EPT11 Barcelona: When will it end? Search for Spanish champion continues

Through ten full seasons of the European Poker Tour, we have always been able to rely on two things. Firstly: the tour will visit Barcelona for what will be one of the very best tournaments of the season. Secondly: no Spanish player will win a title.

The facts seem counterintuitive, especially given the continued buoyant numbers of Spanish players at their home event. This year, there were 92 Spanish players in the 1,496-strong field; last year there were 105 in the field of 1,234.

But none has ever raised a trophy, and despite what you may think is just the result of cruel variance, seasoned poker watchers in Spain are not certain that the end of the jinx is anywhere close.

Alejandro Hernando of the Spanish information portal Poker Red has been following top-level poker across the world for several years. Hernando has seen Spanish players get close but come up short repeatedly, recalling in particular a certain German named Martin Schleich dashing huge home hopes in Barcelona during Season 8.

"If we didn't win in 2011, I think we're not going to win any time," Hernandez said. "Four Spanish players at the final table and no one won. If we didn't win then, then it's going to be really difficult."


Martin Schleich: A thorn in Spain's side

On that fateful day, Schleich beat Juan Perez into seventh, Tomeu Gomila into fifth, Raul Mestre fourth and Dragan Kostic heads up. Kostic's second place finish, like that of Jesús Cortes one year before, remains the closest any Spanish player has come to claiming an EPT title -- and, significantly, it has since become even harder for Spanish players to make inroads at major tournaments.


Dragan Kostic: Second place still the best

Since June 2012, Spain has had a regulated market for online poker, with players in the country only able to compete against their country-folk at sites officially licensed by the Spanish government, such as PokerStars.es. While PokerStars and other operators are always happy to follow the specific regulations of individual countries, the smaller player pools that result often prompt many professionals to move overseas, where they are keen to play online against the best in the world at unrestricted poker sites.

Furthermore players living in Spain are also liable to pay tax on their winnings in live events -- up to 40 per cent -- which has discouraged the migrants to return home even for their annual poker-playing trip to Barcelona.

Hernado estimates that there would be another 50 or so Spanish players in Barcelona this week if the regulations were not quite so strict. That additional clutch would contain many of the most talented players the country has produced.

"I don't want to say that the players here are not good enough, but the top ones I think would be here if it was a different situation," Hernando said. "For the Spanish players who are used to playing online, this is a way to meet all together -- the ones who are in Portugal, the ones who are in the UK, the ones in Thailand -- to stay here 15 days together, playing poker, having fun. But it's just a consequence of this Spanish regulation. We should have a lot more players here, but it's not the case."

He added: "We are really upset about the situation, because we know there are top players who could do really, really well. But they are not coming."

For all that, it does still seem as though Spanish players struggle on the EPT in particular, when they have often made a bigger splash elsewhere. Adrian Mateos Diaz, who lives in London, won the World Series of Poker of Europe Main Event in Paris last year, while Andoni Larrabe, who is a close friend of Hernando, is a member of this year's November Nine.


Andoni Larrabe: November Niner

Larrabe, who also lives in the UK, is already guaranteed a payout of $730,725 and, fourth in chips among the remaining nine, will be hoping for more. If he goes all the way to the title, which would be worth $10,000,000, Larrabe will become the second Spanish player to win the Main Event. Carlos Mortensen triumphed in 2001 and still heads the all time Spanish money list.

Mortensen has long-since left Spain and resides permanently in the United States now, which sets him somewhat apart from the young Spanish grinders making a living in the online age. The role model of modern pro tends to be Mestre, who opened one of the first poker training sites in the country and has overseen many burgeoning careers. But Mestre himself is something of an EPT nearly-man, having recorded three top ten finishes without converting any into a win.


Raul Mestre: Godfather of Spanish poker

Herndo said that details of many of the biggest poker results do make it into the mainstream Spanish press, from where the game will obviously hope to draw new players. But he laments a lack of understanding about the competitive nature of poker and says the big paydays are treated by reporters as if they are lottery wins, rather than a hard-won triumph in a sport-like contest.

"They treat the like the USA treated players 25 years ago," Henando said.

At time of writing, the chances seem bleak that the Spanish championship duck would be broken in Barcelona this week. Day 3 began with only ten Spanish players remaining and none had a particularly big stack. Three levels in and none has risen too far up the leader board either.

Nevertheless, and under some duress, Hernando was able to come up with a list of six Spanish players worth watching -- in addition to the folk like Mateos Diaz, Sergio Aido, Leo Margets, Mestre and Ana Marquez, who have already shown their mettle in the past.

Cesar "CesarSPA" Garcia -- A WCOOP bracelet winner on PokerStars, Garcia has amassed $1.2m in online tournament winnings and made the final table of a UKIPT event in London. Has also made the final table of the Sunday Million, and plays all games.


Cesar Garcia

Juan Pardo -- A friend of Adrian Mateos Diaz and both will turn 21 this year. They are planning a first trip to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas next year. Lives in Portugal where he plays online.

Alberto Gomez -- Lives between Thailand and London and recorded the best result of his career this year in Las Vegas, when he finished runner up to Doug Polk in a $100,000 Super High Roller event at the Bellagio. It was worth more than $900,000.

Manuel Saavedra -- Another Portugal-based Spanish grinder, who appeared for the first time in the poker community a couple of years ago and has put together a string of results online. Known as a heads-up cash-game player, and also plays the Sunday majors. His only recorded live tournament score came in June in Marbella at the Estrellas Poker Tour, but has the game to make a major breakthrough.

Jose Angel "Cejakas14" Latorre -- Among the best six-man sit n go players in the world, who also has a TCOOP title to his name, won in a $109 heads up event in 2012. Based in London, he is widely considered to be one of Spain's best players in all disciplines.

Javier "MuckeDBoY" Tazon -- Five-time Supernova Elite, also living in London, known for playing headsup hyper turbos.


Javier Tazon

Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the main EPT Barcelona page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top, including chip counts, and feature pieces below. There's also EPT Live, which is streaming action from Day 2 of the Main Event.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour