The off-season in Punta del Este feels a little bit lazy. The streets are empty of cars, there are no crowds on the beach, half of the shops are closed and the vibe is very mellow. There's no need to rush anywhere at this time of year.
Unless you're one of the sixteen players still in the Season 5 LAPT Punta del Este Main Event. If you are, you'd love to be rushing anywhere except to the rail or out the door. With two tables left, it's the perfect time to catch a rush and ride it to the final table and the championship.
Guido Ruffini caught quite the rush at the end of Level 19. By the time it was over, he climbed to 750,000 in chips. The hand that started it began with a pre-flop raise and call. On a connected [8c][4s][6c] flop, Ruffini, out of position to Osvaldo Resquin, laid the trap and feigned weakness with a check. When Resquin continued for about half the pot, Ruffini picked up the speed with a check-raise that Resquin called.
Close to 200,000 chips were in the pot before Ruffini bet 84,000 on the [jc] turn. Again Resquin called. On the river [10d], Ruffini rushed to get his last 230,000 into the pot. Resquin tanked for about two minutes before pitching his cards into the muck.
From there Ruffini picked up two more strong hands in rapid succession. First he split the blinds and antes with Resquin when both players were dealt ace-king and put 150,000 into the pot pre-flop, with the remainder going in on a king-high flop. Then Ruffini picked up kings, and an elimination, when Moussa Hasbani's ace-king couldn't improve, all in pre-flop.
Ruffini wasn't the only one rushing to build a stack in the late stages. Over on Angel Guillen's table - the table that saw a massive three-way all in right before dinner -- Francisco Baruffi hit a mini-rush that ended with the demolition of Day 1 chip leader Juan Garcia's craftily accumulated stack.
Alberto Cerutti started the carnage with a pre-flop raise to 27,000. Baruffi three-bet to 60,000 from the button before Garcia put the fourth bet in cold from the big blind, to 120,000. Cerutti rushed to get out of the way, but not Baruffi. He five-bet to 220,000, leaving himself 550,000 behind. Garcia six-bet shoved for 820,000 total, enough that Baruffi would have to call all in to continue.
In a hand that had been all fast action to that point, Baruffi slowed down. He tanked for three minutes, clearly pained by his decision, before he called all in for 773,000 total with pocket queens. Garcia showed pocket aces, but Baruffi's heater that had allowed him to build 773,000 to that point continued when he spiked a queen on the turn. Tablemate Vladimir Dobrovolskiy, whose own aces were victimized in that three-way pot before dinner, put his head down on the table in sympathy with Garcia as the river blanked out.
Good timing for Baruffi, bad timing for Garcia. Baruffi's rush allowed him to stake a decisive claim to the tournament chip lead with almost 1.6 million in chips. Garcia, on the other hand, wasn't able to replicate the Russian feat of grinding back from a few big blinds. He was eliminated a few hands later and rushed from the room, looking for all the world like he might punch something.
Apparently he hadn't heard that there's no need to rush anywhere this time of year.
You've seen the ad, I'm sure. I wrote about it during the Season 4 Grand Final at Carnaval in Sao Paulo. It begins with a voiceover that declares, "We are 10,000 people in Brazil, holding our breath" as Team PokerStars Pro Jose "Nacho" Barbero faces off against a Brazilian player in the streets of Brazil.
In Punta del Este, we are 10,000 media members, holding our breath to see if Brazil can defeat Nacho (and by proxy all of Argentina) in his bet against fellow Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari.
As I explained on Day 1, the terms of the bet are simple. If there are more Argentinians than Brazilians at the final table of this event, Akkari will pay Barbero $2,000. If things go the other way, Barbero owes Akkari $4,000. An equal number of Argentinians and Brazilians at the final table results in a push.
There were about 5 Argentinians for every 4 Brazilians that started the event back at noon on Thursdays. That ratio of Argentinians-to-Brazilians held for the survivors at the end of Day 1 and again at the end of Day 2.
At the beginning of Day 3, there were 28 Argentinians and 22 Brazilians among the 76 starters. Argentina claimed the top four stacks in the room, but Brazil countered with four of the next six biggest stacks. The two countries were evenly distributed among the second top ten chip counts as well, with Argentina place 12th, 16th and 20th and Brazil owning the 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th place stacks.
