Without question, some of the very best poker in the world gets played in the Super High Roller events on the European Poker Tour. With only a handful of exceptions it’s A-game versus A-game versus A-game, all the way around the room.
But here’s the thing about tournaments played at this level: unless you’re prepared to stick with them for very long periods of time, or have access to all the hole card data (i.e., data that simply doesn’t exist), it’s often pretty dull for the spectator. There are few ball-breaking bluffs; few calamitous mis-steps called out; few enormous punts getting lucky. All of those things are largely excluded from the Playing Your A-Game manual.
That’s not to say, however, that you can’t find action if you want it. You’ve simply got to know where to look. And with Martin Kabrhel in the field, whose A-game is very much dependent on his willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and plough his own individualistic furrow, there’s always some kind of action going on.
Kabrhel, whose $1.6m live tournament winnings put him second on the all time Czech money list, is one of the most fidgety players in this game. If he is forced to ditch his cards at any time — and he’ll need a very good reason — he can barely sit still. He’ll be delving in a bag in search of food or drink, wandering away from the table in need of a conversation on his cell-phone, else engaging tournament staff or table-mates in some kind of chit-chat.
More preferably, he’ll just get himself involved in an enormous pot that can hold his attention, ending with him either cutting out a large portion of his own chips to ship elsewhere or raking in a handful of somebody else’s. Here’s how Kabrhel played his first orbit of Day 2 in the EPT Prague Super High Roller event.
A Round With Martin Kabrhel
Kabrhel bought in late yesterday, but ran up his 250,000 starting stack to 623,000 overnight, which put him in the top three of the remaining 32 players. Arriving to Hilton Prague today, he found himself in the following line-up:
Seat 1 – Martin Kabrhel, Czech Republic, 623,000
Seat 2 – Timothy Adams, Canada, 250,000
Seat 3 – Martin Jacobson, Sweden, 337,000
Seat 4 – Leonid Markin, Russia, 348,000
Seat 5 – Empty
Seat 6 – Jean-Noel Thorel, France, 422,000
Seat 7 – Andrew Chen, Canada, 318,000
Seat 8 – Mike Leah, USA, 457,000
Kabrhel was the last to take his seat at the table, mainly as he was pacing the room in characteristic agitation, chuntering rapidly into his mobile phone. It looked like a model from the late 1990s, pre-smartphone days, but there’s a chance it had simply acquired a haggard look from over-work. He had also clearly dashed out the house to work this morning, without a last glance in the mirror. His SCOTTVEST long-sleeved T-shirt was on inside out and its white label, along a seam down his side, was fluttering in the breeze.
As Kabrhel continued his anxious pacing, Leonid Markin found his seat and said, “It’s the champion! How are you?” He then extended his hand in Andrew Chen’s direction, which seemed peculiar on first glance because Martin Jacobson was also sitting at the table. Jacobson, recently crowned winner of the World Series Main Event, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the inadvertent rub-down, and Chen shook Markin’s hand. Those two went the distance at the High Roller event in London in October, when Chen beat Markin into fourth to win his maiden major title. WSOP? It’s all about the EPT, mate.
Eventually Kabrhel found his seat and a chime from the tournament directors’ computer got matters started for the day. The Czech player was on the button, and opened to 13,000 (blinds 3,000-6,000, ante: 1,000) when it was folded to him. Only Jacobson called in the big blind.
The flop came 2♣Q♥9♠ and Jacobson checked. Kabrhel bet 14,000 and Jacobson called. That took them to a 6♦ turn, which both players checked. The K♠ river brought a bet of what looked like 12,000 from Jacobson. Kabrhel called, Jacobson showed Q♠9♣ and it was good.
On a neighbouring table, Jason Mercier got the last of his stack in with A♠K♠ and ran into Brian Roberts’ aces. Mercier flopped a flush draw and hit a king on the turn, but couldn’t make anything better than that. Meanwhile, back on table Kabrhel, Timothy Adams got the chance to open a pot from the button, picked up Leonid Markin in the big blind, then won the hand with a continuation bet on the A♣2♠9♣ flop.
Having taken a hand off, Kabrhel was back at it on the next one. He opened to 13,000 from the hijack. Adams called in the cut off, Jacobson three bet to 45,000 from the button and everybody folded. It sent Kabrhel into his bag to pluck out a bottle of Evian water, from which he took a disgusted swig.
Next up, Kabrhel found himself in early position, but duly raised to 13,000. Andrew Chen called in the big blind and it was only the two of them to a flop of 3♣10♣J♣. Fedor Holz arrived from another, broken, table to take his place in the empty seat five.
Both Chen and Kabrhel checked that flop, with Chen staring intently at Kabrhel. His blue baseball cap and grey hoody has become a fixture on the European Poker Tour over the years, in the deepest stages of the biggest tournaments, and his table manner is the very antithesis of Kabrhel’s. If Chen was any more composed, he’d be a symphony. Kabrhel bet at the 4♠ turn and the hand was over.
Mike Leah, who hadn’t had a chance to play a hand yet, but who did get to colour up Holz when he arrived to the table, was now asked to move elsewhere by the tournament staff. This balancing can sometimes be a mad session of musical chairs and no sooner had Holz arrived than Leah had to go. (This process can use some streamlining.)
Kabrhel started a conversation with Jacobson about the latter’s appearance on CNBC in the wake of his World Series triumph. “I was really nervous before,” Jacobson said.
“You like it?” Kabrhel probed.
“Yeah, it was fun. It was pretty big.”
Jacobson then raised a titter from the entire table when describing how he was asked live on air to tell the viewers what a “flop” was. It hadn’t been the most insightful interview in the world.
Chen limped from the small blind with Kabrhel in the big. Kabrhel raised to 18,000 and Chen called. The flop came 4♥A♦3♣ and after Chen checked, Kabrhel bet 16,000. He won.
Kabrhel arranged his chips in two distinct war zones, as if arranging armies in a game of Risk. His red an blue chips were in a separate towers to the left of his arms; the yellow and green occupied the space to his right.
On the next hand, Jacobson opened to 14,000 from under the gun and Jean-Noel Thorel called. Thorel had been largely silent throughout all the opening chit-chat and seemed to be reviewing some kind of business document. He was making notes in the margin of a printed report, possibly ordering 40,000 pots of face cream for his beauty products empire. Or possibly not.
Anyhow, as Kabrhel went fishing for a banana in his backpack, Thorel took a 17,000 stab at this pot after a flop of 4♠K♥Q♥. Jacobson asked for a count of Thorel’s stack. “Four,” came the reply, and Jacobson called. They saw a 9♦ turn, which both players checked, and then a 2♥ river. Jacobson’s bet of 30,000 won it.
The voice of the tournament director Teresa Nousiainen appeared on the microphone, asking if anyone in the room wanted to take a seat in the €300 Full Tilt Flipout tournament beginning in the tournament lobby. “Anyone want to bet their bankroll on this squirrel race?” Olivier Busquet quipped from a nearby table. There were no takers from among the Super High Rollers, either for the Flipout or the Rodent Stakes.
Markin opened to 15,000 from under the gun and Jacobson called in the big blind. The flop came 10♥J♠4♣ and Jacobson check-called a bet of 15,000. They both checked the 9♦ turn and then Jacobson picked up the pot with a 15,000 bet on the 8♠ river.
Sorel Mizzi now joined the table, taking the seat recently vacated by Mike Leah. It’s not going to get any quieter with him now also involved.
Full coverage of the EPT Prague Poker Festival is on the main EPT Prague page. Super High Roller coverage, including blow-by-blow updates in the panel at the top, is on the Super High Roller page. And the Eureka main event is into the money and playing on. That’s on the Eureka Prague page.