Ask a professional poker player what it takes to win a major poker tournament. If he answers honestly, he'll tell you it's a mix of skill, timing and luck. Any of the nine players who will return on Sunday for the final table of the Season 5 LAPT Punta del Este at Mantra Main Event can attest that it was skill, timing and luck that got them this far. The end-of-Day-3 chip leader, Francisco Baruffi of Brazil, would be out right now if not for spiking a lucky queen all in against the Day 1 overnight chip leader Juan Garcia of Uruguay.
When Day 3 started, we knew where we were going - through the money bubble and down to the final table -- but not necessarily how we would get there. It was a bit like driving through a fog, carefully following the contours of the road as you discover them. Those contours involved some numbers getting bigger on Day 3, and some getting smaller.
The bubble came early in the day and brought with it tension, some hot heads, and a multitude of pocket aces. In fact, the bubble burst when Panama's Bolivar Palacios ran pocket kings into Eduardo Santi's pocket aces for about 50 big blinds - a brutal way to stone-bubble a tournament.
Yesterday, the starter list turned up the unusual husband-wife-son triumvirate (the Komaromi family) that played this event. Today, a scan of the starter list revealed that only one non-LATAM player was left in the field. Vladimir Dobrovolskiy made what he called a 20,000-kilometer trip from Russia after qualifying for the event on PokerStars. His friend Andrei Tsitovich finished 10th last year. Dobrovolskiy was looking to improve on that result.
Speaking of solitary figures in the field, Team PokerStars Pro Angel Guillen became the last Team Pro with chips after fellow Team Pro Jose Barbero bowed out just after the bubble burst. Guillen stayed sedate throughout the day, never agitating or getting excited over anything that happened at the table. And when I say never, I mean never - not even a bad-beat triple-up on the last hand before dinner could excite the unflappable Guillen.
Guillen's not the only cool cat in the room. The chip leader at the start of Day 3, Ivan Luca, has drawn comparisons this week to Doc Sands, both for his deliberate style and the serenity that surrounds him. He was matched in that regard by start-of-Day-2 chip leader Juan Garcia and Eduardo Santi.
In the late stages of the day, players started to catch some rushes. Guido Ruffini was an especial beneficiary of them, both with three tables to go and then again with two. So was Francisco Baruffi, who spiked a lucky queen against Garcia's pocket aces to cross the million-chip threshold and seize the chip lead.
As the tables collapsed from four to three to two, Brazil took its first lead in the bet between Team Pros Andre Akkari and Jose Barbero over whose home country could place more players at the final table. It looked like Brazil was poised to pull out a $4,000 win for Akkari, but a few late eliminations, including the penultimate elimination of the night, claimed the day (and $2,000) for Barbero. When Gasperino Loiacono was eliminated in 10th place just after midnight local time, four Argentinians were among the final nine versus only two Brazilians.
But Baruffi, one of the two Brazilians, will be the top dog when those nine players return at 1pm (GMT-3) on Sunday to play out the rest of the tournament. He'll be joined by the four Argentinians, one other Brazilian, a Mexican, a Uruguayan and yes a Russian. Dobrovolskiy mounted a courageous comeback to one-up his friend Tsitovich's 10th-place finish last year. All nine will return to 46:22 remaining in Level 22 (10k-20k blinds, 3k ante) and these stacks:
Seat 1: Francisco Baruffi (Brazil) - 1,346,000
Seat 2: Osvaldo Resquin (Argentina) - 802,000
Seat 3: Guido Ruffini (Argentina) - 1,259,000
Seat 4: Vladimir Dobrovolskiy (Russia) - 511,000
Seat 5: Marcelo Fonseca (Brazil) - 460,000
Seat 6: Carlos Mironiuk (Argentina) - 751,000
Seat 7: Pablo Melogno (Uruguay) - 602,000
Seat 8: Angel Guillen (Mexico) - 421,000
Seat 9: Ivan Luca (Argentina) - 1,254,000
The average stack is 833,000, about 42 big blinds. None of the final nine can claim to be an especially big stack, but neither are there desperate short stacks. Skill, timing and luck should all factor into the determination of tomorrow's champion.