Eight players return on Thursday to compete for a first prize of €850,000 in the PokerStars European Poker Tour main event in Barcelona.
A total of 811 players entered the main event, making this the biggest tournament ever staged in Spain.
Here’s how they’ll line up…
Seat 1. Saar Wilf, 36, Tel Aviv, Israel – 4,555,000 chips
Technology entrepreneur Saar Wilf may class himself as a recreational player but that certainly doesn’t make him a fish. The Israeli has amassed $288,859 in live tournament winning, impressive for someone that claims: “I just play the big tournaments, the ones in places that I feel like visiting. I don’t play much home.” It certainly doesn’t show.
Wilf finished 32nd at EPT Berlin last year for €17,500, a tournament that we look back at as one of the toughest of last season, and his performance here has been more than commendable. Perhaps it’s the freedom with which the self-made man plays, he does say that it would be “fun” to win but that he’s unlikely to feel the pressure of the money jumps.
He currently rates Tomeu Gomila as the biggest challenge to his title ambitions:
“He’s the only one that covers me. He’s very active and I’m sure we’ll get in some messy situations tomorrow. I could bust to him.”
Wilf may be honest in his assessment but given that he has direct position on Gomila it may be the Spaniard that has more to fear.
The TV feature table
Seat 2. Martin Schleich, 29, Munich, Germany – PokerStars player – 2,260,000
Schleich started playing poker online with no-limit cash games in 2006, and later decided to play more tournament poker, both live and online. He works
part-time in customer service but his poker expertise is demonstrated by the fact that, in cash games, he reached the highest ranking achievable in a big German online poker school.
Schleich has already played a couple of EPTs, and cashed once in the EPT5 San Remo Main Event, finishing 81st to earn €9,200. He also cashed in two side events at the PCA in January.
Seat 3. Juan Manuel “Pibe” Perez, 32, Lugo, Spain – 1,090,000
Originally from Buenos Aires, José Manuel “Pibe” Pérez has been living in Lugo, Northern Spain, for the past 14 years.
“Pibe” started playing Five-Card-Draw when he was a child. Together with his wife, Pibe owns a cafeteria in his home town but considers himself a semi-professional poker player, competing regularly on the EPT circuit and also the La Toja Poker League, in Pontevedra, Galicia. His best result so far was third in an EPT Vilamoura side event in Season 7. He also plays the Sunday Majors on PokerStars and once finished fourth in the Sunday Warm-Up as well as making two final tables in PokerStars $100 re-buy tournaments.
Seat 4. Eugene Katchalov, Ukraine – Team PokerStars Pro – 690,000
Eugene Katchalov is a player that needs little introduction; a Team PokerStars Pro with $6,489,636 in live tournament earnings, the Ukrainian born pro beat Daniel Negreanu heads-up at this year’s PCA to win the $100,000 Super High-Roller for $1,500,000, having already come second in the regular High Roller for $131,920.
Following Katchalov’s World Series bracelet win this summer, he’s on course to complete a Triple Crown, and tomorrow may be the day he makes it: “Records do mean something in any sport,” said Katchalov. “It’s certainly on my mind. It’s been a long road for me and I’m excited for it.”
It may look like an uphill struggle at the moment – Katchalov enters the final table as the short stack – but it would be very hard to say that he’s not the most dangerous player at the final table, he’s certainly the most experienced.
“I know mathematically I’m at a disadvantage but I’m very comfortable playing a short stack, playing 14 big blinds,” said Katchalov. “So if I catch some cards or run decent tomorrow I know I can run it up.”
If the Team PokerStars Pro does get an early double up the rest of the table could be in some serious trouble.
Seat 5. Isabel Baltazar, 44, Bordeaux, France – 2,270,000
Baltazar – of French and Portuguese descent – is a professional restaurateur but has always enjoyed playing cards at casinos in her free time. She took up poker five years ago and her 19-year-old daughter is about to start a course to become a croupier.
Passionate about playing live, Baltazar’s best results to date were third place in a €500 Partouche side event, and sixth place in a €600 tourney in Spain. She finds it interesting that tomorrow’s final – the biggest of her career – will take place in Spain, which lies sandwiched between her two “home” countries of France and Portugal. She says her aim for the final is to last as long as possible and focus on playing her usual solid style of play.
Seat 6. Dragan “AADRAGAN” Kostic, 47, Mallorca, Spain – 2,155,000
Kostic was born in Serbia but has lived in Spain for the past 20 years. He took up poker in 2001 – the year that the Euro was introduced in Spain.
“I remember it was that year because I was losing a lot of euros!” he said.
He actually learned Texas Hold’em at private clubs while running a restaurant in Innsbruck, Austria. Although he plays a lot of live events in Mallorca, the EPT is by far the biggest live tournament he has ever entered. The married father-of three won his seat in a live satellite on the eve of the Main Event.
“I’m very happy to reach the final because, at the start of Day 3, I only had 30,000,” he said. “I always aimed to make it but that means not making a single error – because if you make just one mistake, you’re out!”
His wife Simona is supporting him from home while looking after the couple’s youngest daughter.
Seat 7: Raul Mestre, 29, from Valencia, Spain – 4,260,000
The explosion of poker in Spain owes a lot to Raul Mestre, a former chemistry student, turned high-stakes cash player, poker coach and writer.
Mestre has been a key figure in developing poker in Spain – teaching people how to play and helping set up a team of professional players. This is Mestre’s second EPT final table but he’s looking forward to this one a lot more than EPT Prague in Season 5, where he came into the final as the shortest stack.
“It was very frustrating,” Mestre said. “I was eliminated in the second or third hand. But this time I’m in great shape. I have twice the average stack and the time to make good choices. I’m going to enjoy this final.”
Although he does most of his playing, and winning, online, Mestre also won a High Roller event in Madrid two years ago and has a couple of high finishes on the WPT to his name.
Seat 8. Tomeu “Amatos” Gomila, Mallorca, Spain – 6,985,000
Local poker media consider Tomeu “Amatos” Gomila one of the most respected and trusted players in the Spanish poker community. His extensive experience in all kinds of live events, both national and international, as well as good online results, have made Gomila one of the most competent all-round players in the country.
Gomila was also a co-founder of PokerVD, so fans have been able to see his philosophy and strategy for multimedia tournaments at first hand thanks to the hundreds of videos that he’s made.
His best live results have been winning a PLO side event at EPT Barcelona last season and coming third in the PLO side event at the 2010 PCA. His online results are also impressive; he has won the PokerStars $109 re-buy several times.