The “poker player meets sports star for ‘poker masterclass'” concept is almost as old as major poker tournaments themselves. Ever since the very earliest days of the EPT, a procession of footballers, tennis players, gymnasts, dressage horses, high divers, racing drivers, cyclists and ludo world champions have been told in very earnest terms that a pair of aces does not beat a full house, and that you need five cards for a straight.
Under normal circumstances, they have all graciously thanked the poker pros for their insight before getting knocked out in level three with middle pair and “a hunch the guy was bluffing” before returning to their main field of expertise and winning four million dollars, a couple of gold medals and a very big trophy or two.
The latest iteration of this concept took place in Barcelona this morning, where the Norwegian skiing world champion Petter Northug, and his younger brother Tomas, met the Team PokerStars Pro Lex Veldhuis for a chat. And “chat” is pretty much what this became because neither of the Northugs exactly needed the kind of rookies’ advice that usually comes at these things.
Both had already progressed from Day 1A of this event, Petter with 33,200 chips and Tomas with 31,500. Petter had yesterday also made the final table of the €2,000 side event here, taking €5,800 for sixth place.
That meant that Veldhuis shared with the Northugs a conversation punctuated by anecdotes from final tables of online tournaments, tricky spots with 30 big blind stacks, and phrases like “I’d rather go with my hand just because of my induced tilt factor here.” The nods and follow up queries came from players much closer to being contemporaries than the more common master and first grade student relationship.
For poker fans who also know the answer to all those questions, but who are less familiar with skiing, it is worth introducing these two young masters of the snow. Petter, 26, has won two Olympic gold medals (50km classical and the Team sprint) both in Vancouver in 2010, as well as eight World Championship golds. Tomas, 22, meanwhile is the Junior World Champion, enjoying his first year on the Norwegian national ski team.
Today’s meeting took place in the PokerStars Mobile Lounge and cards were brought to the table primarily as a prop for photographs. They didn’t deal out many flops or anything like that, instead keeping the advice very specific to the tournament they are now all playing again.
Petter wanted to know the kind of range he can three bet with, starting day two with a 40 big blind stack. Answer: “You have so much room at these levels, you might as well wait it out. But I would go with three-bet small with suited one-gapper kind of hands. It’s a really hard stack to manage, but it’s a good stack because you have a lot of time.”
They also discussed how Veldhuis has recently plugged one of his own leaks: his tendency to double up players with small stacks first thing on day two when he didn’t even need to be involved. “There are a lot of people with 20 big blind stacks. They’re fresh and they’re shoving.”
Tomas, meanwhile, was surprised that he was feeling more nervous going into day two than he did on day one, which prompted an exchange of anecdotes about sports stars playing poker.
“I played at the Norwegian championships with a soccer player who has played in the Champions League final,” Petter said. “And when he put his chips in the pot, his hands were shaking. He has played in the Champions League final!”
This is not quite the Champions League final, but it’s still a very big day for all three players. Veldhuis is returning to perhaps the biggest day two stack he has ever amassed on the EPT, while the Northugs look to continue their education on the trickiest track of their careers.
After an awful lot of calculations, we now have some prize pool information for EPT9 Barcelona.
Total prize pool: €5,247,700
First prize: €1,007,550
Entrants: 1,082 (403 on 1a; 679 on 1b)
Day two players: 600
Players paid: 160