EPT8 Madrid: The pressures of being a modern day poker star

ept-thumb-promo.jpgMike McDonald is sauntering down the wide curved staircase that links the main gaming of the Casino Gran Madrid to the airy and well-lit room which hosts the final 112 players of the EPT Madrid main event. He looks focussed yet relaxed, he's studied his seat draw and he likes it. McDonald, along with the likes of, although not exclusively, Arnaud Mattern, Benny Spindler, Max Lykov, Ram Vaswani, Brandon Schaefer, ElkY and Michael Tureniec, has come incredibly close to being the first player to score an EPT double. He's been in this position before and his chip lead is far from a burden on his shoulders. His short walk from the stairs to his 409,800 stack will not go uninterrupted, however. A PokerStars Blog video team lies in wait.

McDonald is a prodigious talent who has been forced to grow up in the glare of the poker spotlight since bursting onto the seen in January 2008 with that €933,600 win at EPT Dortmund. When you're a 22-year-old with $4,036,149 in live tournament winnings you will frequently get stopped for interview. With great power comes great (media) responsibility... or something like that.

PokerStars Blog video presenter Laura Cornelius and her indomitable Lithuanian cameraman Mantvydas Plynius (Mantas for short, the only small thing about him) step into his path. McDonald is ready and quickly shifts himself in front of the branded backdrop and asks Cornelius whether he should be looking at her or at the camera. Similar to his possession of the chip lead, this is not the first time he's been in this position.


ept madrid_day 3_mike mcdonald.jpg

Mike 'Timex' McDonald


"I'm feeling really good, the tournament has gone really good so far," starts McDonald, the beginning of a relaxed and competent interview performance by the Canadian. Cornelius, who does well to mask a late night of celebrations following Real Madrid's 4-1 victory over CSKA Moscow, knows all too well that the interviews are granted by the good grace of the players and that the tournament is due to start in less than 15 minutes time. She keeps it upbeat, scores some good quote and quickly wraps it up so that Plynius can get the interview edited, packaged, rendered and uploaded. All these things take time.

The media scramble is not yet over. We, the written word of the PokerStars Blog, stick a recording device under his nose. How do you feel about getting collared for video interviews? we ask, somewhat unsubtly shifting the blame onto our video colleagues for stopping him on his way to work.

"The first couple of videos I did back in 2007 I was super awkward in front of the camera and really not sure what to say. I'm not really a big public speaker so I was kind of nervous. By now I've probably done a couple of hundred over the years so I'm pretty comfortable having a normal conversation on camera. It feels pretty relaxed. They're not my favourite by any means but I'm all right with them," said McDonald, the gentle patter rolling quickly off with tongue with an understated confidence.

It's easy to be relaxed when you have the chip lead just 40 spots off the money (Day 3 started with 112 players, 72 get paid) and McDonald was unrealistically optimistic: "I'm going to try and win the tournament today. That would be good. Get it done nice and early, that's the goal."

Since play started McDonald has seen a small dent in his stack down to 360,000 after folding to a six-bet shove from Alexander Petersen who flashed a seven after McDonald passed.

Watch McDonald's interview here:

Tournament snapshot
Level 15: blinds 1500-3000, ante 400
Players: 94 of 477
Average stack: 152,000
Click here for live coverage and more features.

Rick Dacey
@PokerStars in European Poker Tour