EPT11 London: Hanging around Table 'Oh, what might have been...'
Variance runs top to bottom through poker, with everybody from the high-stakes sharks to the matchstick-toting beginners experiencing furnace-hot streaks followed by ice ages, plus everything in between.
It also affects those of us in the support services. Every tournament floor reporter has experienced hours-long walks through the tables without witnessing a single interesting hand to write about, followed later the same day with a journey into what appears to be a war zone: intrigue, conflicts, arguments and bust-outs scrawled on to rapidly diminishing notebook pages.
The producers of EPT Live know all about this. They scour the table draw early on the morning of broadcast seeking a table with the big names, the most active and talkative folk, where there is sure to be bundles of action. And then they have to hope that if they have run well in that department, and the poker gods have decreed a table of superstars, that it's not going to break any time soon.
(It is a deal-breaking nuisance to have to wire up a table of players with microphones only to have to scatter them back into the tournament field when the table breaks. The wiring process does not make for good TV.)
At EPT London today, there were mixed blessings for the EPT Live crew. Today's field featured 370 players, so there chances of a big group of superstars was slim. However, all eyes will have fallen on a table that boasted not only Johnny Lodden and Theo Jorgensen, but also Sam Trickett and Benny Spindler too. Oh, and who is that lurking in the five seat? That'll be Dominik Panka.
In fact, the full line up of that table looked like a made-for-TV event. And this is Day 2 in a 600+ open tournament.
Seat 1 - Benny Spindler, Germany, 29,500
Seat 2 - Johnny Lodden, Norway, 125,800
Seat 3 - Chris Swaminathan, Canada, 121,600
Seat 4 - Laurence Essa, United Kingdom, 83,300
Seat 5 - Dominik Panka, Poland, 74,400
Seat 6 - Simon Mattsson, Sweden, 34,500
Seat 7 - Sam Trickett, United Kingdom, 40,000
Seat 8 - Theo Jorgensen, Denmark, 87,800
In almost all circumstances, that's a lock for the feature table - but this time around, it was also table number 35, which means it was due to be breaking very soon. The producers did what they could and put these bosses on the secondary feature table instead, beside which we opted to loiter from the start of play.
Jorgensen was the first to arrive, followed by Panka. Both players will likely know plenty of each other's reputation, but it seemed as though they had not knowingly shared a table before. Jorgensen asked Panka where he was from -- "I live in Warsaw, but I'm from a smaller town" -- and they were soon joined by Swaminathan, who also seemed to be new to the two Europeans.
"I'm Chris," Swaminathan said, greeting Panka with a handshake.
"Dominik," Panka said.
We haven't seen much of Swaminathan on the EPT. His live results have mostly been confined to small tournaments in the United States. However, it doesn't take much more than a quick search in the usual places to find a photo of the young Canadian with a parrot perched on each shoulder beside a list of online poker tournament results totalling more than $1.5m. Swaminathan, or "cswami" as he is known, appears to be one of those "internet players" you sometimes hear about. Welcome to the EPT, Chris.
One by one, the others filtered in. Lodden loped over with his characteristic languid gait. The Team PokerStars Pro always seems enviably in-urgent whatever he is doing, although when he opted to saunter up behind Jorgensen and stroke the Dane's ears, Jorgensen certainly moved quickly. He stood bolt upright and turned around sharply, before the men hugged like the old friends they are.
Trickett also appeared, wearing jeans, red Converse All Stars, a grey jacket and woollen scarf. This was Autumnal Trickett rather than the version we're used to seeing in the warmer locations around the world, where he invariably shows up in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt with a V down to his navel.
Nicolas Chouity then dropped by to have a quick word with Lodden en route to the feature table proper. Then Mr Spindler appeared and found his way to seat one. It takes an incredibly aggressive player to be more active than Spindler, but it was far from a foregone conclusion that he would be the most active today.
Simon Mattsson, who has become something of a fixture on the EPT over the past couple of seasons, took his seat for what promises to be the toughest day of his career to date. And although Laurence Essa was yet to make it to the table, the clock had ticked to 12 noon and action was under way.
Swaminathan was on the button for the first hand, and it was folded to Lodden in the cut off. Lodden raised to 1,600 (the blinds were 400-800) and Swaminathan called. Panka also defended his big blind. They saw a flop of 8♠5♣3♦ and Panka checked.
Lodden bet 2,700, which Swaminathan called and Panka let his hand go. The 5♠ came on the turn and Lodden bet 5,200. Swaminathan called. The J♣ came on the river and Lodden opted now to check. Swaminathan bet 15,500, which put Lodden to a decision already.
Jorgensen and Trickett were talking about soccer, in particular their own financial interests in a few recent matches. The surprise defeat of Germany by Poland seemed either to have cost or made one (or both) of them a bunch, and they also seemed to agree that Manchester United's acquisition of Angel di Maria for heaps of money was crazy business, especially when their defence is so bad.
This must have been torture for Lodden. Not only was he looking at a big bet from a player he probably didn't know much about, but two of his friends were talking about two of his favourite subjects, and he wasn't involved. Lodden tossed out calling chips, Swaminathan said "Ace high" and tabled A♣7♣.
Lodden showed Q♥3♥ and won. "And Lodden wins first hand by calling a big bet on the river with bottom pair. #thegameison," Jorgensen tweeted. He was paying more attention than was first apparent. He even stood up to take a picture.
Swaminathan earned some back on the next hand, when he raised the cut off, Mattsson defended and Swaminathan fired a continuation on the ace-high flop. But the next hand seemed to revert more to type for this kind of line-up: Spindler opened to 1,600, Lodden called, Swaminathan called, Panka called and Trickett called in the big blind.
They all checked the 8♠3♦7♣ flop. They all checked the 2♣ turn and then Trickett picked up the pot by betting 10,000 on the 2♦ river.
A couple of hands later, Swaminathan raised from early position, making it 1,700 to play. Trickett called from the button and Spindler also called from the big blind. Lodden, who was not involved anymore, got up and game over to talk soccer with Jorgensen. He couldn't resist.
The flop came 8♣9♣5♦ and it was checked to Trickett, who bet 3,200. Only Spindler called. The 3♣ came on the turn, which they both checked, and then the 7♦ fell on the river. Spindler bet 8,000, Trickett checked his cards, then tossed them away.
Essa, the man destined for the four-seat, arrived to the table swigging on an iced coffee and nearly tripping over the barrier surrounding the table. It wasn't immediately obvious if a glance at the line-up had made him dizzy.
Essa actually joined the action straight away. With his chips still splayed in an unruly mess in front of him and the dealer having only just verified his identity by means of his passport, Essa raised to 1,600 from UTG+1. Jorgensen called on the button and Lodden called from the big blind.
The flop came [10d]2♦5♣ and Lodden checked. Essa bet 2,500 and only Jorgensen was obliging. The 5♥ turned and Essa bet 5,000, which Jorgensen called again. Essa checked the 4♥ on the river, but Jorgensen bet 9,000. Essa rolled his eyes and folded. Welcome to the table.
The action on the EPT Live set continues, with Victoria Coren Mitchell taking centre stage. The ridiculous outer table also broke up pretty soon, sending those superstars out into the field within about 90 minutes of it convening, as predicted.
But it was good while it lasted.
Follow our coverage of the EPT London festival via the main EPT London page, where there are hand-by-hand updates and chip counts in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. And, of course, you can follow it all live at EPT Live.