PCA 2014: Dani Bavec, king of the Slovenes
If you've never heard of Dani Bavec, it's because you've never lived in Slovenia. Bavec is the face of Champions League football, the face of European and World Championship basketball and the face of televised poker in the small country on the shores of the Adriatic.
But this week in the Bahamas, more than 5,000 miles from home, Bavec is showing he's learned something from commentating on televised slices of the EPT. He's sitting with an average stack among the 100-odd players still remaining at the PCA, the last representative from the three Slovenes who entered the field here this week.
Not only has Bavec outlasted everyone else from Slovenia -- a country of a relatively small 2 million people -- but there are no Italians (60m), no Hungarians (10m), no Austrians (8.5m) and no Croatians (4m) still left, which leaves Bavec carrying the weight of an entire region on his shoulders.
"It's tough, but it's not this monumental task," Bavec said. "It's tough, it's for the tough and I'm tough."
After taking up poker about five years ago, Bavec's own game has progressed alongside a steady poker boom in Slovenia. He has been sponsored by PokerStars for a couple of years, exchanging a few tournament buy-ins for exposure for the Red Spade on the many shows he fronts.
The symbiotic relationship is working fine so far. Just as a steady trickle of young Slovenes are discovering the game of poker, Bavec is now translating his knowledge into a healthy chunk of pocket money. If he wins the PCA Main Event this week, he would vault to the top of the all-time Slovenia money list. It is also his first major tournament cash.
"I feel fresh and I feel confident," Bavec said. "I feel I can do it. I'll need luck, I'll need the cards and everything, but I can do it."
It would, it is fair to say, be the best thing that ever happened to poker in Slovenia. Bavec said today that he is getting a ton of messages on his phone, via text and Facebook, now he is in the money, even though it is long past midnight in Ljubljana.
He was fourth overall at the end of Day 1, entered survival mode for most of Day 2 and says he is now feeling comfortable on Day 3, much to the delight of those tracking progress at home.
"They are watching right now," he said. "I almost have a fanclub back home right now. They're all aware that I've got into the money, they know I'm doing well. It's good for me, but it's not something I really consider. I'm just trying to keep my game going, maybe notch it up a gear now since we're in the money. I know how these things go."
Bavec used to play both football and basketball before a terrible motorcycle accident when he was 17 put paid to any professional sporting ambitions. And before this week, he had now considered poker as something he could do professionally, instead adopting a commentary style that emphasised the fun in poker.
"It's quite a funny show, I would say," he said. "It's just poker is really nice entertainment for TV. We have fun and people have fun watching us."
He added: "It's not that we're trying to sell ourselves as some big poker authority."
Victory at one of the biggest tournaments of the world might change that, one suspects.
Our coverage of the 2014 PCA is comprehensive on PokerStars Blog, and it is simple to follow. The PCA 2014 Main Event page has a box at the top in which you'll find hand-by-hand coverage and chip counts after the action commences at noon. Below that are feature pieces, interviews and analysis updated throughout the day. You can also follow the action on PCA Live.