Four years ago, the combination of a naked John Duthie, a lukewarm bubble bath and a bright idea saw the EPT pop out the poker womb at the Gran Casino de Barcelona where Alexander Stevic became the Tour’s opening, and worst paid champion. Whilst the diminutive prize pool, star-less field and lack of organisation may have changed, one thing remains evidently constant – the EPT is as popular as ever.
With a total 619 players and a mouth-watering €1,361,000 first prize, it’s of no surprise that players turned up in their droves. Although our Italian friends were the most prevalent nation, the States dealt out their own crème de la crème in Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Vannessa Rousso, Freddy Deeb, Sorel Mizzi, Chad Brown and Grand Final champion Glen Chorny, whilst Annette Obrestad, Dario Minieri, David Benyamine, Alex Kravchenko and Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier flew a collective flag this side of the Atlantic.
Although Greg Raymer and Noah Boeken battled profusely against the dress-code (beige shorts and ripped jeans just don’t cut it here), play finally commenced at 3.30pm with players eager to build on their starting stack of 10,000. But if you thought a new season would trigger a cagey start, you’d be severely mistaken as Rolf Slotboom fell early doors when his opponent managed to get several thousand in preflop with pocket deuces to bust the Dutchman’s Big Slick. Meanwhile, bracelet winner Alan Smurfit would enjoy a more fortunate start, his aces versus threes on a testicle-crunching A-7-3-A-3 board delivering a rare quads squared scenario to see him launch into an early chip lead.
As the opening levels passed, it became clear that we were lacking a Trond Eidsvig, the young Norwegian refusing to stump up the €8,000 buy-in until he’d bagged a sponsorship deal, despite having won an EPT award the night prior. One trophy-laden player who was present was Julian Thew, as was Mike McDonald, Danny Ryan (right) and Player of the Year Luca Pagano.
With the likes Michael Murrer, Jonas Klausen and San Remo EPT winner Jason Mercier leading the way at the end of day one, one player who would be forced to enjoy the soaring heat of the Barcelona coastline was Mickey Wernick. The Blue Square legend found pocket jacks on the final hand of the night, but was outdrawn by ace-rag when an ace hit the river to deliver what The Worm described as his “cruellest blow in 45 years of playing”.
Although the likes of Surinder Sunar, Barny Boatman and Vicky Coren emerged as strong British hopes, it was Stuart Rutter, Michael Greco, Maz Nawab and Steve Jelinek who were present come money time. But while they successfully dodged the splash of the bubble, 38th and a payday of €17,300 was the best they could muster. But fear not, as online legend (101 WSOP packages according to the horse’s mouth) Stephen ‘Stevie444’ Chidwick (left) was still riding high and becoming an increasing threat to what was an already dangerous field.
After a cruel aces versus A-8 outdraw stunted Ruthenberg’s hopes, Belgium’s Davidi Kitai began to flourish and amass a monstrous stack, as did Jonas Klausen, Dren Ukella and even ‘Basket Case 2’ thespian Chad Brown. Sadly, a lack of cards saw the demise of Chidwick, whilst the exits of Mark Flowers, Beniamo Speroni and foreboding death metaller Voitto Rintola in the teens left us with our final nine.
With the penultimate night going deep into the early hours, players took turns in holding the chip lead, until the unfortunate exit of giant Swede and former Survivor star Mikael Lundell triggered a collective sigh of relief and a final day line-up that looked as such:
Seat 1: Martin Nielsen –1,229,000
Seat 2: Davidi Kitai -- 600,000
Seat 3: Dren Ukella -- 734,000
Seat 4: Jason Mercier -- 526,000
Seat 5: Samuel Chartier -- 879,000
Seat 6: Daniele Mazzia -- 359,000
Seat 7: Gavin Fintan -- 701,000
Seat 8: Sebastian Ruthenberg -- 1,204,000
Mirroring Philip Hilm’s plight in the 2007 WSOP main event, it would be big stacker Martin Nielsen who would fall first, the former banker seeing his tens outdrawn by Jason Mercier’s (right) sixes before coming over the top of the same player with A-2 versus T-T.
With Samuel Chartier, Jason Mercier and Dren Ukella snapping up the next spots, it was Daniele Mazzia who walked the poker plank next. After surviving a number of sweaty-palmed encounters (K-2o versus T-T with a flush on the river being particularly memorable), the Italian’s luck would finally run out when his pocket nines failed to improve against Kitai’s pocket tens.
As rumours simmered about a three-way chop, Kitai fell at the hands of Ruthernberg (A-Q vs. 4-4)_to leave us with an intriguing heads up encounter - the patient, stoic bracelet winner against charismatic, unpredictable Irishman Fintan Gavin. And it didn’t take long, Ruthenberg’s five million stack too much for Gavin to handle as the German’s Kc-9c held up against Gavin’s 7c-4h on an eventful 2h-Ac-7h-Kh-9d board.
In what was an eclectic final, the dogged, disciplined approach of Ruthenberg had triumphed as he basked in the glory of the intoxicated Spanish applause and welcomed his comedy cheque with the most open of arms. As Gavin set his sights on the bar, Ruthenberg joined the media in the bustling press room to share his thoughts: “I was most worried about Mercier,” he started. “He was in my opinion the best player at the table. The money means a lot to me and I’m more happy now than when I won my bracelet.”
And on that note, we were done and dusted. Another day in the bag, another millionaire made, and another EPT season sent hurtling out of the blocks. With London next on the Duthie hit list, it looks like this year will be equally successful, if not more so than season’s past. I certainly hope so.
1st Sebastian Ruthenberg (Germany) -- €1,361,000
2nd Fintan Gavin (Ireland) -- €792,000
3rd Davidi Kitai (Belgium) -- €455,000
4th Daniele Mazzia (Italy) -- €351,000
5th Dren Ukella (Germany) -- €292,000
6th Jason Mercier (USA) -- €227,800
7th Samuel Chartier (Canada) -- €178,000
8th Martin Nielsen (Denmark) -- €119,000