EPT9 Berlin Day 3: Ali Azabdaftar and the five big blinds
Yesterday it was Markus Grawe who "returned" as the short stack. Today it was Ali Azabdaftar.
The Austrian seemed to know the game was up, even before he took his seat. There were obvious signs; he'd left his coat on and likely had a taxi waiting outside with the engine running. Then there was his stack, weighing in at just 15,000 chips, with the big blind costing 3,000; a meagre five big blinds.
There's something magnificent about the very shortest stack on a day such as this. Today the bubble will burst and the majority of the field will be guaranteed something. But not everyone, least of all Azabdaftar, whose stack rouses only a dire prognosis.
Do such poor prospects create pressure or relief? It's a position we can all relate to. We may not experience the pressures of a final table, but we've all been elimination, we've all seen the reaper waiting for us to collect our things.
Azabdaftar's position is one that provokes great understanding. So I took exception to the suggestion, made my EPT photographer Neil Stoddart, who is assigned to take pictures of these people that I had turned to covering melancholic stories (see Grewe yesterday). On the contrary, this was in fact a life affirming story - through elimination comes the ultimate victory, that of, well, hope.
It was while I was trying to convince myself that that gibberish made any sense at all that Stoddart got in close to take a few shots of Azabdaftar, prior to his imminent appointment with hope. He snapped a few then retreated sheepishly.
"I feel like Mad Harper in season one, with the hats," he said, referring to the ominous role played by Madeleine Harper, now EPT media co-ordinator, in the early days of the tour.
Back then Harper was tasked with handing out baseball caps to players who had busted; a consolation of sorts to make the pain of losing the €1,000 buy-in a little easier to bear. At the very least it would keep the sun off. Ever efficient, Harper looked for ways to speed up process and began to hover around the short stacks. This got her known as a kind of smiling angel of death. Stoddart was getting familiar with this feeling of shame.
Pretty soon Azabdaftar clocked me too, scribbling notes while pretending not to look in his direction. I was there to watch the colour drain from his face as he paid first the big blind, then the small blind, reducing his stack to 8,600. And he knew it.
Cut down to so little Azabdaftar looked even more doleful, forced to economise by riffling six chips instead of eight. Then Ioakim Papadopoulos in seat six moved all-in for 25,000 - a fortune! Azabdaftar folded and could only watch as Papadopoulos got through unscathed.
Two hands later Papadopoulos was all-in again. This time it was different. Azabdaftar squeezed his cards then shoved his own microscopic stack into the middle. The two short stacks would face off in a lightweight battle for survival - ace-five for Papadopoulos and pocket nines for Azabdaftar.
Then it came - the nine on the flop. Azabdaftar exhaled deeply through his lips, which made a childish kind of splattering noise. Then his previously stoic face relaxed into a grin, then a nervous laugh. He even said a few words.
So not all short stack stories end in defeat, and Stoddart can rest assured he was just photographing another player. Up to 25,000 Azabdaftar looked a new man. That's enough to take your coat off at least.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter