EPT11 Grand Final: Businessmen, holidaymakers and project managers

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Markus Ross, left, shares a joke yesterday with Koichi Nozaki

They're not all superstars left in the EPT Grand Final field. Here's a quick look at some of the lesser known.

Markus Ross is originally from Germany but now lives in Klagenfurt, Austria. The 35 year old actually had the kind of introduction to the game most associated with the North American grinders: he learned poker when he was a student at the University of Massachusetts (Umass) in Boston, where he studied business for a year between 2004-05.

Ross's room-mates at the time needed an extra player for their drunken low-stakes weekly game and turned to their their German visitor. Flash forward a decade and here he is in the final 16 of the Main Event of the €10,000 PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final. After a tempestuous Day 1 -- "I had no luck, and then bad luck arrived," he said -- he steadied the ship on Day 2 and Day 3 before flourishing on the television table yesterday.

Ross played on the centre stage at the PCA, where he grew accustomed to the nicer chairs, bigger table, etc. But he still remembers the boozy games back at Umass. "That was the most fun I ever had," he said.

There was a similar sentiment from Hady El Asmar this morning, who quickly made it clear to his PokerStars Blog interrogator why he plays this game. "I'm not a professional," El Asmar said. "I play for fun."

El Asmar, 47, from Beirut, Lebanon, qualified for this tournament in a €700 satellite on PokerStars and is aiming to follow his countryman Nicolas Chouity to the winners enclosure and become the second Lebanese Grand Final champion. He has found himself rubbing shoulders a lot this week with Anton Astapau, the Belarusian High Roller. "Looks like we are neighbours again," Astapau said as the two settled into their seats before play began.

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Hady El Asmar and Anton Astapau

Safe to say the world of poker has not yet seen a Senegalese poker boom, but according to Muhyedine Fares, who was sixth in chips at the start of play today, there's plenty of action in the casinos of Dakar. Fares, 52, who has previously played under the French flag at poker events, plays both hold 'em and Omaha in the Senegalese capital and is on a poker-playing vacation with two friends to Monaco. He too is a businessman, who plays poker recreationally.

One of them, Iwad Derwiche, remains in the €25,000 High Roller event here, but spent some of his spare time this morning giving Fares moral support from the feature table rail. Derwiche heads the Senegalese money list, with recorded career tournament earnings of $330,000. If this roll continues for Fares, he could smash that in one fell swoop.

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Muhyedine Fares: First Senegalese champion?

It is perhaps unusual to find so many players at this stage of a major tournament insistent that they are doing this for the jollies. Even if players are actually recreational only, they usually try to conceal it. But for both Lyndon Basha and Koichi Nozaki, such attempts at subterfuge would never work. They are plainly having far too much fun.

We learnt all about Basha yesterday. He is the veterinarian here in Monaco to propose to his girlfriend, and this morning that fiancee-elect was on the stage with him this morning, posing with his chips. I'm also pretty sure more of Basha's family is in town. I think I heard him address another lady as "Mum", so it looks as if plenty more have flown out to celebrate both a poker victory and impending nuptials.

However, the clear prize for the player enjoying himself most goes to Koichi Nozaki. He is a 39-year-old project manager from Tokyo, Japan, also on a poker-playing holiday to Monaco.

Nozaki has a modest list of tournament results, exclusively from small buy in events in Asia. But he has taken to life at the eye of this storm perfectly and is, by some measure, the man most likely to mug for the cameras now trained on him.

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Koichi Nozaki: The Man

Even when he came off third best, and then second best, from early pots involving Ole Schemion and Johnny Lodden (who officially need no introduction) Nozaki continued with the grin.

Follow all the action from the €10,000 Main Event on the Main Event page. Also watch on EPT Live. The €25,000 High Roller is into its second day, over on the High Roller page. It's also about time you downloaded the EPT app. There you will get all the latest news, chip counts and payouts. You can download it on Android or IOS.