As a general rule, the bubble period in high roller events tends not to last as long as it does in other tournaments. There are fewer players and they are more accustomed to big sums, meaning they are less focused on the significance of a min-cash. But at the €25,000 High Roller event here at EPT Malta, another factor was in play. Although the bubble has now burst and they are all in the money, it took more than two and a half hours before the fateful hand was played.
When the tournament went down to 15 players, two from the money (and one from the bubble), level 16 was just about to begin. The 75-minute dinner break was due at the end of the level, and it was pretty much a coin flip as to whether 13 players would be going off for sustenance all knowing they had locked up at least €43,100, or whether 14 plates of Maltese cuisine would taste slightly bitter.
This wasn’t one of those bubbles in which swarms of hopefuls dashed from one table to the next desperate to see someone get knocked out, nor even on in which routine decisions were made to look like the splitting of the atom by players desperate to wind down the clock. No, the anxiety here was all about mild inconvenience and restaurant reservations.
“Stressed?” Dani Stern said to a short-stacked Nick Petrangelo.
“Nah,” Petrangelo said. “You can’t buy a house with a min-cash.”
“Yes you can,” Stern said. “I live in Mexico. You can definitely get a house for a min-cash.”
Dan Smith was in a spot of bother with a stack of about 100,000. Then he was pushed off a hand by Agshin Rasulov, who raised Smith’s bet of 13,000 on board of 3♥J♦J♣J♠9♠, asking for 31,000 to play. Smith agonised before folding, leaving himself with a stack of slightly more than 70,000.
That wasn’t quite the shortest in the room because Piotr Franczak had only 66,500. But the Polish player, who could count Dominik Panka among his railing section, three-bet shoved over Philipp Gruissem’s open, and was in good shape with A♠10♠ against Gruissem’s 10♣J♣ when Philbort called.
The flop improved both hands. It came A♥A♣7♣. But Franczak could breathe easily after the 7♥ turn, rendering the 9♣ river irrelevant. He doubled.
That was the spur for a surge forward for Franczak, who shoved on Sam Greenwood soon after, looking at a board of 6♥J♥2♥3♣. “This would be so much easier if I had a heart,” Greenwood said, channelling his inner Tin Man. But there was no trip to see the Wizard and Greenwood folded. “I like you,” Greenwood told Franczak. “I want you to cash in the tournament.”
“Maybe you were drawing dead,” Stern said.
“I don’t think so,” Greenwood said. Franczak was silent but up to nearly 200,000.
Only about 30 minutes now remained on the level, which meant the dinner break was favourite to start before the bubble burst. But then Smith found J♥J♦ when Hajiyev had A♥Q♥ and it was always going to go in.
Hajiyev had a comfortable stack of about 350,000 and also hit a queen on the turn, which sent Smith packing. With 15 minutes left on the level, and now on the stone bubble, they went hand-for-hand.
Petrangelo and Stern were among the first to suggest playing on and bursting the bubble before taking a break. It seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do. But Hajiyev said that he had friends waiting for him to head to dinner, and hoped they could stick to the schedule. “If a majority want to play on, then I’ll do it,” he added, reasonably. “But I do have plans.”
The tournament director said they would still the the original schedule, which meant they had seven minutes to lose a player.
“Is anyone short?” Petrangelo asked as Stern and Jeff Rossiter peered over at the other table.
“Sorel,” Rossiter said.
“Sorel,” Stern said.
Sorel Mizzi (for it was he) looked up as two of his friends and competitors said his name simultaneously, but this wasn’t a friendly salutation. It was a “Ha, look at him with his 12 big blinds and that man with a scythe standing behind him.”
But Mizzi, who had taken to blowing tiny, yet prophetic bubbles in his chewing gum, kept hold of his chips in time for the clock to run out, and that meant the waiting staff of Portomasso were going to need to serve up 14 plates of food in less than 75 minutes – which would break some kind of record in these parts.
INTERVAL — SAFETY CURTAIN
The players soon returned, and they were now in Level 17, with blinds of 4,000-8,000. Mizzi was still the short stack (there having been no administrative blunder in the intervening break), but there was no reason to give up hope just yet.
Connor Drinan, with the big stack at the table, was having fun. He was raising almost every single pot. Mizzi was dutifully folding, waiting for either a spot to shove or for someone else to go out. And he very nearly got the second of those wishes.
Over on the other table, Daniel Dvoress, who had only about two blinds more than Mizzi, got his stack in the middle with J♦J♥. Rossiter had opened this pot, making it 17,000 to go, and only needed to find another 51,000 to call. He did, with A♣9♥.
The dealer wasted no time in laying down the flop and turn. “Slow, slow,” Gruissem requested, wanting to ratchet up the drama. The cards didn’t really offer anything dramatic, though. They came 5♦10♠9♣7♠3♠ and Dvoress doubled.
“Nice hand man,” Petrangelo said, his tone a masterclass in irony. “We were all rooting for ya.”
Mizzi was now under severe pressure and he had Drinan, two seats to his left, opening every pot. When Drinan did that on the button, making it 16,000 to play, Mizzi looked at his stack and called, leaving himself 38,000 behind.
At that point, I seemed to hear a hundred poker television commentators saying, “For me, he can only shove or fold there.” But Mizzi has close to $11m in live tournament winnings, and I think he knows what he’s doing.
The flop came J♦5♥A♥ and Mizzi checked. Drinan bet enough to put Mizzi all in, and he folded.
Drinan duly open raised the next two pots as well, but when he did it from the hijack, with Mizzi on the button, the latter sighed and shoved. “Zero Fox Were Given” read Mizzi’s punning T-shirt, beneath a picture of a fox. But he didn’t seem entirely pain free when Drinan made the mandatory call and showed A♣J♦, which was dominating Mizzi’s A♠10♦.
Mizzi got up and prepared to leave, but the window card was the 10♦ as the dealer fanned the flop. It proved simply to be a kind of tickle of the chin while the kick in the balls still duly followed. The J♣ turned and that was it.
Off went Mizzi, still an agonising $61,058 short of $11m in live tournament winnings. Zero Fox…
Everyone else is now guaranteed a nice start to their festival here in Malta, and someone will get more than half a million.
Follow all the action from the EPT Malta festival at PokerStars Blog. We have hand-by-hand action from the €25,000 High Roller in the panel at the top of the €25,000 High Roller page. Feature pieces are below. We also have a man on the IPT Malta stop. You might also want to download the EPT App, available on both Android or IOS. Unless you don’t.