EPT12 Barcelona: Neymar takes thousands from the pros!
I've been in a few press scrums through the years, usually scampering amid jutting elbows and heavy shoulder-burdened equipment, often in search of a story that nobody really cares about or in the attempt to massage a fragile ego.
But despite seeing plenty of superstars chancing their arm at the poker tables, there hasn't been those kind of scenes in this second career as a casino-based hack. Until today.
Rumours had been circulating for several months that PokerStars' most celebrated Catalonia-based team member would be making an appearance at EPT Barcelona. It seemed especially likely when the "Neymar Jr Charity Home Game" was added to the festival schedule, but then a bout of mumps meant the host was absent from his own game.
However, about an hour before play was due to begin in Casino Barcelona today, the corridor towards the main tournament room suddenly began resembling the steps outside a courthouse after the verdict in the trial of a disgraced senator, or along the red carpet outside the Oscars.
One could quickly deduce that word was out of an appearance by a de-mumped Neymar Jr. (We are talking about him, by the way.)
So it proved that at about 12.25pm, a heavily-tattooed man in dark shades, black baseball cap and black T-shirt made his way towards a poker room. And although the description could match pretty much any poker player in the modern era, this one was different. This one plays soccer for Barcelona, the European champions, and is captain of the Brazil national team.
The tournament room in Barcelona is comparatively roomy, with plenty of space between tables. But the space was quickly revealed to be insufficient as a horde of photographers, videographers and baffled bystanders were swept along in the crowd, all jostling for the best view of Neymar.
Make no mistake, this was a proper scrum: flashbulbs were flashing, the corners of video-cameras were being jabbed into temples, crowd-control barriers were knocked over and anyone who happened to be sitting in the way were merely obstacles to be navigated over. That included a few players already in the €5,000 EPT Main Event and, when Neymar arrived to his destination in the €25,000 enclosure, a few of the high rollers too.
Steve O'Dwyer, who won the Neymar charity event earlier in the week, stood up from his chair at Neymar's table before he was swamped. Meanwhile Dani Stern could scarcely contain his chuckle. He was going to be sitting next to the superstar, and seemed to find it highly amusing.
Neymar hugged and chatted with his Barcelona team-mate, Gerard Pique, who is also playing this event. Andre Akkari dropped by to offer a few words of advice. The Team Pro from Brazil regularly dispensed words of encouragement (and strategy) to Ronaldo during his remarkable run at the PCA, so Neymar would be wise to heed it.
As soon as the initial furore had died down slightly, the tournament director was able to draw for the button and tell the dealers to go about their task. O'Dwyer was going to be in the small blind and hurried back. Only the dealing of the cards actually seemed to be enough to get rid of most of the press pack. They weren't interested in the actual nitty-gritty, merely that Neymar was here to get involved.
And he wasn't going to hang around. He squeezed his first two cards and instantly saw something he liked. He was first to act and flipped two chips, any chips, into the middle. They measured only 1,100 in tournament terms, however, which was not a valid raise (blinds are 500-1,000).
"It's a minimum 1,000 more please," the dealer said. And Neymar quickly obliged, flicking forward two 1,000 chips. O'Dwyer, who has played against Pique here and said the Barcelona centre-back is pretty good, called. David Peters also defended from the big blind.
The flop - the first flop Neymar had seen in EPT action - fell 8♣Q♠9♥ and Neymar bet 2,000. O'Dwyer and Peters quickly folded, and that was that. Easy game.
If any mainstream hacks are reading, you can report that Neymar won the first ever pot he played in European Poker Tour competition, taking the pros for about 4,500! That's 4,500! Background info: O'Dwyer has won more than $10 million in live poker tournaments and Peters has won close to $7 million.
But they were NO MATCH! for the footballer in this hand. (Just don't put that he won €4,500. That wouldn't be right. Those were tournament chips. But I bet you're not reading this bit, are you, editors.)
You can follow all the action from the various tournament floors on PokerStars Blog. The Main Event action will be on the Main Event page. We will keep an eye on the €25,000 tournament on the side events page.
You can also begin plotting your own bid for EPT glory by downloading the PokerStars client and having a crack. Follow this EPT event via the EPT app. There you will get all the latest news, chip counts and payouts. You can download it on Android or IOS.