EPT12 Malta: Cut adrift in a world of bubbles

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The world of bubbles

Back in Barcelona in August, I was in the middle of fixation with bubbles. It was nothing so decadent as an addiction to champagne, rather a childish obsession with an online game named Agar.io.

As with all the best viral hits, Agar.io is devilishly simple but enduringly difficult to master. It also doesn't sound quite so compelling when described in words, but the general gist of the game is that a player controls a small bubble floating in a sea of other bubbles, attempting not just to survive but to grow bigger. You feed on small bubbles scattered across the landscape.

If you cross paths with a player-controlled bubble that is smaller, you consume it, adding its mass to your own. If you happen to run into a bubble that is bigger, your opponent consumes you and your game is over. Simple, yes, but fiercely addictive--and, in my opinion, with a resonance that spreads far wider than the simple parameters of the game itself.

I'll spare you my theories about how Agar.io mirrors life. Existential musings have no place on a poker blog. But I will say this: the press room of a major poker festival proved to be a really good place to become obsessed with Agar.io. There are many, many parallels.


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When stepping out on to the tournament floor, it felt in many ways like entering an almost perfect avatar of Agar.io's particular world, where hundreds of bubbles did battle with hundreds of others. The small ones tried to take hits from the big ones, risking their very livelihood in the process. Meanwhile the bloated huge bubbles, the chip-leaders, did their best to pick off the small fry at limited risk to themselves.

In Agar.io, much like in poker, opponents come from all over the world and adopt various strategies in their bid to grow the largest mass. On some occasions, a game will be over before it really begins, when a larger mass immediately swoops in and takes you out. At other times, you grow so enormous that you can simply seem to do no wrong. Opponents have no option but to defer, to get out of the way, to hope to get lucky--or to launch guerrilla assaults in the attempt to undermine authority.

Similarly, when a game ends in Agar.io--either in ignominy or glory--it's simple to leap immediately into another one. But when you start again, you are in control of a tiny bubble, a mere fraction of the bloated mass you may have just surrendered.

This element had particular echoes in Barcelona. I remember one occasion when I watched Sylvain Loosli wrap up victory in the €50,000 Super High Roller event, earning an enormous pay-cheque of €1.2 million and ending with all the chips from the tournament in front of him. About 30 minutes later, however, I spotted him entering the main event, wandering through the hundreds of other players carrying a tiny rack of about 20 chips, forced to start all over again.

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Sylvain Loosli: Accumulating new mass

Loosli had been the biggest of bubbles moments before, envied and feared in equal measure. Then suddenly he was back among the sprats: a tiny bubble of spawn taking his chances in a vast sea, where what came before meant nothing. (He was duly out before the money kicked in.)

Loosli was one of the late buy-ins into the €25,000 High Roller event here in Malta today, collecting a mass of 250,000 chips with which to begin. It was significantly smaller than the mass already being carried around by Dietrich Fast and Quan Zhou, for instance, but he began accumulating quickly. After an hour of play had enough to consume David Yan's stack.

Yan, of course, is now free to start again, perhaps to hop into the alternate reality of the €2,000 IPT High Roller. Or he can just take time away from the tables and recharge, before preparing another assault.

Either way, the tournament continues without him. His mass has been swallowed, swelling Loosli's bubble. And he beats on, a bubble against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Everything about EPT Malta is on the main EPT Malta page. More specifically, all the hand-by-hand coverage of the €25,000 High Roller is on the €25,000 High Roller page and everything from the IPT Main Event is on the IPT Main Event page.

No really, 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