EPT8 Madrid: Showcasing the domestic talent
It's incredible what you can learn on a cigarette break. Not being a smoker but wanting to catch some of the beautiful Spanish weather I took the opportunity to go into the holding pen just off the tournament floor. To get outside any other way, such as out the front lobby and past the armed police, can take some time and effort involving passports, receipts and far too many stairs for your average poker player.
As the players broke after their first two levels James Akenhead was the first through the doors, small iPhone headphones plugged in and talking to someone somewhere about something: "Beautiful. What did they say about it?' he said, gazing into the distance. I wasn't privy to the reply but it did follow on to him talking about, somewhat unsurprisingly, playing Chinese until 3am. He plonked himself down in the corner, just out of the main glare of the early afternoon sun.
The rest of the field caught up shortly after - Akenhead is used to being out in front after all- as groups of Russians (including Alex Bilokur and Konstanin Puchkov), Germans and Spanish wandered outside, most of whom were there to spark up rather than sunbathe. Not so Mexican JC Alvarado who looked a little perturbed at how quickly the pen was filling up. He made his way back into the tournament room with a frown on his face.
While we've got a good knowledge of regular tour players (such as EPT Barcelona runner-up Jesus Cortes and Team PokerStars Pro Juan Manuel Pastor), our mental database of domestic Spanish talent isn't so hot so collaring PokerStars' Spanish blogger Ivan Marti seemed like the smart thing to do.
'There's Pedro Pellicer, he's a Supernova Elite. He's easy to see in a pink t-shirt and is sat next to Luis Rufas, another good player,' said Marti.
Pellicer finished 11th here last year in the EPT Grand Final for €70,000, by far and away his largest live cash, while Rufas has had a smattering of deep runs; back to back cashes at EPT Barcelona and a second place finish in the €1,000 Estrellas Poker Tour Madrid event here in January.
Raul Paez Corral is another player to watch out, says Marti. Second in all-time winnings for Spain, albeit around $8,500,000 behind the legendary Carlos Mortensen, the Spaniard has four six-figure cashes to his name. Javier Etayo is also one to watch having been the first Spaniard to make Supernova this year, so we've been told.
And, of course, there's also Javier Dominguez Gomez of PokerStars Team Online. Can Gomez follow in Mickey Petersen's footsteps and take Team Online victory on home soil? And will a Spanish player finally be able to life an EPT trophy?