EPT9 Barcelona: Hoodoo you think you are? The two-time EPT jinx
It nearly happened in Copenhagen and it was close again in Monte Carlo. Then it seemed to be on in Barcelona, before hopes shifted to Dortmund, where they were snuffed out once again.
Ram Vaswani, Brandon Schaefer, Mark Teltscher and Mike McDonald already had one EPT title apiece when they went heads up for a second in each of the aforementioned towns. But none could close out for a second time. Had they done so, the subject of a hundred PokerStars Blog posts (including this one) would have been have been denied us, but also we would not have been such statistical freaks.
As any regular poker watcher will know, there has never been a two-time EPT champion. The quartet above have come the closest, but no one else has got even that near. But with fields regularly topping 1,000, and the standard of poker getting better every month, is this really such an odd thing? Are we overstating the improbability of all this, or are we genuinely long overdue?
If it is the latter, why are we still waiting?
"I honestly don't really know why it is," said Neil Johnson, the EPT Live Events Specialist. Johnson has presided over every stop since season five and dealt at plenty more. "I find it incredibly amazing that no one has been able to pull two. Virtually every other tour has, and most of them have even had back-to-back. The WPT just did it (Marvin Rettenmaier won in Las Vegas and then Cyprus) and Nacho (Barbero) did it at the LAPT, and they both have the same diverse fields we have here."
One theory for the continuing hoodoo is, as Johnson says, the huge international pool of talent from which the EPT draws its players. Further theories focus on the standard of play, which has never been higher.
"It's very hard to double up," said Johnson. "A lot of it I think is because of the calibre of poker being played. You can get to the final - Martin Jacobsen's gotten there a few times, Timex (McDonald) has gotten there a few times, Luca (Pagano) has gotten there half a dozen times - but actually sealing the deal and being able to win a second time is incredibly difficult apparently. It's one of the quirks of the tour that I think make it so exciting."
For all that, the WPT, LAPT and World Series all draw from a similar player pool, and have fields of a similar size, sometimes even bigger. Nevertheless it is rare that a Series goes by without a double champion in the same month, and multiple bracelet winners are commonplace even in the modern era.
Time to look at some numbers. We turned to John Drohan, an engineer from Greenville, SC, who fed some basic EPT data into a program based on a random number generator. This was in an attempt to determine after which stop we should have had that elusive double winner.
As with so much in poker, there are hundreds of variables at play to mean any statistical analysis can at best be a mere indication. But we do know this: there were 83 main events during the first eight seasons of the European Poker Tour, attracting 47,331 entrants. That's an average field size of 570.
Of course numerous players played multiple events, and fields have swelled dramatically in the more recent years. Some players are also far more skilled than others at the game, another variable whose effect is impossible to determine.
That said, Drohan offered the following:
"I have a spreadsheet that calculates random numbers between 1 and 570, and then stops when a repeat number is chosen. This is in line with the assumption that all 570 players of equal skill keep playing the EPTs.
"There are 1,500 cells that do this calculation, and a cell that takes the average. The average fluctuates between 30 and 32. The average represents the number of events such that it's a 50 per cent probability that there should have been a repeat winner by then. Interesting that the max number events is rarely above 100.
"Using the previously stated assumptions, the answer (for when we should have expected a two-time champion) is 31 events."
Main event 31 on the European Poker Tour took place in Warsaw on season four, where Michael Schulze was champion. There were 359 entrants, fewer than the average. The previous event (No 30) ended with Tim Vance in the winner's enclosure, having beaten 460 others. The subsequent event was won by Jason Mercier, who beat 701.
Even the snapshot provided by that trio of winners offers an indication of the diversity of former EPT champions, and the difficulty of predicting who will finally break through. We rarely see either Schulze or Vance on the EPT anymore, yet Mercier is established and has won tournaments across the globe. He still plays at least half of the EPT events, and is here in Barcelona, for instance.
"To fine tune the analysis, we'd need a player list from each event to see how many people play multiple events and see how many don't, then create a random 'event profile' based on a player pool," Drohan said. "We could also assign relative skill levels to each player based on other statistical distributions and re-run the simulation.
"My belief is that the ideal assumptions we've chosen make the answer much lower than it really would be."
Johnson is among other EPT purists in hoping the jinx continues, at least until a grand photo-call can be arranged to mark the 100th anniversary of the EPT. "I just want 100 champions on the stage at the same time," Johnson said. "After that you can win four or five in a row. I don't care."
Here in Barcelona, we are playing the 84th EPT main event, and the 100th is currently scheduled to take place as the first tournament on season 11 - assuming season ten follows the same structure as this one. Someone probably needs to start leaning on EPT executives to work out a way to make the tenth stop of season ten the big one, if only for this grand celebration. Monte Carlo is a nice spot.
Because right now, there's no sign we're getting any closer to breaking the hoodoo. Of the two returning champions in the Barcelona field, we have already lost one on Day Four. Zimnan Ziyard (Loutraki season eight) is out, leaving only Roberto Romanello (Prague season seven) in the field.
In the second part of this post, we look at the leading candidates for two-time success, and try to pick our unique double winner.