EPT9 Barcelona: Spain expects but can Rodriguez deliver?
He was Spain's best hope, its only hope, for a first Spanish winner on the European Poker Tour. That it might come on home soil only added to the spirit of Fiesta. Samuel Rodriguez was second in chips at the start today and a nation held its breath.
Things had started brilliantly. Rodriguez, dressed in the blood red colours of the national soccer team, sat in this cauldron of heat and noise trying to stay focused. The Spanish press, who before this week had never heard of Rodriguez, were daring to believe.
"He's between two top players in Juanda and Sahamies, and we have to take a look to see how his performance is at the beginning," said Alex Hernando, who writes for Poker 10, one of the major Spanish poker sites. "If he wins some pots he'll feel better."
Samuel Rodriguez in the colours of the National team
Rodriguez did win them, and certainly looked better, knocking out John Juanda. In the heat of the tournament room all the players look a little pasty, but Rodriguez was now riding the horns of momentum. How far would it take him?
Before we get too carried away it's worth mentioning that Hernando, who has covered several seasons of the tour, as well as countless events elsewhere, was cautious in his prognosis, a little wiser than others when predicting the likely outcome of a poker tournament. He was not prepared to nail his colours to the mast, even if they were his own colours of la Rojigualda.
"We have to take into account that he's an amateur player," said Hernando, who pointed out that Rodriguez is a student who plays poker for fun after work. "He always says that he wants to keep it fun and enjoy it, and live the moment. So we'll see."
His reasons for caution were well judged. The EPT has been a tournament black spot for Spanish players, who have excelled in the past at the World Series, on the World Poker Tour and elsewhere. Just not here. Lebanon, Belarus and even neighbouring Portugal each have winners. Not Spain, which has hosted at least one leg of the tour in each of its nine seasons.
"We have been very close," said Hernando who referred to Jesus Coretz Lizano's second place in Barcelona in Season 7, and the four local finalists here last year. In all 15 Spaniards have reached a final table since Season 4 and the drought is starting to look conspicuous. "Hopefully we'll do it today."
Rodriguez looked down at another hand and found pocket eights. The young Finn Joni Jouhkimainen took it to a flop with jack-seven of spades, where two more spades gave him a flush draw. Crucially a third eight gave Rodriguez a set. The Finn got his chips in, Rodriguez snap called and was in clover until the river when Jouhkimainen spiked a spade.
It was not so much a turning point for Rodriguez than the end of the road. In the next hand he played, immediately following the demise of Sinel Anton, Jouhkimainen would deliver the coup de grace.
The duo faced off, Rodriguez flopping two pairs while Jouhkimainen found a straight draw. A spade on turn gave the Finn 14 outs, with straight and flush draws. The flush hit, crushing Rodriguez. Spain, which had provided ten per cent of the field, would have to wait a little longer for its first champion.
So long Samuel Rodriguez
"Everybody was saying at that moment we couldn't find a winner, we'll never do it," said Hernando, referring to the atmosphere that clouded the local efforts last season. But for the Spanish poker community he believes there are reasons to be optimistic.
"We have a lot of good online and live players," said Hernando, who predicts Tomeu Gomila, a finalist last year, is a likely first winner. "We have a lot of other players - Juan Maceiras, Raul Mestre, Leo Margets. I don't want to forget anyone but hopefully it will arrive someday if not today."