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In an outstanding kickoff to the Season Nine schedule for the European Poker Tour, Belarus’ Mikalai Pobal outlasted noted cash game specialist Ilari Sahamies to take down the championship of the EPT Barcelona yesterday afternoon.

Heading to the EPT eight handed final table, it was Sahamies who was at the head of the field, but challenges lurked around every corner. Samuel Rodriguez, who seemed to have been around the upper echelons of the leaderboard throughout the tournament, was about 1.4 million chips behind him in second with Anaras Alekberovas, Pobal and Antonin Duda closely packed in the third through fifth place slots. The most notable name to the railbirds arguably was that of John Juanda, who would face a tough challenge on the second shortest stack with 1.89 million.

Rodriguez was active early as he took two hands (one in which his full house beat Alekberovas’ inferior boat) to catapult his way up to 7.3 million in chips. On the eleventh hand of play, Rodriguez would run into Juanda in a blind battle and the chips would start flying. Rodriguez raised from the small blind only to see Juanda move his remaining stack to the center. After some contemplation, Rodriguez made the call and the duo exposed their cards.

Pre-flop, Juanda’s pocket fives held an edge against Rodriguez’ suited A-5 and the board would provide a great deal of drama. The flop came 8-4-8, keeping Juanda in the lead, and a 7♣ put three clubs on the board to give him an excellent chance to double up. Looking for one of two Aces (the A♣ would give Juanda a flush) or another seven to counterfeit Juanda’s holdings, the river shockingly came with a second seven, giving the hand (and the chip lead) to Rodriguez and eliminating the five time World Series of Poker bracelet holder from the tournament in eighth place.

The pace of play didn’t slow following Juanda’s elimination. Shortly after his departure, Duda and Alekberovas locked up in a hand where neither one of the healthily stacked players would back down. After a raising battle pre-flop, Duda committed his final chips with Big Slick, while Alekberovas was happy to come along with his pocket Kings. The Q-K-A flop nailed both players, but it hit Alekberovas harder in giving him a set over Duda’s two pair. A seven on the turn and a three on the river ended the day for Duda in seventh place.

On the final hand before the first break of the final table, Joni Jouhkimainen would put a bad beat on Rodriguez to push him down the ladder. After raising the pot to 225K, Rodriguez would see Jouhkimainen push out a three bet to 405K. Rodriguez made the call and, on a K 6♠ 8♠ flop, Rodriguez coyly checked his option. Jouhkimainen made a continuation bet and Rodriguez came out of the shadows with a check raise.

Jouhkimainen didn’t believe Rodriguez, moving all in, and Rodriguez quickly called, showing his pocket eights for a flopped set. Jouhkimainen wasn’t dead, however, as his measly J♠ 7♠ was drawing live to a flush. A seven on the turn did nothing for Jouhkimainen, but the 2♠ brought the flush home to crush Rodriguez’ set, pushing Jouhkimainen into second place and sending Rodriguez plummeting to the bottom of the leaderboard.

Soon after the break concluded, Sinel Anton and Rodriguez (once again at the hands of Jouhkimainen) would be dismissed from the proceedings in sixth and fifth places, respectively, with Jouhkimainen seizing the chip lead over Sahamies. Down to four players, the final table then hit a slog where the remaining contenders for the EPT Barcelona championship slugged it out without an elimination for almost four hours.

Jouhkimainen broke that string when his pocket Kings held up over Alekberovas’ pocket nines to eliminate Alekberovas in fourth and push Jouhkimainen to over 24 million in chips. His remaining competitors, Sahamies and Pobal, had only 8.3 million chips between each other, so many in the audience at the Casino de Barcelona believed that it was Jouhkimainen’s event to lose. After doubling up both of his opponents, Jouhkimainen was still in the lead, but the gap had been closed.

Although he had that big lead, Jouhkimainen couldn’t seem to find the cards when he needed to. He continued to give chips to his opponents and, once Sahamies entered into a battle with Jouhkimainen where Sahamies eventually got his chips all in and Jouhkimainen couldn’t call, he lost the lead to his fellow countryman.

It was at this point that Pobal mounted a charge that would take him to the title. Although he did have to sit through a one round penalty for not betting his nut flush on the river against Jouhkimainen, he recovered from that to cut some chips from Sahamies to seize the lead. When Sahamies used an A-9 to beat Jouhkimainen’s pocket nines and eliminate him from the tournament, heads up play was set with Pobal holding a seven million chip lead over the Finnish pro.

It would only take fifteen minutes for the champion to be determined. From the button, Sahamies made a bet pre-flop but saw Pobal make a re-raise. Sahamies decided to apply some pressure by moving all in, but it was an ill-timed move; Pobal immediately made the call, showing his pocket Aces, while Sahamies sheepishly showed only a 9-5. The A-Q-4 flop virtually finished the tournament, as Pobal’s set of Aces dominated and Sahamies had nothing but a runner-runner flush draw to save him. Once an innocent Jack came on the turn, it was officially over and Mikalai Pobal was the EPT Barcelona champion.

1. Mikalai Pobal, €1,007,550
2. Ilari Sahamies, €629,700
3. Joni Jouhkimainen, €404,050
4. Anaras Alekberovas, €301,750
5. Samuel Rodriguez, €230,900
6. Sinel Anton, €178,400
7. Antonin Duda, €125,950
8. John Juanda, €76,100

After completing their first tour stop of their Season Nine schedule, the EPT now goes on a lengthy hiatus before their next tournament. The EPT will journey to San Remo, Italy, beginning on October 3 for their next tournament and it is expected to be the usual large field that populates Italian tournaments. It will have to go some distance to top the stop in Barcelona, however, as the EPT is off and running for its 2012-13 schedule.

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