GPL Playoffs: Nationals win American Conference and advance to final
How exactly do you counter a Mike McDonald stare down? Simple really or at least it is when you're one on one playing online in a glass box somewhere in Las Vegas. You turn around, so the stare bounces off the back of your head.
This was just one of the highlights of the first day of the Global Poker League playoffs, which kicked off in a Las Vegas studio yesterday, with a place in that box about the hottest ticket in town. It marks the finale of the GPL's first season, with another round of matches to come later today before the final on Thursday.
As we highlighted last week, eight teams reached the final stages, with the first pairing to face off against each other being the Montreal Nationals and the San Francisco Rush.
Montreal Nationals vs San Francisco Rush
McDonald and Jonathan Jaffe were pitted together in the opening Game (after McDonald's teammate Pascal Lafrancois was held up). Jaffe earned the point for the win before Phil Galfond made it 2-0 to the Rush against Marc-Andre Ladouceur. McDonald, now in his spot in the rotation, pulled one back by beating Faraz Jaka.
Newly arrived Pascal Lafrancois now stepped up for his first match, taking a point against Jaffe to level the scores. Typical of the tie was a lead bouncing back and forth. Galfond struck again to nudge the Rush ahead. But only until Ladouceur beat Faraz Jaka to take it to a seventh and deciding Game.
After more than four hours played, and with oxygen presumably running out, McDonald, who had started the Match hours before finally finished it. He'd reduced Jaffe to a single big blind, not quite a chip and a chair (on the basis that both players are required to stand) but close enough. Jaffe made a spirted comeback attempt, but not a successful one. McDonald had unhastened the Rush, and sent the Nationals into the Conference Championship game.
Sao Paulo Mets vs LA Sunset
The second game featured the second and third seeds. It opened with Darren Elias of the Mets taking a point off Olivier Busquet. The pair would play again in the fourth Game in which Busquet got that point back. Chance Kornuth got the better of Joao Bauer in the second round, before Thiago Nashijima beat Maria Ho in match three.
With Busquet's win that tied the contest at 2-2 going into the fifth match. Kornuth put the Sunset ahead by beating Bauer before Nashijima ensured this would go to a deciding match after he defeated Ho.
That meant one more round for Nashijima, this time against Busquet.
The Canadian had proven himself one of the strongest players in the GPL's first season, with eight wins from 13 matches, amounting to some 65 points, just four behind top scorer Randy Lew of the Hong Kong Stars.
Busquet would demonstrate just why he had that record, bettering Nashijima to take the Sunset into the Conference Championship against the Nationals.
Conference Championship: Montreal Nationals vs LA Sunset
By now the pattern had been set. No easy Games and a score that was likely to fluctuate.
It was the Nationals how got off to a flyer. Even with an ingenious strategy of turning his back to disarm the formidable McDonald stare, Chance Kornuth could not stop the Nationals taking a 1-0 lead, which became 2-0 when Lafrancois defeated Busquet in Game 2.
Maria Ho pulled one back in Game 3 against Ladouceur and then Kornuth got his own back against McDonald to level the match at 2-2.
Up until this point matches had gone the full seven games before being decided, but the Conference Champions would win convincingly.
First Lafrancois defeated Busquet before Ladouceur, seeking to put rectify his previous defeat to Ho, did so, securing a 4-2 victory for the Nationals to earn them a place in the final on Thursday.
Lights out on day one. Tomorrow it's the turn of the Eurasia Conference.
To catch up on the results, and to watch higlights of all the matches, go to the Global Poker League homepage.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenBartley.