EPT9 Barcelona: Mr or Miss Double Champion - Who will it be?

ept-thumb-promo.jpgYesterday afternoon, with two former champions still battling through Day 4 of EPT9 Barcelona, the PokerStars Blog took an (almost) scientific look at the double champion hoodoo that has beset the Tour. No one has ever won two EPT main events and we want to know why.

The conclusion from yesterday's investigation was that it is indeed unusual to play this many tournaments without naming a double winner: the WPT has done it, the NAPT has done it, the LAPT has done it and so has the WSOP.

Although poker is not played in a vacuum, and its numerous variables make definitive statistical analysis all but impossible, we concluded that by the 31st iteration of any essentially random event, a repeat should have occurred. Reaching 100 iterations is highly unusual, yet the EPT is now 83 events old. (Barcelona season nine is the 84th.)

If we accept all this, then we can further conclude that we are due a two-time champion any minute. But who is it going to be?

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The EPT trophy

Once again we are knowingly stepping into uncertainty with this kind of speculation, but all we can do is attempt to get somewhere close to narrowing down the possibilities. The only way to "predict" the future is to look at history, compare it with the present day, and to ask a few people in the know for their opinions.

We can surely then get somewhere close to putting together a shortlist of our most likely candidates.

GOT TO BE IN IT TO WIN IT

Like most of us on the tour, Neil Johnson, the EPT Live Events specialist, has spent some time musing about why we have not had a double winner.

"One of the things I would consider is that because the tour has now been going on for nine seasons, some of the players from the first seasons are no longer playing," Johnson said. "I think this is the 84th tournament now, but it's not like we have 84 winners in this pool. And when this tour expanded a bit, into the 10, 11, 12 stop range, then you were no longer getting the winners attending every stop either."

It seems likely that attendance at EPT events is the single most significant factor to consider in trying to predict a double champion. As a result, we have separated all the former 83 champions into categories, depending on how often they now play the main events.

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Arnaud Mattern: As regular as an EPT regular gets

Those in the first category - "Rarely absent" - automatically have a higher chance than anyone else. Conversely those who almost never play EPT events will find it very difficult to win one.

Rarely absent
(Plays 80-90 per cent of EPT main events)

Arnaud Mattern, ElkY, Mike McDonald, Jason Mercier, Sebastian Ruthenberg, Maxim Lykov, Jake Cody, Anton Wigg, Kevin MacPhee, Liv Boeree, David Vamplew, Roberto Romanello, Michael Tureniec, Rupert Elder, Andrey Pateychuk, Davidi Kitai, Toby Lewis, Zimnan Ziyard.

Plays often
Plays more than 50 per cent of EPT main events

Vicky Coren, Salvatore Bonavena, Sandra Naujoks, Nicolas Chouity, Ivan Freitez, Martin Finger, Mickey Petersen, Jannick Wrang, Kent Lundmark, Frederik Jensen.

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Sandra Naujoks: A familiar face

Sometimes plays
(Between one and three events per season)

Pascal Perrault, Rob Hollink, Mats Gavatin, Moritz Kranich, Jens Kyllonen, Constant Rijkenberg, Pieter de Korver, Christophe Benzimra, Kevin Stani, Michael Eiler, Lucien Cohen, Ben Wilinofsky, Andreas Hoivold, Jan Boubli, Martin Schleich, Benny Spindler, Mohsin Charania, Vladimir Geshkenbein, Noah Boeken, Carter Phillips, Allan Baekke, Ronny Kaiser, Antonio Matias, Joao Barbosa.

Almost never plays
(Less than the above)

Alexander Stevic, John Shipley, Thang Duc Nguyen, Joseph Mouawad, Tim Vance, Michael Schulze, Glen Chorny, Will Fry, Bjorn-Erik Glenne, Sander Lyloff, Mads Anderson, Mats Iremark, Magnus Petersson, Peter Jepsen, Ram Vaswani, Brandon Schaefer, Mark Teltscher, Patrik Antonius, Jeff Williams, Roland de Wolfe, Gavin Griffin, Julian Thew, Reuben Peters, Poorya Nazari, Jan Skampa, Harrison Gimbel, Galen Hall, John Dibella, Michael Martin, Aaron Gustavson.

We can therefore handicap our field in relation to the categories above. Whatever you think of the relative skill level between, for example, Patrik Antonius and Ivan Freitez, the latter's more consistent appearance almost certainly edges him closer to favourite's billing than the former.

But...

HAS OUR FIRST DOUBLE WINNER EVEN WON ONE EVENT YET?

Vanessa Selbst won NAPT Mohegan Sun on its first season. And she defended her title the very next year. Marvin Rettenmaier won the WPT World Championship in Las Vegas and the won the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic a few months later, back to back titles. Nacho Barbero won on the LAPT in Uruguay and then Lima, with only five months between them. The list could go on.

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Vanessa Selbst: Easy on the NAPT, but does it translate?

The point is that momentum can be significant in poker. Players can get in the zone. None of Selbst, Rettenmaier or Barbero has won an EPT main event, but they must be considered candidates to be a double winner even if they have never won their first.

