Day three was a story of heroics, luck and what seemed to be a thousand Italian poker players in designer glasses romping into the EPT history books by sheer weight alone. Chief among the rompers was Salvatore Bonavena, who became our overnight chip leader.
While the Italian experience on the EPT approaches that time when numbers convert into results, the story of the day was almost that of the PokerStars ShootingStar Sebastian Ruthenberg. Ruthenberg staggered and astounded those watching today, as he remained on course for an historic second EPT title. But with nine left, and a short stack in front of him, he moved all in with K-Q and was topped by Massimo Di Cicco holding A-K. Ruthenberg fell one short of his second final table of the season.
That all happened over eight hours of fraught play, in the shadow of the typically spectacular EPT feature table. Those lights may have shined down on the face of Ruthenberg early on, but plenty of eyes were also on John Riley, the amiable PokerStars player who had turned up to play with just 10,900 to his name on day two, an amount that in the past has persuaded players to skip it and catch an early flight. Not Riley. Instead he tied rockets to his feet and lit the fuse, doubling up again and again to emerge with 124,000 at the start of day three. His rocket ride was cut short by a 31st place finish, but the miracle man had a story to take back to New Mexico, as well as €11,000.
Another name standing out from the player list this morning was Ludovic Lacay's. He was armed with more than half a million and was second in chips. The talented and stylish Frenchman’s most recent demonstration was in Warsaw where he reached the final table, exiting in explosive fashion - his cracked aces against Nico Behling a reminder of how close he came. Today he came to put that memory to bed, but was also left licking his wounds in 22nd place, the result primarily of a huge pot against Daniel Drescher. This time Lacay had kings, Drescher jacks, but a jack flopped and Lacay again felt the pinch.
You didn’t need to see them to know Italian players were doing well. Like last year when Gino Alacqua scorched his way into second place, the ravelling railbirds from down south were in full voice, every hand played out to the soundtrack of various Italian exclamations, usually resulting in an embrace, the slapping of hands - and the occasional good-natured warning from tournament officials over the extent of such exuberance.
That wave of enthusiasm may be responsible for three of the Italian contingent making tomorrow’s final. Di Cicco saw off Ruthenberg, as reported earlier, and earning him a stack worth 429,000. Francesco Cirianni, who survived some high drama in every level today, will be back with 807,000. Top of the Italian tree will be Salvatore Bonavena, an unassuming housing association officer from Vibo Valencia, chip leader tonight with 1,402,000.
Chip leader Salvatore Bonavena
Juan Maceiras couldn't quite make it all the way to the final shakedown. The PokerStars player may sit at the table with his trousers undone, like he’d just finished Christmas dinner and needed to loosen the strain, but he plays with a crowd pleasing flamboyance, never knowing when he is beaten and playing with the recklessness of someone who does not care. Judging by his look of disappointment on defeat the opposite is obviously true.
Maceiras’s loss was Nasr El Nasr’s gain, particularly in a pot that helped propel El Nasr far enough along to reach his first EPT final. Other highlights included the stone-cold performance Raul Mestre and Andrew Chen who avoided defeat hours ago with two quick double ups, each time being saved on the river by the king he needed.
Fredrik Nygard, an aggressive Finn from day one, ended on a devilish 666,000 and there is Alexiou Konstantinos from Greece, hard to miss in a bright red shirt, who steered his stack with persistent aggression to wind up second in chips, narrowly behind the leader on 1,382,000.
The Ruthenberg headline was so nearly a reality but tomorrow the story will be of Italy, one of the newest countries to embrace Texas hold’em, sending more players to EPTs than most others, and boasting that trio in the final tomorrow.
Here’s how the stacks will line up:
Salvatore Bonavena – 1,402,000
Alexiou Konstantinos - 1,382,000
Francesco Cirianni – 807,000
Fredrik Nygard – 666,000
Massimo Di Cicco – 429,000
Nasr El Nasr – 376,000
Raul Mestre – 313,000
Andrew Chen – 309,000
See you tomorrow.