Since then, however, the Brazilians have begun to assert themselves. With three eight-handed tables left in the tournament, Brazil has taken over the lead from Argentina. Nine of the surviving 24 are Brazilian; only seven are Argentinian.
Of course, having surviving players isn't enough. Those players stand a better chance of making the final table and counting for purposes of the bet if they have lots of chips. Right now, the big stacks are evenly dispersed between the two countries. Guido Ruffini of Argentina leads with 530,000, followed by Brazil's Francisco Neto (500,000). Argentina's Eduardo Santi is sitting 3rd with 450,000. Diego Vilela and Antonio Guedes of Brazil are both close behind with about 400,000.
Brazil claims stacks 6 through 8; Argentina fights back with stacks 9 through 11. The remainder more or less alternate back and forth between the countries down to Argentina's Federico Borello (115,000).
We shouldn't forget that several other countries are repsented in the final 24 players. Although they don't figure into the Akkari-Barbero bet, they're all fighting for a spot at the final table and a chance to win the whole thing tomorrow. Those other players include the lone non-LATAM player left, Vladimir Dobrovolskiy of Russia. PokerStars host Lynn Gilmartin chatted with Dobrovolskiy for the Day 3 mid-day update:
But as we come down the home stretch to the final table, the eyes are on the Brazilians and their slim lead over the Argentinians. If Brazil out-points Argentina at the final table, I'm positive that Akkari will never let Barbero live it down.
It's getting a little drafty in here. We're starting to see more jackets and pullovers, with fewer content to remain in short sleeves. Unlike the last two days when there were nearly 20 tables full of poker players, plus dozens more milling in between them to follow the players' progress, we're now down to just four active tables and thus a lot more free space here in the Mantra poker room. And with less people, there's less heat.
The 28 who remain appear to be doing reasonably well as far as keeping themselves warm is concerned. They're all occupied, of course, each focused on the task at hand. Each trying to keep his composure as we near that final table and the big money awaiting those making it that far.
My blogging partner Dave Behr was just describing Team PokerStars Pro Angel Guillen's calm demeanor at the tables. Guillen's not the only one still battling here who appears exceedingly capable of keeping cool amid the mounting pressure.
For instance, Ivan Luca has stood out all afternoon as a player who like Guillen has something serene about him.
Just now we saw Luca pushing out a turn bet on a [9d][Ad][8c][9h] board and awaiting the response of his fellow Argentinian, Leandro Rubinsztain. As Rubinsztain pondered what to do, Luca sat quietly, headphones in place, glasses on, utterly motionless. Rubinsztain leaned forward, shooting Luca a look to try to glean something, anything. But Luca offered nothing beyond the chips he'd pushed in front, content to let his bet speak for him.
Eventually Rubinsztain folded, and Luca stoically added the chips he'd won to his stack. He sits with about 340,000 at present, no longer in the top spot as he was to start the day, but still near the head of the counts.
Juan Garcia of Uruguay has a little more animation to him than does Luca, but he, too seems especially focused after ending Day 1 as chip leader, returning today with a still healthy stack, then pushing back up the counts during the afternoon to move back up close to the top.
Just now we were watching Garcia when a big hand developed on the feature table, one involving Fabio Baduy of Venezuela. A shout of elation came from Baduy after winning a big pot, causing just a brief over-the-shoulder glance by Garcia before he returned his gaze to the table, concentrating anew on an ongoing hand involving two opponents.
Garcia has built up to about 320,000 so far today. But it's clear he's focused on adding more.
Meanwhile, Argentina's Eduardo Santi has continued his unflappable ways since that huge aces-versus-kings hand on the bubble to eliminate Bolivar Palacios earlier today.
Santi alternates between wearing a somewhat grim-reaperish-looking black hood, his eyes darting back and forth from underneath to watch the goings-on, and removing it to reveal a bright bald head looking like a sun shining down on the felt.
Just now we saw Santi claim a small blind-versus-blind hand versus the energetic Carlos Mironiuk sitting to his left. A hand with considerably less drama that that earlier blind-versus-blind one with Palacious, during which you may recall Mironiuk had shown a little bit of emotion himself.
Mironiuk engaged Santi afterwards in conversation, forcing Santi to remove his hood and dislodge an earbud momentarily to hear what his opponent was saying. Santi responded, the fellow countrymen shared a brief laugh, then it was back to business. Earbuds back in, hood back on. Focus. Composure. And above all, keeping cool.
A quiet nod. That's the only acknowledgment that Team PokerStars Pro Angel Guillen gave his special lady, PokerStars host Lynn Gilmartin, when she passed behind him a few minutes before the last break and rubbed his back. Gilmartin is a "head-turner", but in the cityscape of tournament poker players populating the room at LAPT Punta del Este, Guillen is a study in minimized energy.
His trademark pose is to sit quietly at the table, sunglasses covering his eyes, one hand covering his mouth, with one white ear bud in his ear and the other dangling into his lap. In those few instances when Guillen announces his action, he does so quietly. In a battle of the blinds towards the end of level 16 against Francisco Neto, both players quietly rapped the table all the way to the river, [kc][6c][8d][7c][7s]. On the river Neto tried to grab the pot with a small bet of 6,000; Guillen wordlessly tossed a matching 6,000 into the pot. Neto's pair of 6s, [jh][6h], fell to Guillen's trip 7s, [7h][4s]. Guillen collected the pot without a sound.
Going into the second break of the day, Guillen's stack of about 225,000 placed him just in front of the tournament average of 208,000. His eight-handed table has become difficult. Day 2 overnight leader Ivan Luca is to Guillen's left; Neto, who was fifth in chips to start the day, is to Guillen's right. Each one has about 280,000 in chips. Guillen is also playing against the 275,000-chip stack of Leandro Rubinsztain and the 300,000 chips claimed by Pablo Melogno, who was 7th in chips to start Day 3.
It's a tricky table for the Team Pro to navigate. Yes, there are plenty of chips there for the taking, but it also means that almost any pot Guillen plays could be for his tournament life, despite having a stack of more than 40 big blinds.
Guillen's the last Team PokerStars Pro in the field. He's carrying the hopes of all who wear the Red Spade after the elimination of Jose "Nacho" Barbero just after the money bubble burst. Guillen's been in Barbero's position before, trying to squeeze onto one side of the bubble or the other, most famously at the 2010 WSOP Main Event. 747 players were being paid in that event. Guillen shoved pocket aces with 749 players left and was called by a player with pocket jacks. Guillen stood up for that hand, then turned to someone at a different table after the flop came down and crooked his finger into the shape of a "J", signifying that the dreaded jack had come.
Today, however, Guillen is already two-and-a-half tables into the money, with another three-and-a-half tables of eliminations separating him from his first offline final table in about a year. If Guillen does make that final table, don't expect him to get too excited about it. If Gilmartin can't get enervate Guillen's calm demeanor, likely nothing can. Judge for yourself in the Day 3 intro video:
A little over a half-hour remained in Level 12 when the field shrunk down to 57 and we'd arrived at the cash bubble. As hand-for-hand play commenced, the procedure was explained to all.
"Players leaving their seats will receive a penalty," said Melina Villegas over the public address. "I'm not sure what it is yet, but it will be a penalty" she added, eliciting a few grins amid the tension of the bubble having arrived.
Hands were then dealt at the final eight tables, and soon came a wild one at Table 6 when Claudio Garrone and Rubens Zogbi committed to a preflop all-in only to discover both held pocket aces. Five cards later the pair chopped the pot, and play continued.
It was nearby at Table 5, however, where most of the drama would be concentrated over the remaining half-hour.
First came back-to-back hands involving Antonio Poncio of Argentina and Pablo Melogno of Uruguay. In the first, Poncio had been leading with post-flop bets, including one on the river when the board showed [Js][10d][Ah][10c][Kc]. When Melogno didn't call that last one immediately, Poncio appeared to smile, although his expression quickly changed when Melogno did in fact push out chips to call.
With a wearied look, Poncio showed [7d][7c], and Melongno showed [Qs][Jh] for a straight to win the pot.
