EPT Snowfest: Baekke leads all stars in Alpine thriller

ept-thumb-promo.jpgThe closing stages of EPT Main Events are always thrilling, but let's face it, some days are better than others. Tomorrow and Friday in the chocolate box country of the Austrian Alps, however, might well turn out to be two of the very best.

Just take a look at the top four chip counts of the last 24 players remaining here at Snowfest:

Allan Baekke - 2,687,000
Brent Wheeler - 1,361,000
Max Lykov - 1,205,000
Johannes Strassmann - 1,001,000

That is quality in vast quantity. It is going to be a bloodbath.

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The icy stare of our chip-leader, Allan Baekke

Today, the innocuous surroundings of the Alpine Palace in Himmelglen were picture-postcard perfect, with warm sun blazing off the snow and a woodcarver plying his trade on the hotel steps - a scene of innocent serenity. (If you ignore the chainsaw.) But as soon as the 86 players convened in the tournament room with the intention of playing down to a final three tables, the action was brutal enough to make anyone yodel, with or without tight lederhosen.

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The bubble lasted one hand, with Alfio Battisti's aces unable to hold up against Evgeniy Zaytsev's pocket threes. Zaytsev had brought a big, comedy red button with him to the table today that squealed: "That was easy!" when he pushed it. It had never been more appropriate.

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Alfio Battisti sees his aces outdrawn

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Zaytsev's "Easy" button

But after that moment, Zaytsev yielded the floor to four players in particular: his countryman Max Lykov, the Dane Allan Baekke and the Team PokerStars Pro duo of Johannes Strassmann and Richard Toth. Each of them were carving through this field like a chainsaw through candy-floss, with only the bare minimum of clogging to the works.

By the end, Toth had faded away, but Baekke, Lykov and Strassmann each bagged up more than a million after as comfortable a display of extreme violence as you'll ever see. The final hand of the evening was typical: Baekke (who raises no more than 97 percent of pots pre-flop) found aces at the precise time another big stack, Paul Valkenburg found kings. They each flopped a set, but Valkenburg's miracle one outer didn't come, and Baekke ensured it was his name at the top of the leaderboard overnight. (Real all about when we first met Baekke here.)

The other high-flyer is Brent Wheeler, an American who has enjoyed life in Europe (and its off-shoots) over the past couple of seasons. He went deep in two events at the PCA in January, then final tabled an IPT event in San Remo, before cashing in Berlin a fortnight ago.

Wheeler's big hand came when he got all of Sven Mol's chips in pre-flop. Mol had nines and Wheeler had jacks. That was worth about a million, and it was upward from there.

As for Lykov and Strassmann, what more can be said? Lykov is currently in the business of locking up the EPT Player of the Year title. He adds this deep run to a win in Kyiv and in a side event at the PCA. He has a very, very good chance of becoming the first two-time EPT champion.

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Max Lykov. Again.

Strassmann was very disappointed to bust in 23rd during his home EPT in Berlin, and vowed to go better. He needs to outlast only one player tomorrow to do that during what is already his ninth EPT cash.

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Johannes Strassmann. Again

So, head over to the chip-count page for the starting stacks tomorrow, where you'll also find the other big hitters still gunning for this one, including Jim Collopy and Nasr El Nasr. There really is no shortage of talent - and you can see where they'll be sitting on the seat draw page.

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Nasr El Nasr. Again.

Then check out who won what today on the prizewinners' page, where there's another list of Team PokerStars Pros going very deep on the EPT.

Your next step is to review all today's action with the following links:

Introduction and level 16 updates
Level 17 updates
Level 18 updates
Level 19 updates
Level 20 updates

There are video blogs aplenty at PokerStars.tv. And there's a mountain of German, Dutch and Italian in the usual places.

Photography comes from Neil Stoddart. And I daresay he'll be back tomorrow. Just like us. Ta ta.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour