EPT12 Barcelona: The bubble, through a Team Pro prism
There's no mistaking the encroachment of the bubble. The most convincing evidence is that people keep saying, "The bubble is coming" but there's also the fact that play slows, players with short stacks keep counting them meticulously, and the ambient tone of the room becomes a little more agitated.
The various individuals who play under the Red Spade of Team PokerStars Pro are so selected because they represent something of a cross-section of the poker-playing public and, as the bubble approaches in any given tournament, an examination of their progress can offer a microcosm of the entire field.
Most, of course, are long eliminated, but for those who remain, their bubble experiences range from absolute comfort to absolute anxiety.
Let's start at the top. Andre Akkari was a top-three stack coming into Day 3 and he has maintained something close to it through the opening level and a half. He now has about 560,000 and he is able to play precisely as he pleases.
I strolled past to watch Akkari defend his bid blind after an opening raise to 9,000 from Rayan Chamas in the cut-off. The two saw a flop of 6♠4♥8♦ and after Akkari checked, Chamas bet 10,000. Akkari check-raised to 23,000 and Chamas called.
The turn brought the 4♦ and Akkari bet 37,500. Chamas called. They both then checked the 7♦ river and Chamas's 9♥9♠ beat Akkari's J♦7♠. You want to know what comfort on the bubble looks like? It's looks like defending your big blind with jack-seven off.
Akkari only played this hand because he had been given a moment's pause from a hitherto relentless barrage of selfie requests. Not from a fan, you understand, but from his Team Pro colleague Matthias de Meulder, who had recently moved table and found a seat directly alongside Akkari.
The two friends and team-mates know a photo opp when they see one and first it was Akkari with the camera, the arm draped around the shoulder and the gang sign hand-gesture, then it was De Meulder's turn.
That's because the Belgian was also coasting into the money, even if his start of play hasn't gone quite so well. De Meulder had 401,300 at the end of play yesterday, which had been cut down to about 330,000 by this point. It was still absolutely sufficient to allow a genuine smile to be painted across his face as he went about hugging Akkari.
One table over, Johnny Lodden was sitting behind a similar amount. It's difficult to get Lodden to show any emotion at any time, and this effortless journey to yet another EPT Main Event cash is no different.
Lodden is coming into the new season off the back of a second consecutive EPT Grand Final final table, and it's business very much as usual. He'll likely be playing a lot of hands and could be either chip-leader or out by the time you're reading this. But Lodden represents the seen-it-all-before percentage of the remaining field. No dramas.
Drama, however, is very much the name of the game for Teun Kuilboer. He's an actor by profession, who will appear in the second series of Bluff, a poker-based drama in the Netherlands. The first series was filmed at the EPT Grand Final a couple of years ago and featured Theo Jorgensen and Fatima Moreira de Melo, among others.
Kuilboer is sponsored by PokerStars here, and is wearing the Red Spade. He also seems likely to cash this afternoon and is sitting with 105,000. He therefore represents the newcomer making a decent return on his first major-tournament outing.
Natalie Hof, the Friend of PokerStars from Germany, has about 100,000 chips at this point, and is clinging on too. Her first EPT Main Event cash came in Berlin in Season 9, and she has subsequently won a ladies event, in Vienna. But she seems to be taking a cautious line as a payday of at least €8,800 awaits.
Fatima Moreira de Melo has an even shorter stack - about 72,000 - but a vat of superglue and an empty room wouldn't stop her from nattering on. She was last seen chatting with Leo Margets, a recent elimination from the feature table, and she is also yukking it up with Olekseii Khoroshenin, the EPT Vienna champion, from Ukraine.
Khoroshenin has always been a thoroughly genial bloke, but he's not exactly a chatterbox. That's until he ended up next to Moreira de Melo, with whom conversation is not an option, it's a must. Let's say that Moreira de Melo represents the portion of the field who are having a great time regardless.
Matthias "Mati312" Brandner is also still in this thing. But only just. The Team Online player from Austria is one of the shortest stacks in the room - about 47,000 at last check, and that was when it was all in the middle of the table as an open shove from early position.
He was perhaps fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) that Mario Sanchez Cano, to whom action was folded in the big blind, was similarly short-stacked. Cano eventually made an anguished fold, allowing Bradner to breathe again.
But these are anxious times. The bubble is coming...
You can follow all the action from the various tournament floors on PokerStars Blog. The Main Event action will be on the Main Event page. And everything from the side events is on the side events page. It will be busy over there today. There's also EPT Live for your video-based needs.
You can also begin plotting your own bid for EPT glory by downloading the PokerStars client and having a crack. Follow this EPT event via the EPT app. There you will get all the latest news, chip counts and payouts. You can download it on Android or IOS.