While all eyes have been focused at the top of the leader board on the Cinderella story involving Bram Haenraets, another one was taking shape at the bottom of the leader board around Mark Wagstaff.
He first came to our attention yesterday when he all but eliminated the last remaining Team Pro, Jan Heitmann, in a brutal hand where Heitmann had aces, Wagstaff pocket queens and a third lady arrived on fifth street.
“A total cooler, it was a real bad beat, especially as it came on the river,” Wagstaff said of that hand. “We’ve all experienced them, it was gutting for him but a magic moment for me. For that to happen in a big tournament like this was an amazing feeling.”
The last remaining player from the UK qualified for a bit more than Haenraets and this isn’t his first major tournament. But make no mistake it was still a big step up for a recreational player, who was taking part in only his second EPT.
“I’ve got my own shop fitting company, that’s my main source of income, poker’s strictly a hobby,” he told the PokerStars Blog.
Before the start of play today he sought advice from another recreational player who has had some outstanding results.
“I’m good friends with Duncan McLellan (two-time UKIPT winner),” Wagstaff said. “We’ve been texting each other during this event. I had a short stack coming back [Wagstaff had slightly fewer than 20 big blinds] and I had a plan coming in. I couldn’t just sit there and be passive so the plan was to be aggressive during the first level, win blinds as the blinds were big. You can’t just keep giving blinds away and sit there and do nothing. So it was a case of opening my range up quite wide, choosing spots and hopefully get a hand and double up.”
However, things didn’t pan out that way.
“Unfortunately I was totally card dead,” he said. “I chose one or two spots which kept me level but then came my exit hand. I had 4♦3♦ on the button, the table had been quite passive, although the two lads in the blinds had quite a lot of chips I’ve got to get it all in there and hopefully win those blinds back. But I ran into pocket sixes and I didn’t catch.”
Wagstaff exited in 21st place and the €40,200 was the best of his career.
You sense that this result has been a long time coming and poker has steadily taken a more prominent place in Wagstaff’s life over the past few years.
“I started out with a group of friends playing in the local pub on a Sunday night,” Wagstaff said. “I did well in and three or four of us went down the local casino and started playing down there. I’ve taken it more seriously over the last couple of years, just trying to get better and play at a higher level. I’ve used PokerStars to try and qualify online to bigger events and gain experience.”
Wagstaff, from Northampton in the UK, had his “a-ha!” moment about four years ago.
“I managed to win a seat to the WSOP and that was a big wow moment really,” he said. “I played a $1,500 side event, finished 140th in that so that was a decent cash. I came back from there thinking I can do something in these big fields. I knew it was going to take some time to improve, to learn and to handle the pressure. I came back and decided I wanted to play the UK circuit so I started playing the UKIPT and trying to qualify for that.”
Luckily for Wagstaff his job has allowed him to indulge in his hobby.
“I’m supported with a good team of people who work for me as well,” he said. “They give me an awful lot of support and cover for me when I’m not there. So I’m very lucky in that sense. This event has been a stressful time, it’s the busiest time of the year so I shouldn’t even be here really. Typical that I go deep in this one.”
And now that he’s out of the race to be the winner, Wagstaff hopes Haenraets can get it done.
“I think the chip leader today is playing one of his first major tournaments, he must be sitting there absolutely buzzing. I hope he takes it down, I really do. It’s an amazing story if he does. These fields are so tough to get through, massive field, great players, it’s tough. It’s an amazing game when you think about it, that someone can come into a big tournament for the first time and take it down. That’s what makes the game so fun”
And despite perhaps not going as far as he’d like today, Wagstaff is more than happy with his week’s work.
“If you put the hard work in, if you study, there’s a gradual path,” he said. “Hopefully this is the start now of things for me, I’ve taken a lot out of this tournament. I’ve learnt a lot the last two days, it’s been very interesting. This result gives me a lot of confidence too.”
But he’s aware of the pitfalls of too much too soon.
“I’ll definitely be keeping poker as a hobby, it’s so hard to do well in these things anyway. So if I can I’ll keep qualifying online, I might take one of two shots in £1,000 events, but I’m not going to go mad with it. I’m happy with what I’m doing, I love the UK circuit, I love the UKIPT. Playing the whole EPT tour would be a lovely dream but I’m well below that right now. So I’ll keep grinding away hopefully get one or two results on the UKIPT level and then maybe come back and have stab at an EPT. Anyone can take part in poker, anyone can qualify to an EPT and, at the end of the day, anyone can take it down.”
While it won’t be Wagstaff this time, we’re sure we’ll see him again on the EPT soon.
Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the main EPT Barcelona page. There’s hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top, including chip counts, and feature pieces below. Follow the action from the High Roller on the High Roller page. There’s also EPT Live, which is streaming action from Day 5 of the Main Event.