One hand later the pair were at it again, with Poncio in the big blind looking a little steamy when calling a preflop open by Melongo. The flop came [6h][Qh][8d] and Poncio checked. Melongo bet 5,300 -- about half the pot -- then Poncio check-raised to 15,300. Melongo asked his opponent what he had left, learning he had nearly 60,000. Further queries were met with Poncio smiling once again, then with a laugh pulling the brim of his cap down over his face. Melongo called.
The turn brought the [Kh] and a fairly quick all-in bet from Poncio. Melongo thought a while, then finally folded, showing the [8s] as he did. Poncio lifted up his cap with a nod, showing his [Ac][Ad] as he dragged the pot.
The mood swiftly changed, however, just a couple of hands later. It had folded around to Eduardo Santi in the small blind, and the Argentinian pushed out a bet of 11,500. Bolivar Palacios of Panama was in the big blind. And he wasn't folding.
Perhaps this wasn't such an innocuous hand after all.
As Palacios contemplated what to do, the attentions of most observers were interrupted by the animated shouts of Carlos Mironiuk sitting across from the players involved.
Apparently Mironiuk had been admonished about keeping his seat, but a couple of others on that side had wandered completely away from the table, prompting some pleas of unfairness from Mironiuk. All was handled swiftly, however, by the calm tones of Tournament Director Mike Ward, who punctuated his response to Mironiuk with a hug that left the Argentinian -- and most everyone else at the table and standing around it -- chuckling heartily.
Everyone, that is, except Santi and Palacios. While eyes had been diverted, Palacios had reraised to 26,100, then Santi made it 60,000 to go. Palacios thought for several seconds, then suddenly said he was all in, and Santi instantly called.
The chuckles quickly turned to expressions of surprise when Santi showed [Ad][Ac] and Palacios [Kc][Kd]. More aces on the bubble! And kings, too, this time.
The pair had begun the hand with a couple of similarly big stacks, and Santi had the Panamanian covered. Palacios looked predictably gutted, while Santi sat with his hood on, head in hands, waiting and hoping his rockets would hold.
The flop brought a queen, the face card bringing murmurs thanks to its proximity to Palacios' needed king. But the next highest community card to come would be an eight, meaning Palacios was out in 57th, and Santi was our new chip leader with 56 left, his stack suddenly up over 380,000.
The break followed immediately after, the timing welcomed by most. Twenty minutes to breathe. After that, the tension will return as the remaining 56 work out how they're going to be dividing that $836,620 prize pool.
Peruse the Day 3 starter list and you'll notice that, although this was an international field that included 12 non-LATAM players, the non-LATAM players under-performed in the tournament. There was only one left in the field to start Day 3. His name is Vladimir Dobrovolskiy, and when I tapped him on the shoulder in between hands, he knew exactly why I wanted to talk to him.
"I'm the only one left," he said with a smile. "I'm a fish out of water."
It's a long way from Dobrovolskiy's home in Moscow to Punta del Este. The flight connections are made through Western Europe and Sao Paulo, with the whole trip typically taking about 25 to 30 hours of flight time. Add travel time to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow and 90 minutes to travel from Montevideo to Punta and it makes for a very, very long trip. You might think there other places, closer to home, that a 22-year-old would prefer to go.
"I won a satellite," Dobrovolskiy explained, when asked why he came to Punta. "My friend Andrei Tsitovich came here last year and had a good tournament."
Tsitovich was the chip leader for long stretches of Day 3 last year but just missed the final table, as it turns out. He finished in 10th place after making a 35-big blind four-bet shove pre-flop with [ad][6d]. Eventual champion Alex Komaromi's had three-bet with pocket kings and snap-called. No doubt tales of his success made their way back to Dobrovolskiy in Moscow.
Despite being the only non-LATAM player left in the field, Dobrovolskiy doesn't "stick out like a sore thumb", as the saying goes. He speaks excellent English and has been quite conversant with his table, even welcoming a new player to the table that he had played with yesterday. "Hey, you're still playing?" he asked the newcomer. "Ok!" He gave a thumbs-up.
