The season finale for the European Poker Tour at the Casino Gran Madrid in Spain has come down to crunch time, with players in the money now striving to reach for the ultimate championship on the EPT schedule.
By the time play had ended on Monday evening, the survivors of the 686 player field could leave the casino at least knowing they had sewn up a minimum payday for their efforts. The EPT made their goal of bursting the money bubble at the end of play last night, with 104 lucky souls battling over an hour of hand-for-hand action before Damien Rony earned the unfortunate title of “bubble boy.” Those 104 hardy players could sleep much easier, having earned at least €15,000 before stepping back into battle for Day Three.
As the cards hit the air on Tuesday, Norway’s Ole Kristian Nergard held a slim 25,000 chip lead over Sweden’s Kristoffer Thorsson. There were a host of notable players in the Top Ten, including Canada’s Ben Wilinofsky. The defending champion of the EPT Berlin was in the mix throughout the day on Monday and began Day Three play in eighth place with 533,000 in chips. Other players making a dent on the EPT Grand Final leader board included U. S. player Melanie Weisner (543,500), who had spent much of Day 2 battling for the lead, and Team PokerStars Pro Victor Ramdin.
In the early going, one of the players who had a particularly rough time was EPT San Remo third place finisher Xuan Liu. The burgeoning Toronto poker star had some of the toughest table draws throughout the tournament, remarking on Day Two via Twitter, “Moved to 5th table of day w/ Johann Straussman, Victor Ramdin, Noah Boeken and Ted Forrest. Arghs!” Things didn’t get any easier for Xuan as she started Day 3 alongside chip leader Thorsson, taking a sizeable pot in the early going to scratch back to around the average chip stack.
Although the chips from Thorsson were of great assistance, Liu could not continue her climb towards a second consecutive EPT final table. Soon after her clash with the Swede, Xuan tweeted her demise to her followers. “Bustooo 75th, 2nd tier cash (€20,000). Kinda like putting it on black/red,” Xuan chirped across the Twitterverse.
Thorsson, following the battle with the diminutive Canadian, has continued to ride a rollercoaster through Day Three. He eliminated Alvaro Velasco to regain some of the chips lost to Liu back before dropping a key three way hand and bringing a new player to the top of the leader board. After McLean Karr pushed his remaining stack to the center of the table pre-flop with pocket tens, Thorsson, sitting behind pocket Jacks, attempted to isolate by repopping with an all-in move of his own. Undeterred, Torsten Brinkmann made the call for less and tabled an A-K.
With both Karr and Brinkmann’s tournament lives on the line, the trio saw an innocuous 2-9-5 rainbow flop. A seven on the turn completed the four suits on the board and left Thorsson one card away from seizing a commanding lead in the EPT Grand Final. When the King of clubs hit the river, however, Brinkmann hit his hand and took a pot of almost one million in chips. With that magical King, Thorsson’s once domineering stack shrunk to around 325,000 chips and Karr was out of the tournament.
A player who has avoided the limelight during the EPT Grand Final is Ben Wilinofsky. After starting the day with 533K in chips, he has maintained his chip stack, looking for an opportune moment to make his move. Through the early carnage of Day Three, Ben has stayed in the Top Ten, although his chip stack has only moved up to 576,000.
Wilinofsky is looking to make EPT history with his performance at the Grand Final. In the seven year history of the tournament circuit, there has never been a former winner who has won a second event. In comparison, the nine year history of the World Poker Tour has seen fifteen multiple winners, with two three time champions (Gus Hansen and Carlos Mortensen). Ben is poised – if he can maintain his drive to the final table at the EPT Grand Final – to rewrite the history books.
As the players work through Day Three, Brinkmann has some company atop the leader board. Joining Brinkmann with over one million chips is Simon Higgins, who currently holds 1.17 million chips to Brinkmann’s 1.05 million. Former chip leader Nergard has dropped into fifth place while Wilinofsky sits in seventh. Samir Moukawem, a Canadian who cashed in the 2009 Grand Final, has quietly accumulated 390,000 in chips and could make some noise, and Philippe Boucher (216,000) could also be a dark horse. There are three other Canadians who have some work to do if they want to drive deeper in the event, with Jason Grad (134K), Francois Billard (49K) and Will Molson (20K) hanging on.
The plan for Day Three is to reach 24 players before calling it quits, something that should be achieved within the next few hours with 47 players remaining. On Wednesday, the eight players who will make up the final table will be decided, with a new champion crowned on Thursday.
By EARL BURTON