Baltic Festival: Partridge wins battle of Britons to walk tallest in Tallin
A few years ago, when jetting was not yet Easy and before Ryan had taken to the Air, the idea of a Briton visiting Estonia would have been laughed out of the departure lounge. But low-cost air travel has not only allowed stag nights to go rampaging around Europe's medieval old towns, it has also made Tallinn a destination so attractive that two British poker players flew there this week and destroyed the field at the inaugural PokerStars Baltic Festival.
In truth, I don't know which airline Thomas Partridge and James Keys took en route to Tallinn this week. What I do know is that they could probably hire a private jet to take them home. When this tournament reached its climax after about five-and-a-half hours play today, it was Partridge and Keys heads up for the title, and the winner's cheque of €76,750.
Partridge, a 24-year-old player from Teign Valley in Devon, clinched it after a brief battle against his friend. His king-high flush in spades, versus Keys' two pair, sealed the deal, forcing Keys to settle for €48,505. Partridge, meanwhile, is the first champion of what is very likely to become a fixture on the poker calendar. He is also off to the PCA in the Bahamas as the winner of a bonus package put up by PokerStars. Job done.
"I haven't played many live tournaments," Partridge said. "But our friend qualified and encouraged us to come along as well. I'm very pleased with the way it went. Now I'm going to try to improve my game before going to the Bahamas."
We began day three with 17 players and all eyeing the top prize. Natasha Ellis, another Briton, was the first out the door, when her pocket eights couldn't beat Q-J, and that started a rush of eliminations that took us to our final table of nine in double-quick time. Among those to fall short were Andrius Tapinas, Lithuania's finest, and the local hope Imre Leibold. But the pace had been frantic and the action brutal; few were spared the bloodshed.
Going into the final, the leader was Michael Fardan, from Denmark, who had personally accounted for at least five of the early eliminations. He had Keys out-chipped by a small handful, with Partridge breathing down their necks. And although we were at a final, the pace didn't slacken one bit. Finland's Antti Kärkkäinen, Johan Nilsson, of Sweden, Jerry Wong, of Holland, and another Finn, Petri Heinanen, were sent packing.
Then it got really ugly. Fardan and Keys were still huge in chips when they got involved in a monster pot. The board had all kinds of possibilities - two fives, an ace and a king - and Keys showed A-K when Fardan called his huge river bet. Muck, and Keys finished Fardan off with pocket tens soon after.
He wasn't even done. Claus Bek Nielsen must have loved finding pocket kings four-handed, and slyly managed to get all of his chips in the middle, called by the dominant Keys. But he was dominant in more ways than one: he also had pocket aces in a vicious cooler.
Nielsen departed, leaving the Norwegian Kenneth Danielsen to do battle with the Brits.
That didn't last long. He struggled gamely, and pushed Keys off a few pots, but then along came another cooler: A-10 versus A-K. Keys was in unstoppable form as Danielsen became our final Nordic representative to depart.
Throughout all this, Partridge had been playing it steady. He was taking down anything that was on offer while avoiding the major confrontations, and with Keys on his left - and picking up all these monsters - it was an exercise primarily in damage limitation. Heads up was a different story, though. Keys won the first small pot, but after that every pot was big and they all went to Partridge. In chunks of 200,000-odd each, he reeled in the two-to-one deficit and took the lead.
The winning pot was the kind that so often wins major tournaments: it was the first time two big hands went up against each other and all of the chips went in. Partridge's flush faded Keys' full house outs and the two shook hands with customary British understatement and politeness. Even their railbirds didn't know whether to cheer: they really didn't mind who won. "I don't want to look too happy because my friend lost," said Partridge.
But soon champagne was in both of their mitts, and our new champion was crowned.
Read all the action from today on our level-by-level updates. And Swedish might look like utter nonsense, but there's enough of it at our Swedish blog to make you think someone must understand it.
There's more from the video blog team at PokerStars.tv. And thanks once again, and for the whole week, to Rene Velli, who has provided some excellent photographs.
The next major event we'll be covering at PokerStars blog will be the World Series final table from Las Vegas. Does EasyJet fly to Nevada?
Watch PokerStars Baltic Festival: Winner on PokerStars.tv