The "fish out of water" started the day with 62,500 in chips and quickly demonstrated that he's quite comfortable at the poker table. In the first 90 minutes he close to doubled his count without being all in one time. He played ace-queen and pocket kings to perfection (and out of position) while I watched him, taking down medium-sized pots each time. He's also been active from late position, keeping the pressure on the other players at his table.
Beneath Dobrovolskiy's chair are the usual accessories you see at poker tournaments: flip flops, a small bag, and a bottle of the local Patricia brand beer. He produced a netbook from the bag at one point in order to check the blind schedule on the LAPT website and to write a quick post on a Russian-language poker forum, where friends and associates are sweating his progress.
I don't know if Tsitovich is one of the people following Dobrovolskiy from Moscow, but I have to imagine that the desire to better his friend's result is one of the things keeping Dobrovolskiy focused today. Taking down this tournament, and winning the $186,000 top prize that goes with it, would give him bragging rights over a friend and would take the sting out of the long trip home to Moscow.
We sometimes like to refer to the television screens displaying the tournament clock, current blinds/antes, payouts, and players remaining as the "big board." When play began today on Day 3 at LAPT Punta del Este, the number on the lower right showed just 76 of the 375 who began our tourney journey remained with chips.
Looking over on the other side of the big board, we saw how pieces of the prize pool had been reserved for the final 56, meaning we were just 20 spots away from the money to start the day. Glances up from the tables toward those screens predictably became more frequent as the first hour progressed.
You might say as the cash bubble approaches, the "big board" becomes even bigger... figuratively speaking, anyway.
The big stacks seem even larger, too, as we move toward the endgame, especially from the perspective of those with less. Unsurprisingly, there have been more than a few skirmishes here in the early going between those with many and those with few, a.k.a. the have-lots and the have-nots.
In some cases the rich got richer, such as early on when Julian Martin Abal, one of the 11 Uruguayans left in field to start the day, got tangled in a hand with Season 4 LAPT Colombia champion Julian Menendez.
Abal started on the short side today with just over 50,000, the average being close to twice that. Meanwhile Menendez sported a top five stack of 270,300 at the outset. Not long after play began, Abal shoved what he had left -- amounting to about 20 big blinds' worth -- with [4h][4d], but Menendez was there waiting with [8d][8c].
Five cards later we were down a man, and the big board reflected the news with a quiet ticking down of that number on the bottom right.
A short while after that it was another Uruguayan with a short stack -- Nicolas Salvagno -- tangling with a more prosperous (poker-wise) opponent in Ariel Celestino. As had been the case with Abal, Salvagno began the day with about 50,000, while Celestino started with 166,000 even, and had already pushed up close to the 200,000-chip mark when the following hand arose.
Celestino started with a button raise, called by Salvagno in the big blind, then both checked the [3h][Ad][10s] flop. The turn brought the [Kd] and another check from Salvagno, to which Celestino responded with a delayed c-bet, called quickly by Salvagno.
The river brought the [Ac], pairing the board, and Salvagno sprang to action, firing a bet worth half the pot with little hesitation. Celestino shrugged and called, Salvagno showed [Ah][2d] for trip aces, and Celestino mucked.
In relative terms, Celestino lost little. The Brazilian remains in what appears comfortable shape to cash, and perhaps to make a run toward the bigger riches awaiting those who make the final eight.
Meanwhile, Salvagno's gain was great, both in terms of percentage increase to his stack as well as in gaining an extra bit of comfort when he looks up and across the tables and spots the big board. Quietly looming.
With a number down on the right getting smaller. And bigger.
When I looked out the windows of my beachfront hotel room this morning in Punta del Este, Uruguay, I couldn't see the ocean, despite the fact that it was a few hundred feet away. A heavy fog had rolled in off the water, shrouding the waves, the grizzled old men who fish from the beach and the dunes in front of them in a pale haze. As the sun rose higher in the sky and things warmed up a bit, the fog burned off to reveal the aforementioned coastal accoutrements, just as invitingly empty as they've been the past few mornings.
It seemed an apt representation of what's going to happen in the tournament room today on Day 3 of the PokerStars.net LAPT Punta del Este at Mantra Main Event. Only the outlines of what's to come are visible at this early hour. We'll need to burn through the day to bring the fine details into sharper relief.
