Although the camera never lies, it also doesn’t always tell the full story. And although you’ll need to go a very long way to find a more professional, more extensive and more excellent live European poker webcast than our EPT Live (and I think, in fact, you’ll never find one) there are some things that even it doesn’t see.
Not so long ago, a hand brewed on the secondary feature table that Joe Stapleton, on the EPT Live commentary, described pretty accurately as “weird”. But there were a couple of elements to it that either made it more weird or, weirdly, explained it somewhat. I’m genuinely not sure which.
It began when Ji Zhang, who had recently taken over the chip lead, opened to 275,000 from under the gun. He had a stack of more than 8 million and was cruising. In this hand, the action folded around to Bram Haenraets in the small blind and last night’s dominant chip leader three bet to 500,000. After a short while, Ji decided to call.
This bit was all pretty standard, but the weirdness kicked off with a tap on the table from Haenraets. He did this before the dealer fanned the flop. It was the lesser-seen-these-days check in the dark.
The wisdom or otherwise of this move has long been debated and its relative scarcity in top level competition probably speaks volumes for how well regarded it has become. However, I certainly seem to remember seeing Marcel Luske check in the dark more frequently than most players, and one suspects Haenraets, who is from the Netherlands, will likely have seen Luske do so too.
The flop came 7♥10♣10♥ and with Haenraets’ check now binding, the action moved to Ji. The German player took a short while to weigh up his options, before checking right back.
The Q♦ came on the turn and both players checked again. The J♦ on the river seemed certain to change the passive line, however. One of these guys (perhaps even both) could easily have ace-king in their range. If so, they would both have rivered a straight.
Haenraets, first to act again, cut out a bet of 550,000 — and all six other players at the table will likely have noticed his hand shaking as he felt for the chips. It was, given the pre-flop three bet, the check-in-the-dark and the second check on the turn, plus this quivering hand, pretty likely now that he had the ace king. At least that’s how it appeared.
At this point, the EPT Live cameras, which had swept over the table to cover the pot brewing, had to return to the feature table as a player there had moved all in and was called. This is where they missed another important aspect of this hand.
Ji, in the seat immediately to the dealer’s left, asked the dealer how many chips were in Haenraets’ stack. The dealer interpreted the question in the only way he was permitted and asked Haenraets if he could make his stacks visible on the felt. Haenraets actually already had all his highest value chips at the front of his small pile, but obligingly hoicked out a couple of towers of blues hidden behind his golds and blacks. He was playing about 3m.
Ji pondered his decision some more, then asked the dealer again how much was in Haenraets’ stack. “About two point five million?” Ji said, phrasing it clearly as a question.
The dealer seemed a little perplexed, but patiently told Ji that his duties did not allow him to actually count another player’s stack in the middle of a hand. Ji nodded his head, and went back to his decision-making. “I think you have nothing or nuts,” Ji said. “With nothing, if I raise you would fold.”
The thing that was now abundantly clear to anybody watching this go down at close quarters — but which may not have made the transition to webcast land — was that these two players were pretty new to the business end of multi-million euro poker tournaments.
This is part of the beauty of the European Poker Tour. Although these tournaments invariably attract the very best players in the world, and they are orchestrated, administrated and broadcast to the very highest standards, it is often the case that the players eyeing the biggest prizes are not superstars. They can be rookies playing the games of their lives, recreational players on a brilliant beano.
There had been a couple of moments earlier in today’s play that had also belied Ji’s greenness. He had twice found aces when other players had moved all in. Dwelling over ones decision in this particular circumstance is considered to be one of the worst crimes in poker, but both times Ji had not immediately called and showed his hand.
There was simmering animosity at the table for the apparent repeated “slow-rolls”, but Ji told German reporters that he has seen aces cracked many times before. In the first instance, he was facing a call for his tournament life and wanted to be sure about committing all of his chips. (It’s not really excusable, but there are mitigating circumstances.)
Anyway, back to the hand in question and as Ji thought on, Pawel Brzeski, one seat to Ji’s left, asked for the clock. It is in every player’s right to request a clock if an opponent has taken an unnecessary length of time to make a decision, but in this instance the tournament floor person ruled that Ji could think on a little while longer before she would count down one minute.
Ji, unperturbed, eventually opted for the option that suggested he wasn’t quite sure about the situation. He called.
As it happened, this was a brilliantly shrewd play. Haenraets tabled 7♣7♠ for a flopped full house, and Ji could not help but reveal his A♠K♣. We’ll never really know how he got away from that one, but one can only admire some pretty special opponent-reading skills. He might not have all the experience, but he had seemed to smell a rat throughout.
As for Haenraets, back to Stapleton. “If you can make a habit of that [checking in the dark and flopping a boat], then you should play poker for the rest of your life,” he said.
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.