World Cup - In the balance after day one

Eight countries, 16 players, two tables, 11 hours and a lot of shouting.

That, in a nutshell, is day one of the World Cup of Poker, which just finished at the Gran Casino Barcelona. There were high hopes, plenty of national pride and a World Champion as well. And at the end of it, it's Team Romania who peer down at the rest. They didn't win either of the heats, but a second and a third place was enough to put them top of the overall standings.

Heat one went the way of Canada, with Michael Watson playing a perfect game that combined patience where necessary with a rare willingness to get his chips in the pot when the opportunity arose. That, in truth, is the way to play these tournaments. The players start with 5,000 chips and a low blind level, but that soon ratchets up, and the chips have to fly.

The opening heat featured Greg Raymer, usually of Team PokerStars, but here representing the United States, as their celebrity player. Fortunate for the US that their celebrity is also a world champion, but no one around the baize today is a rookie, and there's no respect given when the game is poker.

Sure enough, Raymer was among the early chip leaders, but bust in fourth when his K-5 couldn't beat Watson's A-2. Before that, Friorik Jorgensson, from Iceland, had been eliminated in eighth (eights versus aces); Derek Murray, of Ireland, had gone out in seventh (ace-king versus queens); Jorge Marques, the Portuguese player, had finished sixth (sevens versus kings) and Patrick Kubert, of Germany, had become the fifth placed finisher, the victim of a rivered flush.

And after Raymer departed, the pace hardly slackened. The three remaining players had already earned themselves he lion's share of the points, as well as a nice financial sweetener. The heat winner earns a $5,000 bonus, second gets $3,000 and third $2,000.

They knew that they had to play, and play they did -- although it wasn't long before Jorge Marques, of Portugal, was taking the walk. He stuck all his chips in with A-7, but Michael Watson's A-K was never troubled and the heads up battle began between Canada and Romania.

Ravzan Bengulescu, the Romanian representative, confessed to being a Raymer fan, and he must have been overjoyed to outlast his hero. It was unfortunate, though, that he was up against Watson, who had demonstrated that he didn't mind who he knocked out, be they established superstar or one on the way up.

It barely lasted five hands before Romania was all in behind K-Q. Watson called with A-2 and the ace hit the river to give the 15 points to Canada.

Heat one results:

1 - Michael Watson (Canada) - 15 points, plus $5,000
2 - Razvan Bengulescu (Romania) - 12 points, plus $3,000
3 - Jorge Marques (Portugal) - 9 points, plus $2,000

4 - Greg Raymer (USA) - 7 points
5 - Patrick Kubert (Germany) - 5 points
6 - Antonio Childakis (Mexico) - 3 points
7 - Derek Murray (Ireland) - 2 points
8 - Friorik Jorgensson (Iceland) - 1 points

Heat two turned everything on its head. The unfortunate first two countries out of heat one -- Ireland and Iceland -- ended up placing second and first, respectively. But they took their time to get there.

Perhaps intimidated by the studio lights, or perhaps under team instructions, the opening three hours of heat two was among the most circumspect poker tournaments I've ever witnessed. It was as though eight Mensa members were taking a junior high math test: pass, pass, pass, pass, pass.

When the breakthrough eventually came, it was the Portuguese celebrity player Joao Nunes who departed. The blinds were high enough and the table tight enough that players were all in pre flop with a wide variety of hands. Nunes's 6-5 was one of them, but Joe Connolly, of Ireland, found A-2 and called. The better hand held up when an ace rivered.

That -- and a few beers -- woke up the Irish contingent in the crowd and a small-time carnival atmosphere descended on Barcelona. Previously, the Portuguese contingent had been shouting the loudest, but the Irish soon came to town.

And well they might. Connolly then knocked out John Kenlan, of the United States, with ace-king versus ace-queen. Jonathan Stoker, of Mexico, followed him out the door when his deuces couldn't make it through the flop. Otto Byrne, of Canada was out in fourth; Byrne allowing himself to get blinded away before perishing with J-3. Then Joe Connolly was at it again, eliminating Sasa Kojcinovic, of Germany.

That left Ireland and Iceland, the bottom two finishers in heat one, to mix it with Romania, represented by Florin Constantin. But that three-handed party didn't last long: Florin was frozen out by Iceland.

When they got heads-up, both Ireland and Iceland had chips. But they were soon in the middle when both players found aces. Halldor, of Iceland, had the better kicker though, and booted Joe back to his green-clad team-mates for a post mortem and a pint.

Halldor, a veteran of the EPT and various other major tournaments, was the cream that rose to the top in this heat and will be a strong contender should Iceland qualify for the finals.

Heat two results:

1 - Halldor Sverrisson - Iceland - 15 points, plus $5,000
2 - Joe Connolly - Ireland - 12 points, plus $3,000
3 - Florin Constantin - Romania - 9 points, plus $2,000
4 - Sasa Kojcinovic - Germany - 7 points
5 - Otto Byrne - Canada - 5 points
6 - Jonathan Stoker - Mexico - 3 points
7 - John Kenlan USA - - 2 points
8 - Joao Nunes - Portugal - 1 point

But it's delicately poised. No one country is out of contention, no one country can kick back and relax.

Join us tomorrow for heat three.

Overnight standings after two heats:

Romania - 21 points
Canada - 20 points
Iceland - 16 points
Ireland - 14 points
Germany - 12 points
Portugal - 10 points
USA - 9 points
Mexico - 6 points

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in