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UK Poker News: Vegas vs. Manchester

European Poker Players at the WPT Championship

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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. The World Series Circuit events bring in a handful who were "going to be in Atlantic City anyway," but it was April's WPT Final with its dual enticements of large buy-in ($25,000) and large field (639) that seemed irresistible to many. The UK's 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 JP 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'n'gos for $2,500 a pop were full of Roland de Wolfe, Ram, Thomas Wahlroos, Kevin O'Connell, Marc Goodwin, etc., right up until registration closed (on Day 1B).

But it is Praz Bansi who wins the Last Minute prize - he played in April's GUKPT 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 straight in a supersatellite, in which he qualified. His 11th-hour trip paid off. After a good start (a turned set-over-set) put him on 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 that of tablemate Daniel Negreanu, Praz was only tilted once, briefly, by the malfunction of his iPod and gave as good as he got chat-wise, 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. Only a tenth 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 year tournament-wise, El Blondie finally picked up a top spot (and £88,300 - well over $100,000), having amassed a very large stack fairly early, making the final table with over 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 nine-handed 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 with a worse structure right when that 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 Final 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 the blinds had been 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 $300,000-$600,000,. $400,000-$800,000, $600,000-$1.2 million, $800,000-$1.6 million) were a half hour in length or less. 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 second place 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 match-up 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 WSOP main event one, making him the first to hold both titles, an accomplishment surely unlikely to be duplicated any time soon.


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