April 30, 2009 11:19 PM
By Howard Swains
Today the EPT debuted its season six structure -- rather like a sports team running out for the final game of the year wearing their all-new strip. After one-hour levels through days 1a and 1b, we went to 75 minutes and a whole new selection of blind levels. With a 30,000 stack at the tournament start, plus all this additional play, the best deep-stacked tournament players in the world had finally got what they wanted. And they duly stepped up to show their gratitude.
The day two chip leaderboard features 138 survivors and has the names Marc Naalden, Annette Obrestad, Johannes Strassmann and Joe Ebanks in its top bundle, jockeying for the ultimate chip lead. The Dutchman, Naalden, edged it at the very end with 777,000. But they will all sleep soundly in Monaco tonight.
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Naalden made a final table in Copenhagen on season two of the EPT, finishing third for the Danish equivalent of $116,281. And since then, the former tournament chess player has put together a string of major poker results, including four World Series cashes (and one final table), victory in a side event at the Amsterdam Master Classics, and just last month another first place in a $1,500 buy-in tournament in Austria.
As for Obrestad, we may not have heard much from her on the EPT this season, but form is temporary and class permanent, and the Norwegian sensation is among the classiest of all acts. How she got there was simply owing to that spectacular tournament nous. Whenever a reporter passed her table, she was in a pot. Moments later she had won it, usually without showing her hand. This pattern changed towards the end when a pot did go to showdown. Obrestad had a mere royal flush - her first in live play - and she bagged up about 670,000.
For the final levels of the day, Obrestad shared a table with Strassmann, the PokerStars ShootingStar, who is now shining the brightest among a continuing constellation of German talent. He won a monster pot late on - turning a straight with his mighty 7-8 - and kept his stack at the half-million mark until the bagging and tagging process began.
Ebanks, or ender555 as he is known in cyberspace, has been working in recent months on translating his devastating online tournament game to the live arena. He made a final table on the LAPT in Costa Rica last year, cashed in a side event at the PCA in January, and took down the €1,000 supplementary tournament in San Remo only last week. Ebanks bagged up around 500,000 too - and is on form, online or off.
This man, Vadim Shlez, from New York, also hasn't finished having his say.
Shlez finished off the serial EPT casher, Joao Barbosa, at around about the mid-point of today's action - and went on an amazing run since then. He also has more than 500,000 and is hotly in the mix.
For Team PokerStars Pro, it was a day of consolidation. Lee Nelson began the day as chip leader and although he no longer wears that crown, he still has plenty of chips - 305,000 to be precise, which translates as a very sold day's work. Luca Pagano is unlikely to hand over his title as the most solid, however, and he seems on course for another record-breaking cash on the EPT, finishing today with 400,000 and change.
They are joined in tomorrow's redraw by Joe Hachem, Andre Akkari, Isabelle Mercier and Alex Kravchenko - their presence more than compensating for the loss of many of the others searching for glory. They'll line up alongside others such as Michael Tureniec, Phil Laak and Sami Kelopuro in a glittering field.
And it's some glory: tournament officials announced today that the total prize pool was €9,350,000, with the champion set to take €2,300,000 of that.
The money bubble will burst sometime tomorrow. We reconvene at noon, and need to lose 60 players before we enter the slowdown preceding the elimination of our last non-casher. That, as ever, will be described in all its anxious majesty here, accompanied - as ever - by photography by Neil Stoddart.
That, then, is that. We leave you with Paul Testud on a bicycle.