First up on the day's agenda: playing down to the money bubble and determining which 56 of the remaining 76 players will be paid. The field should approach the money bubble in the second level of the day. It's not an insignificant bubble, as the bottom rung of the pay ladder is worth $3,700. That's a lot better than the $0 that places 57 and lower will receive upon elimination.
Once the bubble bursts, the in-the-money players will continue jockeying across eight additional levels of play to determine two important things: the nine players that will make up the final table, and the outcome of the bet for country pride between Team PokerStars Pros Andre Akkari and Jose "Nacho" Barbero.
Barbero's got the lead to start the day in that bet, as the top three players to start Day 3 are all Argentinian: Ivan Luca (329,900), Cristian Lopez (289,600), and Season 4 LAPT Colombia winner Julian Menendez (270,300). The tournament is still a long, long way from determining the final table players, but claiming the three largest stack in the room with 76 players remaining is a boon for Barbero's side of the bet. Barbero himself will start Day 3 with an above-average stack of 132,900. Akkari busted on Day 1.
The real prize that the players are chasing, however, is the $186,820 that's up top for the winner. The bit of fog obscuring that won't be shredded by sun, wind and chip consolidation until tomorrow night.
For today, however, we'll play ten full levels or until the final table is set, whichever comes first. There's no stopping the eliminations now. They're as certain as the waves crashing on the beach, whether we can see them from this vantage or not.
We're back! Unlike Days 1 and 2, when we stopped for the night after six levels, this time we're coming back for more, the plan being to play through Level 22 or stop at eight players, whichever comes first.
Our hour away from the poker room was spent mostly enjoying the buffet here at the Mantra Resort, Spa and Casino, a meal which included to our delight a super-sized serving of parilla, an overflowing plate full of assorted meats that is in fact a staple of Argentine cuisine. Speaking of, with 22 players remaining a half-dozen Argentinians were left in the field when the dinner break came, second at the time to Brazil who still had eight representatives with seats at the tables.
Keeping us from utterly slipping into food comas by hour's end was the excitement of recounting to one another the huge triple-up hand involving Vladimir Dobrovolskiy, Leandro Rubinsztain, and Angel Guillen that came just before the dinner bell had sounded.
A Guillen open from early position got callers in Dobrovolskiy (cutoff) and Rubinsztain (small blind). The flop came [Qd][10s][8c] and a smorgasbord of bets ensued, leaving Rubinsztain and Guillen all in and Dobrovokskiy with only a little left.
Indeed, there were so many chips in the middle of the table, it looked a lot like our plates would at dinner, the cuts of beef, sausages, and chicken claiming nearly every square inch available.
Dobrovolskiy managed to find an empty space on the felt to table his [Ad][Ac]. Guillen showed [Ks][Ks]. And Rubinsztain turned over the hand that currently beat them both -- [Js][9c]!
Rubinsztain had to think he was about to be served a nice, fortuitous helping of chips just before dinner. But the turn brought the [Kd], a card that complicated things enough to upset even the strongest constitution. Guillen had made trips and was alive with a draw to a full house or four of a kind. And Dobrovolskiy, too, had improved his slim chances just a touch and was hoping for a jack to fill a gutshot to Broadway.
Then came the river... the [8d]! Just before the rest of us filled up, Guillen had filled up... and how!
A whopping 550,000-chip pot was pushed Guillen's way, catapulting him into second place behind leader Juan Garcia. Dobrovolskiy was left with table scraps for chips with less than 60,000. And Rubinsztain was out in 25th place, having the rest of the night to ponder over his unfortunate fate.
Certainly not a dish any of us would envy having to digest.
Looks like since our return a few more have joined Rubinsztain on the rail -- Federico Borello (Argentina) in 22nd, Takeo Nakati (Brazil) in 21st, Ariel Celestino (Brazil) in 20th, Eduardo Santi (Argentina) in 19th, Martin Lategui (Uruguay) in 18th, and Moussa Hasbani (Brazil) in 17th.
That leaves us with just two tables full of players, all plenty hungry to keep their seats.