Having traveled to an eclectic collection of places for my job, many people ask me what my favorite city is. My answer: Barcelona. So when I was given the opportunity to return for the kickoff stop for Season 9 of the European Poker Tour, I couldn’t have been more excited.
There’s something about Barcelona in the summertime the makes it feel almost magical. Everywhere you go, there is certain buzz of excitement by wide-eyed tourists and savvy locals. You’re constantly surrounded by historic architecture and picturesque scenery. By day, the sun and warm breeze lure you onto one of the many beaches, and by the night, the lights and music that pour out of the modern outdoor/indoor clubs seduce you to come inside. I experienced all of that and more the year before, and couldn’t wait to explore more of city, which is exactly what Lynn Gilmartin and I did the day before the poker festivities began.
The success of the location for the start of Season 9 was never in question, as it’s proven over the years that it’s a player favorite and a staple on the European Poker Tour. However, PokerStars added, for the first time in Barcelona, a €50,000 Super High Roller event. Skeptics said that the event wouldn’t surpass 40 entrants. Optimists hoped for 50. The actually number of entries was 64.
Two days later, a stacked final table emerged and included the likes of Erik Seidel (6th – €153,600), Michael McDonald (5th – €215,100), Ilari Sahamies (4th – €291,900), and Mike Watson (3rd – €399,500). Heads up came down to Dan Smith and JC Alvarado who ended up making a deal according to chip stacks and then played for an extra €100,000, the title, and trophy. After a short back and forth, Smith took a commanding chip lead, which Alvarado was unable to overcome. With “nubs” held high, Smith won just under €963,000 for first, while Alvarado settled for a runner-up prize of €789,000.
As many would expect, these aforementioned players jumped straight into the €5,000 Main Event. They, of course, had two starting days to choose from, but the most popular turned out to be Day 1b, which boasted a field of 670 players! That number, combined with that of Day 1a, made a total count of 1,082, crushing every previous EPT Barcelona Main Event. Not only was there nearly €5.3 million up for grabs in prize money, but there was also an added bonus of a sleek and luxurious Slyde watch that will be awarded to every Season 9 EPT Main Event winner.
The path to the final table was a long, and arduous one that saw every Team PokerStars Pro who entered fall to the wayside. The shinning light that led the way for the fallen stars was Team PokerStars Sports Star Fatima De Melo. She finished one table away from the final table in 16th place (€34,650).
When we reached the final eight players, play stopped for the night. The TV crew set up for the next day and prepared to capture every painful sweat, lucky suck out, and triumphant fist pump that would surely blossom from the final table. When it was finally time for the players to take their seats to play for the trophy, Slyde watch, and the more than €1 million first-place price, all eyes were on two players: five-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner John Juanda, the most decorated player remaining, and Ilari Sahamies. The Finnish high-stakes cash game player was looking for redemption for his fourth-place finish in the Super High Roller event and he was equipped with the chip lead.
Unfortunately for Juanda, he was the first eliminated when his pocket fives couldn’t hold up against Samuel Rodriguez’s ace-five all in preflop. As the final table played out, it looked as though it was 21-year-old Joni Jouhkimainen’s tournament to win. The Finnish pro took a commanding chip lead, which took him into three-handed play with fellow Finn Sahamies and Mikalai Pobal from Belarus.
After a level or two, the chips began evening out, and after one break, Sahamies and Jouhkimainen returned with drinks in hand a sparkly fedoras. The crowd seemed to like it and also sported the obnoxious-looking headwear. At times, it felt like Pobal was the third wheel, or the odd man out if you will. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t be deterred, and eventually knocked out the former chip leader, Jouhkimainen, in third place to go heads up for the win.
Just a few hands into heads-up play, Pobal picked up pocket aces and couldn’t have called fast enough when Sahamies four-bet shipped with nine-five of spades on a bluff. The board ran out and Pobal was named the first Season 9 European Poker Tour Main Event winner.
As mentioned before, the city played a major role in the success of this event. It wasn’t just a backdrop but instead, an intricate part of the storyline. Here is a recap of the week’s festivities, on and off the felt.