EPT Grand Final In Full Swing; Ben Wilinofsky, Xuan Liu In Contention

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The EPT Grand Final is in full swing at the Casino Gran Madrid in Spain, with a much smaller field than last year’s event but quality players in abundance around the tournament arena.

After two Day Ones over the weekend, 686 players from around the world ponied up the €10,000 buy in to participate in the tournament. Although most events would be overjoyed at such a turnout, this year’s EPT Grand Final actually fell in numbers from 2010. 848 players turned out last year to battle it out for the end of season championship on the EPT. The year-to-year comparison results in approximately a 20% drop, more than likely a result of “Black Friday” and the shutout of American players from their PokerStars bankroll.

With the field combined for the first time on Monday, 299 players had survived the dual Day Ones to take part in the action. Leading the way was Sweden’s David Sonelin, who sat behind 275,900 in chips, but several top players looked to knock Sonelin from the top of the heap. Canada’s Ben Wilinofsky, the defending champion of the EPT Berlin, was sitting in the third slot with 233,400 and a host of players, including Russia’s Ivan Demidov, the 2008 World Series of Poker Championship Event runner up, sat poised to move up the ladder.

The defending champion of the EPT Grand Final, Nicolas Chouity, started out the day around the bottom of the leader board but rapidly began to gain ground. In a multi-way pot early on Day 2, Chouity saw an A-4-2 flop against William Thorson and Kenny Hallaert. After Hallaert led out and Thorson called, Chouity made his stand with the remainder of his chips. Hallaert decided to isolate, moving all in over the top, and Thorson stepped aside. Hallaert was in good shape with his A-K, but Chouity had him trumped with a set of fours on the flop. A turn Ace gave a thrill to the crowd and extra outs to Hallaert, but a harmless eight on the river more than doubled up Chouity to over 100K in chips.

Following up her excellent performance from last week’s EPT stop in San Remo, Italy, Toronto’s Xuan Liu has been in excellent form during the Grand Final. Xuan was able to push Dmitry Gromov off of a pot to move her stack up to 143K just before the day’s second break and has been hovering around the same mark as the field reaches the dinner bell. Liu placed third last week at the EPT San Remo behind runner up Max Heinzelman and eventual champion Rupert Elder and, in doing so, earned her largest ever payday in her live tournament career of €360,000.

As the EPT Grand Final pauses for their evening meal, another lady in the field has surged to the top of the leader board. Melanie Weisner, who finished twelfth at the EPT Prague back in December for her largest ever tournament score (€30,000), has been a terror on the baize in Madrid. Weisner locked up with EPT Copenhagen final tablist Joel Nordkvist in a pre-flop raising war, with the remainder of Nordkvist’s chips eventually finding their way to the center of the table. Weisner had the Swede dominated when the cards were tabled, with Melanie’s pocket ladies crushing Joel’s pocket eights, and the board provided Nordkvist neither of his two outs. With the knockout, Weisner looks to be in the lead at this point.

With the dinner break underway, there are 142 of the original 686 player field remaining. Since her early activity, Liu has maintained her stack of around 135,000 chips and is looking to make a move in the evening action on Day 2. Wilinofsky has added a few chips to his stack since the start of the day and is currently sitting with 290K in chips. Other Canadians who have some work to do in the second half of Day 2 action are Andrew Chen (85,000) and Will Molson (33,700).

The plan for Day 2 of the EPT Grand Final is for the money bubble to burst at some point this evening. 104 players will take away the minimum payday of €15,000 for their efforts, with the eventual champion earning a €1.5 million payday. The final table will be played out on May 12 and will be immediately followed by the EPT’s “Champion of Champions” tournament, featuring many previous champions from the seven year history of the EPT.

By EARL BURTON

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Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!

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