The same must apply to players like Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Annette Obrestad, Dan Smith et al., but perhaps especially to someone like Martin Jacobson. The Swedish player is a regular on the EPT and claimed back-to-back second places on season seven. If he could claim a breakthrough title, it would take a brave man to bet against him claiming a second.

PROVEN PEDIGREE

Much like Jacobson, some players have simply proved to us that they are better equipped for live tournament play than others. They have the results to back it up.

Mike McDonald, for instance, has won an EPT event (Dortmund) and been to two other final tables (Dortmund, Deauville), as well as recording a 9th place (Madrid) and an 11th placed finish (Barcelona). That is outstanding form.

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Mike McDonald: has ample pedigree

Michael Tureniec had already finished second in London before he won in Copenhagen, and has subsequently finished in 11th again in the Danish capital.

Jason Mercier, Sebastian Ruthenberg and Max Lykov won WSOP bracelets after winning their EPT title. Andrey Pateychuk won a WPT event (and is also routinely described as the best player many of his competitors have ever come up against). ElkY and Jake Cody won both WSOP and WPT.

They must all be among the favourites.

CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE

Patrik Antonius was an absolute tournament animal in the early days of the EPT and his record still shows how good he was. He has a first place and a third place and no other results, but now we almost never see him in the events.

But that's only because he has discovered high stakes cash games and has opted to crush them instead. If someone like Antonius (or Sam Trickett) decided to focus again on major live tournaments - and circumstances do change - then he would instantly be promoted close to the leader of the market.

Similarly, someone like Allan Baekke burst onto the scene in season six, winning in Snowfest and then following up with a 12th place in Sanremo, thwarting "Baekke to Baekke" headlines.

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Allan Baekke: Will surely be back

But recently Baekke has become a father and so is taking a hiatus from the live tournament scene. One suspects Baekke will likely be back at some point, though, and he will also then rise up the market.

PLAYING THE FIELD

None of us is a sports bettor at PokerStars Blog, much less someone who can set odds. But one thing we know about any event in which variance plays such a huge part, and which features so many competitors, is that "the field" can very often be the favourite.

The analysis above has focused on specific players, and most analysts would probably pick one of them. But a saver on "the field" (ie, a player not mentioned) may be a wise punt too.

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS THINK?

Poker reporters aren't good poker players, no matter what many of us think. (If we were, we'd be playing instead of reporting.) But many of us have spent many many hours, days, weeks and months watching the game, so have an opinion on who we think will make the breakthrough.

We talked to 11 seasoned poker reporters and asked for them to nail their colours to the mast on this most vexing subject. Simple question: "Who will be the first double EPT winner?"

Lina Olofsson (PokerStarsBlog.nu blogger): Jason Mercier
Marc Convey (PokerNews.com and PokerStarsBlog.com): Kevin MacPhee
Stephen Bartley (PokerStarsBlog.com): Mike McDonald
Rick Dacey (PokerStarsBlog.com): Michael Tureniec
Robin Scherr (PokerStarsBlog.de): Sebastian Ruthenberg
Frank Op de Woord (PokerNews.nl): Jason Mercier
James Hartigan (EPT Live commentator): Kevin MacPhee
Chris Hall (PokerNews.com): Mike McDonald (with a late plea to change to Andrey Pateychuk. Denied.)
Mad Harper (EPT media co-ordinator): Kevin MacPhee
Neil Johnson (EPT Live Events Specialist): Mike McDonald
Neil Stoddart (EPT photographer): Roberto Romanello

To aggregate:

=1 Kevin MacPhee (3 votes)
=1 Mike McDonald (3 votes)
2 Jason Mercier (2 votes)
=3 Michael Tureniec, Sebastian Ruthenberg, Roberto Romanello

For what it's worth (nothing) I said Ronny Kaiser when I saw him win in Tallinn. But Kaiser is another of those who has opted to destroy cash games instead of live tournaments now, so he doesn't look so hot. I'll plump for Cody.

Still, it may be as good a guess as any. And unfortunately guessing is all we can really do. But if you want to add your own opinions on the subject, feel free to tweet us at @PokerStarsBlog and we'll post some of the best opinions.

AT THE INTERSECTION

To conclude, there are a few names that have been repeated time and again during this investigation: the players who make regular EPT appearances, have proven pedigree and who are fancied by the experts.

We might add that youth can also play a significant part: these players have to be prepared to play long hours and through massive fields, the kind of schooling that only the most seasoned online campaigners really have.

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Kevin MacPhee: Among the market leaders

Mike McDonald, Kevin MacPhee and Jason Mercier are our hot favourites. Michael Tureniec is probably next, and there has been a lot of campaigning for Andrey Pateychuk.

But if the champagne bottle that has been on ice since 2005 is handed to men named Wigg, Lykov, Ruthenberg, Cody or many others, few of us can really be surprised. It is worth adding that both Zimnan Ziyard and Roberto Romanello are now out of the event here in Barcelona, so off we go to Sanremo still searching.

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Roberto Romanello: not this time

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour