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UK News

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Jul 01, 2007

Vegas versus Manchester
Europeans seem to make it to big events stateside about as often as Americans make it to Europe - occasionally, and only when the event is something unusually large or prestigious. World Series of Poker Tournament Circuit events bring in a handful who were "going to be in Atlantic City anyway," but it was April's World Poker Tour Championship, with its dual enticements of a large buy-in ($25,000) and large field (639), that seemed irresistible to many. UK high rollers like Ram Vaswani, Peter Gould, and John Duthie (who cashed in the event last year) were joined by young pros attracted to the largest tournament outside the WSOP. Pete Haslam, Stuart Fox, and J.P. Kelly were spotted among the starters, the latter having just qualified in a satellite while enjoying the cash action in Vegas for the first time, in between pausing to show everyone his ID. It's typical of European players to leave it to the last minute to try to satellite into things; sit-and-gos for $2,500 a pop were full of Roland De Wolfe, Ram, Thomas Wahlroos, Kevin O'Connell, Marc Goodwin, and so on right up until registration closed.

But it is Praz Bansi who wins the last-minute prize; he played in April's Grosvenor UK Poker Tour event in Manchester, without success. He then sat glumly in the bar wishing he were in Vegas; eventually, his "Hit Squad" team members suggested he do the Manchester/Bellagio double. The gambler's response is, of course, "I'll flip a coin." So, he did. It came up with the stay-at-home result. The gambler's response: flip it again. Of course, if you ever flip more than once, you already know what you really want to do. A cab to London and a plane to Vegas later, he was in a supersatellite, in which he qualified. His 11th-hour trip paid off; after a good start (a turned set over set) put him over $100,000 early, he continued well through the next two days and ended up finishing in 50th place (one below Marc Goodwin), winning $61,880. Totally unfazed by any opposition, including tablemate Daniel Negreanu, Praz went on tilt only once, briefly, from the malfunction of his iPod, and he gave as good as he got in the chat department, even up against Abraham Mosseri and, of course, Phil Hellmuth.

Hendon Mobsters Ram Vaswani, Ross Boatman, and Barny Boatman made the money, too, and it's not often that with 100 players paid, the bottom prize is $46,410. Roland De Wolfe finished 26th, which was the highest UK result. He won only a 10th of what he picked up last year for his third-place finish, but he still must be pleased with what April has brought after coming second at the Irish Open earlier in the month. Of just two Dusk Till Dawn players Michael Greco and Kevin O'Connell, Kevin made the money, while back home, their teammate Dave Colclough was in the process of winning the Manchester leg of the GUKPT.

After a fairly rough tournament year, El Blondie finally picked up a top spot (and £88,300 - well over $100,000), having amassed a very large stack fairly early, and making the final table with more than a quarter of the chips in play. A quarter also belonged to Barry Neville (whom I always picture in his "I'm Barry from Sheffield. Who the f--- are you?" T-shirt from last year's World Series), and the two of them ended up heads up after seeing off final-table opposition, including Nick Slade, Richard Ashby, Chris Bruce, and Ryan Fronda. In a drawn-out battle, the seasoned pro took on Barry, whose colourful language and unpredictable play kept the audience entertained while they played an unexpectedly cautious game. The whole thing, from ninehanded to the finish, took around eight hours. I mention this as a basis of comparison with the final table back at Bellagio.

As for the WPT, there couldn't be a final with more money at stake and a worse structure right when the money gets serious. The Manchester final, with its six-figure prize pool and £1,000 buy-in, knocked out just over one player an hour, on average, and provided enough play for several tedious periods of actionless raising and passing. This, too, was filmed. The WPT Championship final, with its $2 million jump between second and first prizes, was all over in seven hours (including at least an hour in breaks), during which time the blinds were raised seven times - seven times! The structure up until that point was the best in the world: $50,000 starting stack, 90-minute clock; yet, the last few levels (blinds of $300,000-$600,000, $400,000-$800,000, $600,000-$1.2 million, $800,000-$1.6 million) were a half-hour or less in length. I had never before seen an audience actually boo as increases in blinds were announced. That probably won't make the final cut of the show, but it was heartening to see the railers reluctant to watch a crapshoot for the top prizes.

Carlos Mortensen, the winner of the event, and runner-up Kirk Morrison played as if the blinds weren't ridiculous; there were flops seen right up until the end, when A-4 was all in preflop against K-J, exactly the kind of on-their-backs matchup that the tournament's structure up until this point had avoided. This is not to detract from Mortensen's or any of the other four finalists' achievements: Paul Lee, Mike Wattel, Thien Phan, and Guy Laliberte. "The Matador" had come back from a short stack (to what can only be described as an engineered stack) several times, and played an extremely strong game right through all six days to add a WPT Championship victory to his 2001 World Series of Poker main-event win, making him the first to win both titles - an accomplishment surely unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon.

Jen Mason is part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.

Dave Smith Wins Leg 5 of the GUKPT
In the early hours of Monday, May 21, Dave Smith became the latest player to lift a GUKPT trophy when he defeated Neil Carr after a heads-up battle that lasted a little more than an hour. In the final hand, Dave called Neil's all-in reraise on a 10 5 4 flop. Neil, holding the 6 2, had already made his flush, but Dave's 10 9 holding improved when the A fell on the turn.

Dave, appearing in his second GUKPT final, was the chip leader throughout day one of the tournament and maintained his chip equity for much of day two. Having finished fifth in Cardiff's Leg 3, he was aiming to go one better, and in winning Leg 5, he has jumped straight to the top of the GUKPT leader board with 216 points.

Neil, who had been bought into the tournament by his brother Trevor as a birthday present, was playing in his first live poker tournament. He seemed to take it in stride without showing any nerves or pressure in front of the TV cameras. Neil, an International Master at chess, commented in his post-match interview that it was the best birthday present he could have hoped for - certainly better than the pair of socks he got last year.

Labrokes Poker Million winner Rajesh Modha finished in third place, and longtime chip leader Albert Sapiano was fourth after losing the majority of his chips to Smith with A-7 versus A-10 on an A-10-2 flop. Albert, who is a regular cash player at The Vic, has only recently started playing tournaments. The final featured another player who also did well in Cardiff, Welshman Roberto Romanello. This time, he did not manage to better his third-place finish in Leg 3, but he finished in a creditable fifth place after entertaining the crowd and aggravating his opponents with his trademark trash-talk.

Mazhar Nawab, the last remaining online qualifier, was sixth. He has been playing poker for only a little more than a year, but has shown that he has a great aptitude for the game, with a string of good finishes in tournaments over the last six months. This was the highest-profile event that he has made the final in to date. James "Flushmeister" Dempsey, the only local at the final table, finished in seventh place, while Barnsley's John Exley took the eighth spot. Hendon Mobster Barny Boatman completed the final-table lineup, but was disappointed after lasting only two hands.

The Tour now takes a two-month summer holiday. The next leg takes place in Newcastle in late July.