EPT10 Prague: How to accidentally qualify for a €10,000 High Roller

The average age of fields in High Roller tournaments tends to be a little higher than in the Main Event. With the obvious exceptions of the fresh-faced phenoms, who will play anything, it tends to take slightly longer to amass sufficient bankroll to enter the €10,000 events as a recreational player -- a bankroll built either through poker or "real-life" pursuits.

Duncan McLellan, who today wandered through the High Roller tournament area with a chip tray in hand, then plonked himself next to Dominik Nitsche, Robin Ylitalo and Dimitar Danchev, is possibly easily pegged as an older-generation whale. He has grey hair and is known to wear a leather jacket at the tables. He has also never played on the EPT before, much less in a High Roller.

But first impressions can be very deceptive. It is unlikely anyone could really guess McLellan's explanation for playing this event this week. Even he isn't really sure how it happened.

"Here I am playing in an event I had no real intention of playing in," he said.

McLellan is a player on a roll. At the end of October, the 49-year-old builder won a satellite to the £1,100 UKIPT Main Event in the Isle of Man and then won it, beating 379 players to the £94,090 first prize. One of the first things he did on returning to home in Corby, Northampton, was to play a satellite to EPT Prague, with predictable consequences.

"I came back from the Isle of Man as a champion and that Sunday night I played a $200 tournament and won a full package here," he said. "Eight nights. I beat 145 players."

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Duncan McLellan: champion in the Isle of Man

In his own words he "messed that up on Friday", but then "had his eye" on a satellite to the High Roller, which would have the kind of small field he enjoys playing against. Nine tickets were on offer for the €10,300 buy-in tournament, but the man out in tenth would win €10,100 in cash. When they got down to the final ten, McLellan had the biggest stack, but wasn't really sure he fancied swimming with the High Roller sharks.

"I asked the tournament director if I could take tenth place and give the others the tickets, even though I was the chip-leader," McLellan said. The tournament director told McLellan that the other nine players would need to agree, and that one other also had his eye on the cash.

Told to play on, McLellan hatched a plan. "I actually tried to lose," he said. But despite opening his range to include any two cards, he ended up knocking out two players on the same hand and booking his seat in the big one. "I'm well out of my depth," he said.

As a rule, McLellan plays his poker for significantly smaller stakes at Dusk Till Dawn in Nottingham (he won the Notts Cup there a couple of weeks ago, a side event at the UKIPT festival) and actually decided to treat his foray on to the EPT as a holiday.

Although he has visited Prague once before, for a friend's 40th birthday party, he confesses not to remembering any of it ("Not even where I stayed," he said.) But this time he has his wife, daughter and grandson with him and they have been out and about exploring the city. He has also scheduled a trip back to the UKIPT for the Edinburgh event in January.

I watched McLellan play a couple of hands here in this event, and it didn't really seem as though he was out of his depth. On one hand, he defended his small blind pretty lightly, turned two pair and then stacked Pavel Binar, of the Czech Republic, who called off with top pair.


At home among the High Rollers

My colleagues who watched McLellan win in the Isle of Man also said he was a far better player than even he might give himself credit for. He's loose and he's aggressive, which is how they do it these days.

"I made a couple of loose calls, which I do," he said. "It comes down the courage and big balls and I've got plenty of that."

He ran up a stack to about 200,000 on the first day of the High Roller, then dropped to about 50,000 before the big hand against Binar. But he has since run into Danchev's big slick and found himself on the rail, which frees him up for a shopping excursion with the family this afternoon.

"I like live poker," he said. "It's nice nerves. I mean, I'm nervous but it's nice."

For coverage of Day 5 of the EPT10 Prague Main Event, head to the EPT Prague Main Event page. There's hand-by-hand coverage and chip counts in the top panel, plus feature pieces below the line. The same applies for the High Roller event on the High Roller page. All the information about this festival can be found on the main European Poker Tour website.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in EPT Prague