EPT10 Grand Final: Ah, Mr Bubble. We have been expecting you
In some ways during this season on the EPT, the Main Events' bubble periods have been the longest in the tour's history, even if the bubble has burst often after only one or two hands. It's to do with the dynamics of the current EPT structure, which has meant almost every single bubble has come during level 16, the second of Day 3.
Tournament staff know of this pattern, as do the media who cover the events closely. Most importantly, players know it too, which means they come to the table on their third day of play with a specific bubble game plan and put it into action almost immediately.
For some, typically with a short stack, this means delaying, pausing, contemplating, thinking, dwelling, pondering and meditating--basically all the synonyms for "stalling" you can find in a bid to eke into the money. Here at the Grand Final, Nikolay Tsanev started almost with the first card of the day, but found Dani Stern, with a big stack, in unforgiving mood.
Stern called the clock a couple of times and explained to Tsanev that there should be no hard feelings. "It's nothing personal," Stern said. "I understand what you're doing and it's in your best interests. But it's in my best interests for it to be moving quickly."
They reached some kind of respectful truce and the play went on.
Over on table 12, Igor Kurganov had lost a couple of early pots and had been whittled to a relative short stack, but he is simply not the kind of player to live in fear of the bubble. He barely even looked at his cards a couple of times before making the "correct" play to shove over any seemingly suspicious opening raise. He had some fold equity, put it to work successfully, got the shoves through and began to rebuild.
Liv Boeree wandered over from the €2,000 tournament to check in on both Kurganov and Johannes Strassmann, and after a quick chat and a hug with both of the German wizards, moved back to her tournament hoping that the magic had rubbed off.
Vanda Silva, a reporter with a Portuguese poker website, was peering anxiously at the clock. Silva had only two players to watch in the starting field today, having counted out most of the other Portuguese on Days 1 and 2. But she was now in a race between her horses and her flight reservation back to Lisbon.
The continued participation of her two players, Jose Noronha and Ayaz Manji (who were sitting next to one another and were both short-stacked), meant Silva would likely miss her flight to cover their progress to the bitter end, whenever that would come. Noronha was eliminated, but Manji was clinging on. Tugging at an e-cigarette, with plumes of e-smoke drifting through his silver beard, Manji was relaxed and in no mood to make a suicidal play.
The clocked ticked forward. There were still 100 players involved (the bubble bursts when No 96 departs) and a plane to Lisbon was taxiing with at least one empty seat.
Jussi Tyriseva, who writes about Finnish players on the EPT, also had two men to follow. Jussi Nevanlinna was one, who had a short stack but didn't seem too bothered by it, and would steer it confidently and correctly into or away from whichever skirmish the situation demanded.
Ville Wahlbeck, Tyriseva's other Finnish hope, was a different matter. The Team PokerStars Pro, who is a beast at the online tables at the very highest stakes, had a big stack here, the biggest on table two. But he has issues with boredom at live events, particularly no limit hold'em, and could never be entirely relied upon to keep things steady approaching the bubble.
Of course, Wahlbeck was raising a lot of pots, punishing the short stacks on his table. Marc Uzan, to Wahlbeck's right, was having a hell of a time with his stack of about 50,000, and was trying to find a kindred spirit in Ana Marquez, who didn't have much more.
Uzan found himself with a hand when Marquez was in the big blind, and seemed to be seriously contemplating an open shove. "If I don't push all in, maybe he is going to raise," Uzan said to Marquez and gesturing to Wahlbeck, apparently getting in an early apology for pinching the Marquez blind. Marquez smiled agreeably, belying the fact that she too is an online monster and that this was hardly the first short stack she had played at this specific time in a poker tournament.
Uzan ended up folding and Wahlbeck did indeed raise, making it 10,000 to go. Marquez said, "I fold, but the first one was good," flashing the Q♠ at Wahlbeck. Wahlbeck showed the Q♣ right back.
Johnny Lodden, well set for a third consecutive EPT cash, the 16th of his career, chatted to Nacho Barbero on the rail. Scott Clements, also with a comfortable tower of chips, continued playing at least four games of Open Face Chinese poker on his iPad, clipped into a holder on his Duracell Power Mat. Suddenly Clements won a game and the software paid him out with a loud clatter of virtual chips. He leapt to the volume button and apologised.
JC Alvarado doubled up. His fellow Mexican, and good friend, Angel Guillen skittered over to watch the ace-king hit against pocket tens. And then in short order two more called all ins. Marquez and Wahlbeck tangled properly, getting their stacks in the middle on a flop of A♥4♠3♥. Marquez had a flush draw with her J♥[10h] while Wahlbeck had somehow got himself into this pot with 3♦4♣ and had pretty much flopped gin.
The 6♥ put Marquez ahead, though, and the 7♠ wasn't one of Wahlbeck's outs. He paid the price of the double up and fired up Candy Crush on his iPad as a way to keep him busy.
On and on the pseudo-bubble went, with eliminated players slowly trickling to the tournament rail. Few moved in that direction more slowly than Jonathan Odogwu, the British PokerStars qualifier who had been greatly enjoying his time in the spotlight, but eventually had his short stack pilfered about five places off the money.
Odogwu's natural reluctance to accept his fate was compounded by a pair of crutches and a leg in plaster. He had injured his Achilles tendon while playing badminton and had been hobbling around Monaco. It was a long and sorry hobble out of the door.
Sebastian Bredthauer is another PokerStars qualifier, on the ultimate spin-up in Monaco. He qualified for this tournament for 100 FPPs and so had very little to lose whatever happened on the bubble. But having come so far, it would have been heartbreaking for it to end now, and so he was clinging on for dear life with a tiny stack.
And then it happened. He found aces and an opponent shoving ahead of him. Bredthauer breathed deeply, put the last of his money over the line, and saw Akim Aouine tabled J♣K♣.
The dealer dealt the flop: 7♦9♥8♠ and Bredthauer winced. "Ten, ten, ten, ten, ten," Aouine chanted as Bredthauer silently wished for anything but. The 9♦ did not help Aouine. Neither did the Q♥. Bredthauer got the double up and surely felt set for a maiden EPT cash.
We were soon on the stone bubble and hand-for-hand play commenced. But then Thomas Lamatsch, the tournament director, saw that the clock had reached the end of the level and sent everyone off for a break. We were ticking into level 17.
A huge pot played out between Niall Farrell and Jack Salter, with the latter shoving the river and putting the former to a test for his tournament life. Farrell folded after a long time in the tank.
It turned out to be a good decision, because two players were all in and called very soon after. Lamatsch first wandered over to where Kenny Hicks and Agshin Rasulov were looking at a board of 9♣A♥Q♣[10s] and where Rasulov was at risk.
It was bleak, in fact, as our lone representative from Azerbaijan had A♠[10c] to Hicks's Q♥Q♦. "Agshin is going to need to see an ace on the river otherwise he is our bubble," Lamatsch said. The king was not good enough.
Rasulov had missed his first attempt at double-up outs, but all was not yet lost. On table six, Miroslav Alilovic was also all in and under threat, at least as far as the wider world knew. Alilovic shoved his last chips in on a board of 6♠[10s]5♣J♠Q♠ and Alex Klimashin called. Alilovic knew he had the K♠ in the hole for a decent flush. Klimashin had only the 9♠ and Alilovic therefore doubled.
That meant everyone still in a seat was in the money, while Rasulov ambled away. It's a long way back to Azerbaijan with only the skin of a burst bubble to keep you warm.