, that her feat of winning two EPT titles was secure in the annals of history. However, with EPT Sochi a month ago, the tournament is back on the European poker calendar.
Now that it's back, how would she feel if a former champion joined her in the two-time club?
"I would be very happy for them," she said jovially, "I think it would show that there are still people and players around in poker today who have been playing poker for long enough that it's possible."
Last year Coren-Mitchell cashed in the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo Main Event, and she's back for another EPT stop this year. Will we be seeing more of her at tournaments in the future?
"Maybe. I was going to go to Barcelona but then I went on a proper holiday instead. I'd definitely play a bit more if they had a big tournament in London. I'm thinking of organizing a big tournament in London. It's a case of if you want something done, then you have to do it yourself!"
The final table in the €1,100 EPT National is set after Gaelle Baumann was the one to bubble the final table. With ten players left, Michal Mrakes opened with from the cutoff, Baumann three-bet shoved 1,300,000 (16 big blinds) on the button with and Mrakes called. The best hand held up to send the French pro to the rail in 10th place (€15,830).
The final table is set with the following players and chip counts. Players will return in the level 40,000/80,000.
It didn't take long for the players in the €2,200 EPT National High Roller to reach the final three tables. Dario Sammartino is the man in charge with 1,400,000 in chips, while players like Alexandre Reard (600,000), Lily Kiletto (400,000), Leo Margets (350,000) and Jeff Hakim (250,000) are still in contention as well.
They'll play down until a winner is crowned later tonight, with €173,000 up for grabs for first.
At the first break, the field in the €1,100 EPT National is down to its final 13 players. Two-time National winner Georgios Vrakas was the last to go just shortly before the break.
From under the gun, Vrakas moved in with his last 12 big blinds holding . Guillaume Diaz called in middle position with and Vrakas was unable to connect to the board. The Greek received €9,700 for his 14th place finish.
The stacks of the 13 remaining players are as follows. Federico Petruzzelli holds the chip lead with 9,000,000, followed by Diaz (7,200,000) and Michal Mrakes 5,000,000. Team PokerStars Pro Online Randy "nanonoko" Lew sits in fourth place with 4,100,000.
A Spanish translator is present to make sure nothing gets lost in translation, but the first thing out of the tennis star's mouth needs no translation:
"I love poker," he says with a big grin.
"I've played poker for many years," he continued. "I've played many LAPT events in the past and was invited by PokerStars to come over here. Obviously, I'm very excited to play at this fantastic event."
According to The Hendon Mob, Zabaleta cashed two LAPT events in Lima, Peru, back in 2012: a fifth place in a $500 turbo event ($2,100) and 28th place a day later in the $1,100 Grand Final ($1,875). It shows Zabaleta's passion for poker goes back a while. Did he discover poker while playing the APT tour?
"I love tennis just like I love poker," he said. "You have to be prepared. Playing poker gives me the same adrenaline as playing tennis. That's why many other tennis players have been interested in playing poker as well."
Zabaleta's tennis career has been a major success, with three singles titles, five runner-up finishes and $3,204,127 in career prize money. His highest ranking was 21st, back in 2000. Zabaleta's deepest run at a Grand Slam event was at the 2001 US Open, where he made the quarterfinal as an unseeded player.
When asked about his best poker results, Zabaleta erupts in laughter.
"I play like shit."
Playing "like shit" or not, Zabaleta's competitive drive is present in poker as well.
"I've always wanted to get to a final table," he said. "I've been able to get from a Day 1 to a Day 2, and even a Day 3, but I'm not really making any money. As an average Joe, just like other people can't imagine playing tennis for four, five hours straight, I can't believe poker players can do that. After eight, nine hours, my mind is so exhausted. It's really tough to win a tournament."
After hanging up his rackets, Zabaleta became a TV host for ESPN and presents the very popular Argentinian show "Con Amigos Así" (translated as: "with friends like this [who needs enemies]"). Famous athletes often appear on the show and they do what Zabaleta called "fun stuff."
To get an idea of "Con Amigos Así," check out the video below of the latest episode.
Back in his heyday as a tennis pro, Zabaleta was known for his unusual but effective service. Has the Argentinean brought the proverbial ace up his sleeve to the poker table as well?
"I don't play enough to know," Zabaleta admitted. "I play whatever seems right at the time. If it feels good, I go for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he concluded with a laugh.
Zabaleta has played the €2,200 National High Roller, but wasn't able to cash, and will play the Right to Play Charity Tournament on April 28 at 6 p.m.
He may never reach $3 million like he did on the tennis court, but Zabaleta will continue to enjoy the game, especially as a celebrity guest of PokerStars.