Tallinn, a city for sporting comebacks - just ask Ville Wahlbeck
The good people of Estonia are a cheery bunch at the best of times, but tonight they had a smile wider than the Gulf of Finland, the expanse of sea that separates the capital city from their Finnish neighbors. The reason was an extraordinary international soccer match just a few miles away from our tournament hotel here in Tallinn. Losing 1-0 to the Faroe Islands after the 90 minutes were up, Estonia somehow managed to bang in two goals in injury time to snatch an unlikely victory.
It was a quite breathtaking comeback, but one which, in poker terms, was repeated right before our eyes on the tournament floor. Ville Wahlbeck, playing his first EPT wearing the colors of Team PokerStars Pro, was down to less than 5,000 chips at dinner and looking like he was heading for the proverbial early bath. But he then went on a run that took him up to 68,800. He, like the Estonian strikers tonight, had left it late to hit the back of the net.
And while several others performed comebacks of their own - notably the Italian Alfonso Amendola, who went from 10,000 to 78,000 - a lucky few took an early lead and simply kept scoring until the nine levels of play were over. Top of the league tonight is Ali Tekintamgac from Germany with 203,200. He played aggressively to dominate a table that included Allan Baekke, the EPT Snowfest champion. Baekke fell at the death, running K-9 into pocket queens.
The only serious challenger to Tekintamgac was Matvey Linov from Russia. He bagged up 193,400, building a monster stack by raising, re-raising and value betting at a table that included the dangerous Brit Praz Bansi.
Then you have to go all the way down to 134,500 chips to find the next player, Artem Litvinov, and 134,300 for Mauro Palazzo.
Team PokerStars Pro had a good day. Luca Pagano (124,900), Arnaud Mattern (103,600), Ivan Demidov (80,100), Joep van den Bijgaart (61,900), Michael Keiner (58,800), and Alex Kravchenko (28,400) all made it through, joining the comeback kid Wahlbeck. Through, too, is Friend of PokerStars Pierre Neuville with 69,000.
Top-performer Pagano went about his business quietly and efficiently - a strategy that has seen him cash a record 14 times at EPT events.
But as ever, for every tale of chips won there is a story of chips lost. Among those who will not be coming back are new Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst, playing in her first EPT event, who had soared to more than 80,000 earlier in the day, but was then felled by a succession of nasty hands.
First she ran her A-J into A-Q on on an ace-high flop, then top pair into a flopped set of fives that improved to quads on the river. Finally, she re-shoved with pocket tens, was up against Jyri Merivirta's A-8 - and he spiked an ace. Selbst's excellent pedigree, including taking the NAPT Mohegan Sun title in April, means she'll be back again soon.
Gone, too, is Annette Obrestad, who saw her last remaining chips fly across the table right at the death. She had sat next to Jeff Sarwer throughout and was joined in the latter stages by Ivan Demidov to complete a tricky table.
Of the 181 players who started the day, only 89 survived to fight another day. But first we have to get through Day 1B tomorrow, when a bumper field is expected, including the likes of Team PokerStars Pros ElkY, Dario Minieri and Katja Thater.
Before you go, take a look back at our coverage from Tallinn today by clicking on any or indeed all of the links below...
As always, our foreign cousins have been working here, too, and you can rinse and repeat your reading experience by trying to make sense of it all in bonkers Swedish and indecipherable German. Plenty of videos can be found over at pokerstars.tv
All photos today come from the lens of Neil Stoddart - beware, his lawyers take a dim view of content thieves.
Thanks for reading. We'll do all of this again for Day 1B tomorrow.