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Spanish News

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: May 01, 2007

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While everyone is talking about the poker boom that is taking place (or has just taken place) in Britain, Scandinavia, Holland, and Germany, the truth is that Spain also seems to have jumped on the poker wagon. I recently visited the Nordic Summit tournament, an event that - despite the fact that it was hosted by an online poker site and all players were Scandinavian - was hosted in Spain, in the Gran Casino Barcelona. Also, while in Goa, India, to participate in the Asian Poker Classic, I had a chat with Gerard Serra, the former tournament director at the Gran Casino Barcelona. He is now in charge of the Spanish Poker Championships, which has just gone into its second season, and in a highly successful way. That's more than enough reason to take a closer look at both of these events that seem to do such a good job of putting poker on the map in Spain.

Il Campeonato España de Poker 2007
Il Campeonato España de Poker 2007 is the official name of what I will simply call the Spanish Championships. In 2006, this series of tournaments started off in a rather successful fashion. The eventual winner was Francisco Lopez, and I got the chance to meet him in Goa - because, just like Gerard, he was there for the Asian Poker Classic. Francisco is known in Spain as "Pakito" or "Little Pako" - despite the fact that he is not particularly little - and in Goa, he proudly wore the gold bracelet that he received as the first-ever Spanish champion. And it needs to be said that it looked like a beautiful piece of jewelry.

In January 2007, the second season of the Spanish Championships started in Barcelona with Pakito as the defending champion. Every month, different towns will serve as hosts (Villajoyosa, Valladolid, Badajoz, Tarragona, Mallorca, Peralada, San Sebastián, Málaga, and finally Castellon), each time with a €600+€60 buy-in. The grand final will then be played in Madrid, Dec. 14-16, almost certainly with a €2,000+€200 buy-in. Just as in the European Poker Tour, anyone can buy in directly to this final without first having to participate in any of these stops. However, the Spanish champion is not the one who wins this grand final; it's the one who ends up with the most points over all stops - the best all-around player, if you will.

As said, Gerard Serra (30) is the tournament director of this tournament series. Having started his poker career as tournament coordinator at the Gran Casino Barcelona, he is now Thomas Kremser's right hand at TK Poker Events, the leading company in Europe when it comes to organizing and hosting big poker events. Gerard said, "We are delighted that the Spanish Championships have become such a big success. With www.eurosuperpoker.com, we have found an excellent and dedicated sponsor, and this series of events that we are hosting truly helps poker grow throughout our country. Pakito was an excellent winner last year, and we are pleased that this year things have gotten even bigger than in 2006. Plain and simple, poker in Spain is booming right now. This is because of some of the excellent players that we have: Angel Blanco Puras (winner of World Heads-Up 2004), Isaac Mayolas de Vega (winner of the same event in 2006), Margarita Gonzalez, and Raul Paez Corral, to name just a few. And, of course, there's Carlos Mortensen, the former world champion, who still participates in big Spanish events, time permitting, of course."

Nordic Summit
But it's not just exclusively Spanish affairs when it comes to events on Spanish territory. On Feb. 24, the Gran Casino Barcelona was the host of an all-Scandinavian affair, the Nordic Summit. Fast-growing site Everest Poker has made it a bit of a habit to host special/remarkable types of events in Barcelona. (For instance, just a few months before this Nordic Summit, it also hosted the Everest Poker European Championships at the same venue.) This time it was the Nordic Summit, an event in which Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish players (10 each, for 30 players total) would battle for the semiofficial title of "Best Scandinavian."

The 30 finalists had qualified online through satellites (for as little as $3+30 cents) or by accumulating sufficient "summit points." All of this led to a 30-player final with a $20,000 total prize pool, in an event with a rather unusual structure. First, there were 10 matches in which one Dane, one Swede, and one Norwegian would play a shootout - with the winner going to the final. This led to a final table of 10 players where, as it turned out, five Danes, four Norwegians, and only one Swede would battle things out for the trophy. When looking at things from a "Nations Cup" perspective, Denmark could claim victory, but the goal was winning the event. At the final table, there was no team play anymore; it was every person playing for himself.

While the Spanish people were sitting in front of the large TV screen in the casino to watch the Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid football match, and the many eliminated Scandinavians were heading back and forth to the bar, the action started heating up at the 10-player final. For instance, on one hand, two players got eliminated when queens held up against the other players' pocket jacks and A-K. In the end, three players remained who were all named "Nielsen" or "Nilsen," which didn't make things easy on yours truly, the reporter. After all, it's not as if most of the players were well-known, or had large reputations. Everest is known for the large emphasis that it puts on recreational players, as evidenced by the fact that in this tournament, some of the players clearly lacked a bit of live poker experience.

The final was still very exciting to watch, though, and at all times, a large crowd of spectators was surrounding the table. After Denmark's Björn Nielsen had been eliminated in third place (netting him $2,500), heads-up play started with a 30,000-20,000 chip lead for Norway's Tore Nilsen against Denmark's Anders Nielsen. With blinds of 1,000-2,000 and a 250 ante, the money was not exactly deep - so it was clear that neither one of the players could afford to lose many pots. But this was just what happened to Anders. In an unraised pot, he bet out 4,500 on a flop of 6club 5heart 3heart, but was unable to call his opponent's raise. Having become short-stacked, he then raised all in to 13,000 with pocket deuces, and after long deliberation, Tore decided to call with the Jdiamond 10diamond. In the end, Tore Nilsen got rewarded for his good call by making a straight. The 42-year-old from Arendal, Norway, had qualified for this final by winning a $22+$2 qualifier, beating 74 players to get his ticket. And in Barcelona, it was clear that Lady Luck favored him, as he won two races, with J-10 versus deuces and with pocket fives against 9-6, and even a crucial pot as a 4-to-1 dog with pocket fives against pocket sixes. But he also played well - and as a result was crowned the 2007 Nordic Summit champion, winning $6,000.

All of this happened while the Spanish regulars had left the TV screen in favor of the cash games, pleased that the club that they hate so much - Real Madrid - had lost another two points, leaving them even further behind Barcelona and Valencia at the top of the Primera Division. So, while poker is definitely booming in Spain, when faced with a choice between poker and football, right now poker is still usually second best. But with all of these interesting tournaments that are hosted in Spain now, this could very well change soon.

Results were as follows:
1. Tore Nilsen (Norway) $6,000
2. Anders Nielsen (Denmark) $4,000
3. Björn Nielsen (Denmark) $2,500 spade

Rolf Slotboom is a longtime professional, specializing in limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, and, more recently, no-limit hold'em ring games. He is the co-author of Hold'em on the Come, the author of the upcoming book Pot-Limit Omaha My Way, the commentator for the Eurosport EPT broadcasts, and the Card Player Europe bureau chief. He is the semiofficial 2005 Dutch Champion, and maintains his own site at www.rolfslotboom.com.