EPT12 Barcelona: The threatening check arrives to torment the High Rollers

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Isaac Haxton: On the receiving end of some very aggressive checking

A few years ago, Vanessa Rousso endured a barrage of abuse when she described an "aggressive call" she made. Yes, yes, it's difficult to be aggressive about a call, we all know that, but the volume of the sneering was a bit too much, even coming from the Cheeto-stained fingers of the internet's most celebrated truth crusaders.

Further to that, when you take a quick stroll around a poker tournament floor, watching the way hands play out, you quickly realise that the notion of an "aggressive call" is nothing compared with some of the over-dramatic shenanigans that occur 20-30 times per hour. I just watched a hand between Martin Kabrhel, Isaac Haxton and Umberto Vitagliano in the €10,000 High Roller that had multiple example of something even more ridiculous: the aggressive check.

It is incredibly easy to be wise after the event, especially when standing on the rail and without €10,000 on the line, but absolutely everything about this hand whiffed of absolutely nothing; a load of posturing and pretending without anybody willing to put their money where their no-pair was.

It started in friendly enough fashion, with action folding to Kabrhel in the hijack seat, right about the time he was starting a conversation about Mike McDonald's progress in the Main Event. He wanted to know if McDonald was still in and Ruben Visser asked, "Did you bet against him?"

As Kabrhel bent down to peek at his cards, he muttered, "Maybe on him" in the sotto voce of a super-villain. But nobody noticed just how sinister Kabrhel had apparently meant this to sound. Or maybe they didn't much care.

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Martin Kabrhel in animated form in Monaco last season

Anyhow, Kabrhel tossed forward a red, 1,000-value chip but said he was min-raising the 400 blind. Haxton, on the button, quickly raised, making it 3,000 to go, and action moved to Vitagliano in the small blind.

The ensuing acting display wasn't yet up there with Roberto Benigni, but Vitagliano certainly made sure his opponents knew this wasn't a decision he was taking lightly. He called Haxton's raise, which brought the decision back to Kabrhel.

Kabrhel, as many people will know, is nothing if not unpredictable. He is a bit of a cult favourite among people in the press room as he belongs in that category of player who is always up to something. You might find Kabrhel furiously Skyping somebody on a full-size lap-top while playing, or making extraordinary bets in high-stakes cash games and then chuntering away immediately afterwards as though in a play-money pot.

You could say he's a polarising figure: dancing close to some boundaries of decent etiquette but mostly staying just about on the decent side.

Here, he asked the dealer to give change to both Vitagliano and him so that he could see the size of the pot. He then began as forensic an examination of Haxton from across the table as you can get without a slab and a scalpel.

The mood was broken somewhat when an acquaintance of Kabrhel came skipping across the tournament room holding a cell-phone and tapped him on the shoulder. Kabrhel was distracted and turned in his seat to see who would think to pester him, and why. It seemed to be a request for a wifi password which, in the circumstances, was akin to asking a judge if you could borrow his pen just as he is signing a death warrant.

Kabrhel shooed the interlocutor away, signalling towards his cards, and eventually made what was, at the very least, a threatening call. An eerie hush descended, but with a metaphorical cymbal crash, the flop suddenly fell 3♣8♦A♣.

Vitagliano was first to act, but Kabrhel did not seem interested. To continue a metaphor, he was now running his sharpened gaze down Haxton's torso ahead of opening the body cavity.

Vitagliano tapped the table, which moved action to Kabrhel. But he needed to examine Haxton a little more first before lightning flashed in the sky behind him and he lifted his middle finger up and down delicately on to the felt. It was, make no mistake, an ominous check.

(In the back-ground, "phone-man" continued his anxious search for assistance. He checked back to Kabrhel but span sharply when he saw the same hand still under way. It was a sub-plot of high farce.)

Haxton now checked again too, which meant this one was going to a turn. It was clear that he had taken all due caution about this check. You don't want to rush into it. The tension was positively bearable.

The 3♦ appeared and, it disappoints me to say, the action was largely the same. Vitagliano pondered the meaning of life, then checked. Kabrhel pondered installing a second drawbridge on to the east wing of the Transylvanian estate, then checked. Haxton pondered whether he might prefer life online and checked again too.

If anybody was laying traps, which was far from certain, certainly nobody was triggering them.

The 5♥ came on the river and this was now getting a little tedious. Vitagliano, with immaculate precision, checked. Kabrhel with malevolent precision checked again too. And then Haxton -- hold on a minute, what on earth is this? -- made a move for his stack.

This was it. This was the twist. This was the third-reel shocker. This was Isaac Haxton admitting that he could see dead people, that, "No, I am your father." Haxton reached for 4,700 in chips and pushed them over the line.

Vitagliano -- guess what? -- folded. Kabrhel -- guess what? -- folded too.

"Good bluff, Ike," Kabrhel said.
"Thank-you," Haxton replied.

-fin-

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 the €10,000 High Roller gets under way today as well. It's not confirmed as record-breaking just yet, but I'm going to bet it will be. Watch me be proved right on the High Roller page.

Everything from the side events is on the side events page. It will be busy over there today as well.

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.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour