The slow motion departure of 117 players yesterday read like some 19th century epic novel with dozens of minor characters filling up the pages until the denouement, and the point where you ask yourself if you really followed it all clearly from the start.
The departure of 16 players today was the picture pop-up version of that same story – poker players trying to get as many chips as they could so as to return tomorrow – with nice easy words like “all-in,” “call” and “sick”, and pictures to show each step – a nice straight forward page turner to take us into the final day.
It proved just that for the eight remaining player of the EPT Barcelona Main Event.
The TV table in action
Those eight have outlasted a record field of 811 players this week. They may not know how, and some of the local players, buoyed by the madness and vigour of their supporters on the rail, may not know until reality sinks in next week. For the others their mission is almost complete as they chase a first prize of €850,000 at the Gran Casino Barcelona tomorrow.
With his neck in front is chip leader Tomeu Gomila, the leader coming into the day, who played small ball poker today, in stark contrast to the flash-bang of yesterday, to ease into the final.
Chip leader Tomeu Gomila
Behind him is Saar Wilf, from Israel. Wilf was the catalyst of a few big pots this week, enough to put meat on the bones of his stack, which he used to great effect against a varied opposition line up. But as he explained during a break today, good hands take you so far, but you need the little extras.
“I didn’t get too many tricky spots and a few people made big mistakes against me,” said Wilf. “Other than that I think I’m reading well, pretty much know where I’m at.”
Gomila and Wilf lead by some way, with Raul Mestre a step behind in the chase bunch, which also contains Team PokerStars Pro Eugene Katchalov.
The Ukrainian New Yorker may be the short stack, with only 690,000 chips, some six million behind the leader, but with Katchalov you sense he doesn’t need as much as everyone else, able to menace the opposition with very little.
“If I were to have a day like this starting with my chip stack with 24 left, I think I’d take this stack at the final table rather than starting today all over again,” said Katchalov. “I certainly feel comfortable with my short stack. I don’t feel at a particular disadvantage. If I catch some cards or run decent tomorrow I know I can run it up.”
This will be Katchalov’s sixth final table of this year alone, and a win will not only land him poker’s Triple Crown, but likely take him back to the top of the Global Poker Index, something Katchalov takes seriously.
“Records do mean something. In any sport they’re always nice to have. It doesn’t get you anything specific but it’s a nice thing to have. I’d like that very much but it’s a long road for me for that.”
As for a sixth final table of the year, how does he do it?
“I wish I knew,” said Katcahlov, laughing. “Maybe running better, I don’t know.”
It was the oft told story of so near but so far for Katchalov’s fellow Team PokerStars Pro Matthias de Meulder, who looked on course to make his first EPT final table this week until he was rivered by chip leader Gomila, an unpredictable player at the best of times, who finally sent the Belgian out in tenth place – a great performance nonetheless.
Matthias de Meulder
“I cannot really be disappointed because I feel like I played a solid game,” said De Meulder. I stayed patient, made a couple of small bluffs, nothing too crazy. Unfortunately it didn’t run out the way I planned.
“I had a great run yesterday; I was hoping I could continue with it today. Being so close to a final table like this is awesome, and it’s something I wanted to be part of but the cards, actions and play styles dictated differently.”
De Meulder’s exit left the main event nine-handed, with the departure of Jose Miguel Esteban soon after bringing the day to a close – wrapped up, start to finish, in just six and a half hours.
Save the last word for Isabel Baltazar, from France, who becomes the first woman to reach an EPT final since Liv Boeree in San Remo two years ago.
Here’s how the final table will line up:
Seat 1. Saar Wilf – 4,555,000
Seat 2. Martin Schleich – 2,260,000
Seat 3. Juan Manuel Perez – 1,090,000
Seat 4. Eugene Katchalov, Team PokerStars Pro – 690,000
Seat 5. Isabel Baltazar – 2,270,000
Seat 6. Dragan Kostic – 2,155,000
Seat 7. Raul Mestre – 4,260,000
Seat 8. Tomeu Gomila – 6,985,000
Coverage of the final table begins at the usual time of 12pm on Thursday. You can find profiles of all the finalists on the PokerStars Blog and details of the prize winners so far on the prize winners page. Recap on what has been a whirlwind day by clicking through the links below.
That’s all from Barcelona for today. Until tomorrow then it’s good night.
All photography © Neil Stoddart.