Romania takes charge

They started the day on top of the pile, and by the end of it, they were only looking down from even farther.

Team Romania went one better than their second and third from the opening day when Cristian Mihai crushed Daniel Negreanu, of Canada, in a tense heads-up battle at the end of heat three of the World Cup of Poker.

It was a bittersweet moment for Negreanu. The Romanian fans rushed to the table to drape him in a Romanian flag, an indication of the affection they hold for Negreanu, who has Romanian parentage and has spent the past two days shmoozing in their mother tongue.

But here he's clad in the red of his adopted home, Canada, and he came up slightly short for them - getting his final chips in the middle with jack-ten and earning a call from the dominant Mihai. With good reason: Mihai had A-3, although he must have shivered at the sight of a jack on the flop.

Not to worry, though. The Romania fans bellowed "ACE!" from the stands, and sure enough one arrived to end the longest heat so far.

Team Romania beats Team Romania Team Canada

It was obvious from the opening exchanges that this wasn't going to be the grind of the first two heats. Martha Herrera, of Mexico, was keen to mix it up early in the match and found herself up against Negreanu's aces. Herrera had the Canadian covered, and also had a flush draw with K-10s and two more spades on the flop. But neither of them hit, sending Martha out and leaving Mexico in trouble with just seven points from three heats.

Next out was Einar Sveinsson, of Iceland. He had legitimate reason to push pre-flop -- ace-queen in the hole -- but Negreanu found queens this time to knock out Iceland, his second victim out of two to perish. It's bad enough for the rest of the table that the multiple bracelet winner was in their heat, but did the poker gods really have to give him cards as well?

For the next hour of so, however, it was another Daniel, Daniel Bolton, of Ireland, who took centre stage. He was on Negreanu's left and had already shown he wasn't to be intimidated, re-raising with regularity and impunity. This aggressive style had built him a sizeable stack and it soon accounted for Luis Medina, of Portugal. Bolton was able to make an easy call with A-8 to dominate Medina's A-2. No miracle deuce and it was all over for the Portuguese.

Play tightened, until the two Daniels, each in possession of the large stacks, tangled. Negreanu came out on top when Bolton's open-ended straight failed to hit. Bolton then gave another small pot to David Windisch, of Germany, who found himself reduced to playing all-in poker - and profiting - for a good while.

He doubled up via Bolton, but shipped it all to Romania on the next hand. He'd taken a chance (you have to in this game) with 10-4, but Mihai had found A-K, made the call and despatched Germany with five points.

That left four, but Randy Principe couldn't last much longer. He too, under the instructions of Greg Raymer, of the United States, had been doing a lot of pre-flop pushing, nicking what he could from the aggressive Daniels. But it ended with an outdraw: Bolton, of Ireland, pushed with 9-4 and Principe made a great call for all his chips with A-10. The nine on the flop was cruel.

So, down to three. And they were fairly even in chips. However, Daniel Bolton knew he had to gamble to take maximum points and he got it in ahead with 4-4. Negreanu's K-10 was a 50-50 chance, and it hit in style: turning a full house.

That left Team Romania I versus Team Romania II, or Team Canada, depending on what language Negreanu is talking at the time. And Mihai was brave and bold against his countryman adversary, edging the heads-up after half an hour or so.

We'll reconvene for heats four and five tomorrow to see who makes it to the final four.

Heat three results

1 - Cristian Mihai, Romania, 15 points
2 - Daniel Negreanu, Canada, 12 points
3 - Daniel Bolton, Ireland, 9 points
4 - Randy Principe, USA, 7 points
5 - David Windisch, Germany, 5 points
6 - Luis Medina, Portugal, 3 points
7 - Einar Sveinsson, Iceland, 2 points
8 - Martha Herrera, Mexico, 1 point

Overall standings after heat three

Romania - 36 points
Canada - 32 points
Ireland - 23 points
Iceland - 18 points
Germany - 17 points
USA - 16 points
Portugal - 13 points
Mexico - 7 points

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in