Catalonia may not have started the sixth season of the EPT, but it remains one of its most cherished stops. Hundreds of players take part in poker's Battle of Barcelona, injecting the tour with stocks of sunshine and energy to last through the winter and to the Grand Final next year.
As always, that shot of adrenaline came courtesy of the cast of today's final table. Talented players, a great setting and something about a home town hero reaching a final that can bring a day to life. Home field advantage is worth at least an ace for any other player.
But the heads-up contest was the duel of choice, between a 20-year-old PokerStars qualifier breaking into the live game, and an English pro who won his first poker tournament ten years before his opponent was born. Each had their own bank of raucous supporters on the rail; the resulting atmosphere was more football than poker, there to witness the name Carter Phillips being added to the list of internet whizz-kids changing the shape of the game.
EPT Barcelona winner Carter Phillips
Phillips' victory against Marc Goodwin was hard fought, coming after three hours of heads-up play. Phillips led eight million to six at the start, a balance that would lurch both ways. But while Goodwin was able to peg things back once or twice, he was never able to take the advantage, and the only thing missing was the final blow.
That last hand duly arrived and it dragged out the drama to its limit. Bets and flops took it to a board of K♦5♣4♥Q♠. It was here Goodwin shoved all-in.
"How much?" asked Phillips, agonised, his hands trying to bury his head. "Why do you flop good whenever I flop good?" he said without reply. But Phillips did call, and it was a great call, K♣J♠ to Goodwin's A♣T♠. The five on the river was a blank. It was all over.
As ever, our intrepid video blog team was on hand to capture the final moments. Here's how they recorded the well-deserved victory for our PokerStars qualifier. And he speaks about what this means to him...
Watch EPT 6 Barcelona Day 5: New Champion on PokerStars.tv
The final had been something of a thriller from the off, one that poker archivists will talk fondly of in years to come, blowing dust from the "Epics," crate and talking of action from the start, a hail of all-ins and an hour passing before Georgios Kapalas was busted by Goodwin.
At the same time the Miracle of Santiago was born: the home favourite Santiago Terrazas was up to his neck in the mire on more than one occasion, but found good cards and terrific support from the Barcelona crowds; all in twice, his home field advantage was as good as a re-buy as he skipped past any threat.
But while his fortunes flourished those of Matt Lapossie's were quickly tattered. Starting with nearly three million Lapossie would end the day dazed, confused and out; victim to an uncontrollable descent into seventh place. A second shock elimination followed; Phillips taking care of Toni Ojala's immediate future, busting the Finn, then third in chips, with aces over queens.
Matt Lapossie busts out
Although Phillips's route to heads-up seemed planned well in advance, thanks to a stack of six million, Goodwin had to work on his. Busting Mihai Manole in fourth with a fist-pumping runner-runner flush helped, moments after his dogged countryman Asa Smith, who had played with style and skill all week, was dispatched to the rail in fifth.
Given the chip stacks at the start it left an unlikely last three, unless of course you were Spanish. But by now that show had run its course and was put to bed by Goodwin, calling the Spaniard's all in, his top pair beating the flush draw. The two men embraced, cancelling any previous animosity, the local hero collecting €300,000.
Flash forward three hours and Goodwin and Phillips were shaking hands at the end of a great day. The new winner looked bewildered; Goodwin bit his lip and looked back at the hands still laid out on the table, a last glimpse at what might have been.
"Unreal," said Phillips. "It's a dream come true. Amazing feeling. Speechless. I've wanted this for so long."
He was gracious in victory: "Marc Goodwin is a great player and I felt he was my only threat after Matt busted out. I thought it would get down to the two of us and it was a tough heads-up battle."
Phillips credited his win to a pivotal moment from day one, a great call that preceded his last one to win €850,000.
"The king high call on the first day set up my whole tourney," he said. "I had lost a bunch of chips and that pot gave me a real confidence boost and I felt I was in the zone from thereon in."
He was, and it's a story you can read in full by working through the links below:
Congratulations to Phillips, the new EPT Barcelona champion, commiserations to Marc Goodwin, a worthy opponent, both of whom we expect to see at a bar later tonight.
All this is available in various other languages. Just one click and you and your town could stand out on the maps of German, Swedish, Italian or Spanish blog analytics. As ever our stills are provided by the best in the business Neil Stoddart, with moving versions all available on Pokerstars.tv.
Next up for the EPT bandwagon is London, home to great players, red buses, Palace Guards, irony and some PokerStars bloggers. It's a 16 event festival, the biggest London has ever seen. Join us there either in person or on the blog. It sounds like something you won't want to miss.
Until then, good night from Barcelona.