Last night in the PokerStars lounge, as reporters, staff and players celebrated an early halt to tournament proceedings, a small sit and go broke out for that most costly of buy-ins: pride and bragging rights. Several hands in, and with the tension at its peak, Dario Minieri popped his head around the door to see what the commotion was all about, prompting one of the players to pipe up: "How are you getting on in the side event?" Minieri looked quizzical. "You know, because this is the main event. How are you getting on in the side event downstairs?"
Eventually Minieri cottoned on and laughed. By that point, of course, the Team PokerStars Pro had bagged up 359,000 chips in that "side event" and was the chip leader going into the final table. Yet again the young Italian had blazed a trail to the summit of a tournament leaderboard and today has his sights fixed firmly on claiming his maiden EPT victory, a matter of months after claiming the first World Series bracelet of his career. It might only be a "side event" but it's worth €367,141 to its winner.
In order to get there, the champion will have to outlast one of the toughest EPT final tables in recent memory, and one that ticks all the right boxes. We have a previous champion in the form of Arnaud Mattern; we have two PokerStars qualifiers -- Sergey Shcherbatskiy and Atanas Gueorguiev -- hoping to turn minute online satellite fees into monstrous bricks-and-mortar payouts. We have players from all across Europe from the Urals to the Algarve.
Putting it another way, we have these nine:
Seat 1: Arnaud Mattern, 29, Paris, France – 328,000 chips
Before taking up poker in 2004, Mattern's main game was backgammon. In his own words, he ''crushed the tournament circuit and cash-games all around the world''. The switch to poker has been very successful, both live and online. He is known for his mathematical approach to the game and has been described as "disciplined, cold and calculating". He first came to international attention when he took down the inaugural EPT Prague event last season for €708,400. Now playing in his 14th EPT, he is hoping to make history as the first player to win two EPT titles.
Seat 2: Ludovic Lacay, 23, Toulouse, France – 296,500 chips
Lacay has played 13 EPTs to date, and has cashed twice before – his best result being 11th place at EPT Dublin last season. Like many other players, the 23-year-old got into online poker after enjoying success in the video game world where he played for one of the best French "Counter Strike" teams. Lacay now finds himself on a final table with his great friend and fellow Frenchman Arnaud Mattern. His best result to date was second place at the WPT Spanish Championship in October last year for €295,200.
Seat 3: Andrea Benelli, 27, Prato, Italy – 100,000 chips
A former computer sales rep, Benelli has been a professional poker player for more than a year. He has competed in several EPTs – in Warsaw, San Remo and the Monte Carlo Grand Final last season – and cashed at EPT London in October, making 36th for £11,419. He is being supported here in Warsaw by his girlfriend Astrika but is also being cheered on by his great friend Dario Minieri, who is also on the final table. Minieri said: "He's a very good player and one of my best friends. It's great we are both on the final table."
Seat 4: Michael Muheim, 21, Zurich, Switzerland – PokerStars qualifier -- 89,000 chips
Currently studying medicine in Zurich, Michael won his seat to EPT Warsaw on PokerStars. It's his first major live event as he normally plays heads-up online cash games at $1-$2 limit – plus the odd online multi-table tournament. He believes he has been playing well, making good decisions, and is enjoying the tournament. Although the short stack at the start of the final table, the guaranteed €21,114 payday makes EPT Warsaw his best result so far.
Seat 5: Joao Barbosa, Porto, Portugal – 123,000 chips
Only two weeks ago, Gino Alacqua celebrated his 47th birthday with an appearance on the EPT Budapest final table. Now it's Joao Barbosa's turn. The Portuguese professional turns 26 tomorrow. The former computer engineering student is enjoying great success on the EPTs – he has played four so far and cashed in three of them including here, 48th place in Barcelona and 26th place in London. Barbosa mainly plays cash games online but loves tournaments for the competitive element. Back home in Portugal, he divides his time between his family home in Porto and his girlfriend in Lisbon.
Seat 6: Dario Minieri, 23, Rome, Italy – Team PokerStars Pro – 359,500 chips
Dario Minieri is one of Italy's best known poker players following a lightning-quick rise to the top. Aged 16, he started playing the card game Magic: The Gathering and swiftly discovered a talent for online gaming, before turning to poker. He started with low-stakes heads-up games at PokerStars but before long had become an online legend – the first player to earn a Porsche with his PokerStars Frequent Player Points. His online success has also translated to live tournaments. In 2006, Minieri came 3rd at EPT Baden and made the top 100 at the 2007 World Series. He joined Team PokerStars Pro soon after and things got even better in 2008 when he came 3rd in EPT San Remo and won his first WSOP bracelet in the $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em Six-Handed event in the summer.
Seat 7: Nico Behling, 23, Jena, Germany – 343,500 chips
Behling is one of the most successful German "Young Guns" and a good friend of PokerStars.de's ShootingStars player Sebastian Ruthenberg, who won EPT Barcelona in September. Behling has a lot of live poker experience and cashed for more than $130.000 in January, when he finished eighth in the Aussie Millions. EPT Warsaw is his ninth EPT but his first cash. He also played LAPT Rio de Janeiro and APPT Macau. Online, Behling is grinding the short-handed cash games but he also sometimes plays multi-table tournaments on PokerStars. His biggest online cash was $43,000 as runner-up in the PokerStars Super Tuesday tourney in July. The only important thing for Behling on tomorrow's final table is "to play my best poker. Then everything is fine."
Seat 8: Sergey Shcherbatskiy, 24, Russia – PokerStars qualifier - 349,000 chips
All the way from the city of Ufa in the Ural Mountains of Russia, Sergey Shcherbatskiy will carry 349,000 chips to the final table, a mere 10,000 fewer than the chip-leader Dario Minieri. "I don't believe it," he said. "I'm surrounded by all these professional players!" It's already a remarkable story for Shcherbatskiy: he qualified via the PokerStars "steps" tournaments, buying in at level one for only $7.50, and is playing in his first major live tournament having taken up the game a little less than two years ago. Married to Antonina, who is hearing his progress in regular phone-calls home, Shcherbatskiy will also find some support from the punters in the two sports bars he owns in his hometown.
Seat 9: Atanas Gueorguiev, 38, Sofia, Bulgaria – PokerStars qualifier - 186,500 chips
A former taxi driver, Gueorguiev has been playing poker professionally for more than three years and has qualified for several EPTs. He came 42nd in the EPT Season 3 Monte Carlo Grand Final for €19,000 and came 17th in the EPT Prague £2,000 side event last season for €4,500. His best result to date – aside from reaching the final table here in Warsaw -- was last May when he final tabled at the WPT Spanish Championship, coming eighth for €37,897. Married with an 18-month-old son, Gueorguiev says he has been gambling all his adult life and, like many players, came into poker via backgammon. He said: "I prefer playing live cash games but I have to admit I'm a better tournament player than cash player."
Final table play is due to begin at 2pm. So make that about 2.20pm, allowing for the inevitable delays, and we'll be off. Join us here for English, here for Hungarian, here for Polish, here for Swedish and here for German.
The best place for chip counts is the page you're looking at right now, although we'll post official updates over at the chip count page.
And click here, here, here, here or here for a list of the prizes. Not here