EPT8 Monaco $25,000 High Roller: Out of the spotlight
One of the many quirks of top level poker tournaments is that often when the action nears its most meaningful end, the apparent interest among supporters is at its lowest. It's just a case of mathematics: a field of 500 bringing even two rail-birds each means 1,000 people craning their necks to watch the action. But when it gets down to the final eight players, we're talking something like 16 followers at most.
Such is the case today as the final table of the €25,000 High Roller has kicked off in the Salle des Etoiles, Monaco. The room is still buzzing with the imminent start of the Tournament of Champions and the latest side event, plus the resumption of the ladies' tournament. But the High Rollers are very easy to miss. They are playing for a prize of more than a million euros in a small roped off area beside the stairs.
It's almost as if they're a bunch of desperados who have managed to convince tournament officials to put on a €50 sit and go.
Far from it, of course. Any table featuring the combined strengths of Justin Bonomo, Daniel Negereanu, Max Lykov and Philipp Gruissem is going to be significantly more skilled than a kitchen-table affair. Connoisseurs have very high hopes that this is going to be magnificent - and certainly the opening salvos suggested this one will be intriguing.
As they all took their seats at noon, Kevin MacPhee wandered over from the Tournament of Champions area to talk to Lykov. "Hope you win it, bro," MacPhee said. "Don't want you multi-tabling."
For all the skills on display around the High Roller final table, it is only Lykov among them who has the unique problem of also being booked to play at the ToC. He won EPT Kyiv, remember, so is invited to that freeroll.
As that small conversation was taking place, Negreanu had problems of his own. The table felt hadn't been properly cleaned overnight, which meant there was a lot of dust and grime still visible. Negreanu wanted a cloth to wipe it up. "I just cover it with my chips," said Justin Bonomo, in a droll brag at the size of his stack.
Eventually Negreanu got his cloth - and Bonomo was forced to colour up his stack, exchanging mighty towers of blue and yellow chips for significantly fewer (but significantly more valuable) red chips. And then everything could get under way.
On the very first hand, Artem Litvinov reached into his big box of idiosyncrasies and plucked out the one marked "Coin Toss All In Decision". After an open to 35,000 from early position from Igor Kurganov, Litvinov flipped his gold coin high up into the air, peered at the result on the palm of his hand, and declared that he was all in for 331,000. "I am suited," said Kurganov, but folded.
On the next hand, Lykov moved all in after it was folded to him pre-flop. That earned him the blinds of Noah Schwartz and Natan Schoo, who didn't fancy tangling.
A couple of hands later, Negreanu opened a pot. Lykov seemed interested, but folded. Then after everyone else had got out the way too, Lykov asked Negreanu whether he would have called a shove. "How much?" Negreanu said. Lykov told him that he was playing about 270,000. "I think I have to call you," Negreanu said. "I don't like it though."
"I don't like to too," Lykov said. "That's what I fold."
On they went through another couple of small pots, before Litvinov ambled into the spotlight again. He opened from late position to 45,000 and Noah Schwartz moved all in from one seat to Litvinov's left. It was folded back to Litvinov, and he reached for his coin again.
However before flipping it this time, he sat with it perched on the catapult mechanism of his thumb and forefinger, closed his eyes, and visited a transcendental plane for a moment. He went deep into meditation mode, coin waiting to be flipped.
Eventually he sent it spiralling upward, catching it just inches from the lens of the television camera that had scooted into place. But what was this? He didn't immediately act on his instructions from the Gods. He paused again.
"He's going to try a second time," muttered Gruissem to Negreanu. Litvinov folded.
This is what you're missing - you in TV land, you in EPT Live land, and you following anything other than this stuff. Stick over here. It's much better.
Soon after all the nonsense described above, Max Lykov became the first player to bust from the final table. That frees him up to play the Tournament of Champions after all. Negreanu got him, leaving only one Team PokerStars Pro at this final table. Lykov gets €100,000.