Guillaume Darcourt takes lead into Day 2 of EPT Barcelona
It was business as usual as noon rose over the European Poker Tour today. Familiar scenes of packed tournament halls, the early sign of a big event, stirred the imaginations, and bank accounts, of some of the world's best players descending on the Gran Casino Barcelona. They were here to play what this afternoon became the biggest event ever held in Spain, the winner of which will take away €850,000.
There was no mistaking the cause of the early buzz, the line-up of Daniel Negreanu and Viktor "Isildur1" Blom seated together at the same table setting the internet alight - two of poker's biggest names a generation apart, set to spend the day three seats apart; the kind of table we onlookers dream of.
But it was a short lived love-in. Blom, hair unkempt, hinting at some kind of maniacal genius, firing early only to crash out before dinner. Then Negreanu, who at least got a buffet ticket, crashed out late in the day when one of his seemingly countless draws, with a card to come, failed to hit.
Viktor "Isildur1" Blom
But anyone thinking their double departure would dampen the spirit of the Barcelona big one - boasting a field of 811 players and a combined prize pool of €4,055,000 - were to be mistaken, for the computer that randomises the draw was free pending reboots, and instead delighted us by placing the likes of Liv Boeree, Anton Wigg, Allen Bari and Ivan Demidov together, while a table along Eugene Katchalov and Jonathan Duhamel sat side by side.
But intriguing draws do not make for a safe passage for everyone. Boeree was bounced in Level 8 when her jacks were toppled by a rivered ace, Wigg having already departed earlier in the day.
Elsewhere Johannes Strassmann fell short, as did notables such as Fatima Moreira de Melo, Dario Minieri, Bertrand Grospellier, Max Lykov and John Duthie, not to mention Chris Moneymaker, on the latest leg of his World Tour, who departed within minutes of the start when his full house was rivered by a better full house.
Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier
But as the clock ticked into the final level of the day, it was Katchalov performing wonders in a hand that would leave him with his stack of 153,100 tonight, forcing Timothy Marsters to fold pocket kings on a juicy board to what Katchalov later revealed to be a meagre pair of fives. It's not an unusual play from the Katchalov play book, but it made for thrilling viewing.
"We hadn't really had any confrontations," said Katchalov. "He'd been showing a lot of big hands."
With his best guess at how Marsters would react, Katchalov stuck at the hand, figuring Marsters to have an over pair, something he thought he might be able to get him to fold. The plan worked.
"When he checked the turn I could either give up or continue representing a lot of strength. So since I'd seen him fold big pairs before I figure if he has queens or kings its going to be a really tough spot for him. In my range I never really have a jack. I either have a monster like a set, or a bluff. I'm rarely bluffing there so I usually have him beat."
The plan worked, but not until Katchalov had endured ten minutes of waiting, which is a long time to try keep a poker face.
Eugene Katchalov and Jonathan Duhamel shared a table today
"I'm honestly trying to think of something outside poker," said Katchalov shortly after play finished. "It doesn't always work!"
"Sometimes I pretend to have a hand I don't have, sometimes that helps. Sometimes I try to think of something totally random and just try to concentrate on it and wait it out. It's something you develop over time. It's not easy to just sit there being stared on for ten minutes!"
That stack, edging Leo Fernandez's stack of 148,600 at the close, which for much of the day had led the field, is the biggest of the Team PokerStars Pros who played today. But it's not the biggest. That belongs to Frenchman Guillaume Darcourt who, with hair dyed pink for easy identification, bags up the most tonight.
"A normal day," joked Darcourt when we asked him to sum up his day. "A little of everything. Nice bluff, nice cards sometimes, nice set ups. Just a perfect day.
Chip leader tonight, Guillaume Darcourt
"One big pot, I had with aces against ace-king and, I don't know why, the guy shoved for 50,000 before the flop. But every other chip I had to fight with. I made my chips with some strange hands... like always."
Darcourt, who finished 35th in the World Series main event this summer, will be under no illusion that his lead tonight could be worth only dust tomorrow, particularly with a field ready to take him on.
Vytautus Milvydas (172,400), Gerardo Rodriguez Forteza (170,800), Mario Adinolfi (169,000), Benjamin Juhasz (165,800) and Evgeny Zaytsev (150,500), not to mention Katchalov and Fernandez will be looking to chase him down tomorrow.
It's hard to rule out the shorter stacks also.
Jason Mercier had what seemed like an uneventful day, playing briefly in the Blom shadow in the far corner of the room. He bags up 25,500 tonight. Arnaud Mattern returns, closing on 21,400 while PokerStars SportStar Boris Becker serves up 47,800 on his return tomorrow. Duhamel will see what he can do with 18,400, Ivan Demidov will do the same with 36,600, as will Victor Ramdin with 21,400.
Tennis legend Boris Becker sharing a few words with soccer legend Poli Rincon
That brings to a close a frenetic day at EPT Barcelona, which should evolve into something even better as the field is slimmed down. Play starts at 12 noon with the 228 players who survived today joining the 179 from yesterday - the list of the combined field of 407 will be available on the official chip count page once it's made that way by tournament officials.
The Sagrada Famlia
Until then you can catch up on all the events of the day by clicking through the links below.
Until tomorrow, it's good night from Barcelona.
All photography © Neil Stoddart.