While the warm spring sun was shining outside in opulent Monte Carlo, inside the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Casino the past, present and possible future stars of poker did their best to try and eclipse it.
Today was really all about separating the pretenders from the contenders as play began with 124 people in an attempt to get into the money and down to the final 40. The speed of the first few levels of play closely resembled a Formula 1 race as they got down to the money bubble much quicker than anyone expected. But much like the Monaco Grand Prix, which runs on the local streets in about a month and is well known as the slowest race on the F1 tour, the players jammed the brakes when they hit that curve in the road.
In fact, they played an amazingly long two hours of hand-for-hand play without the single elimination needed to get into the money until Surindar Sunar finally sent the players on dinner break, becoming the bubble boy when his jacks got cracked by two overs.
Once they came back and everyone still alive was guaranteed at least a €17,000 payday, the eliminations came faster than a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat before we were treated to the biggest hand of the tournament so far.
American Gordon Vayo made a standard three times the big blind raise before Antonio Esfandiari bumped it up to $40,000 behind him. Vayo must have thought a huge overbet would make the magician disappear or somehow call with a weaker hand than his kings, but he obviously doesn't have the same kind of tricks up his sleeves that Esfandiari possesses. He shoved, the magic man made the call with aces and when it was all said and done he raked in a $680,000 pot and a healthy chip lead to go with it.
No one would catch Esfandiari as he built a $1,198,000 chip stack before the day was through. Although play began on the third day with talk of a serious WPT, WSOP, EPT triple crown possibility for Team PokerStars pro Joe Hachem, it is now Antonio who has the best chance to add a European Poker Tour win to his 2004 WSOP Pot-Limit Hold 'em bracelet and 2004 WPT L.A Poker Classic title. Should he or Hachem pull it off, they would join Gavin Griffin as the only ones with all three.
Despite losing a fair-sized pot with an ineffective river bluff and completely losing it on Lithuanian pro Woody Deck during an argument over whether he should show his cards, a steamed-up Hachem, who just about decked Deck, still retains at least an outside shot at the coveted title and the €2.02 million first-place prize, surviving to Day 4 with $214,500 in chips.
Online superstar Sorel "1mperium" Mizzi came into the day with a decent stack, but the Betfair-sponsored pro never really got on track before getting it in bad in a spot he probably didn't have to blow his whole $200k stack on and failing to suck out.
Meanwhile, online cash game shark Johnny Lodden has been among the leaders for the past two days and the hyper-aggressive Scandinavian will be a force to be reckoned with on Day 4, coming in with $623,000 in chips, currently good for fourth. You can read all about Johnny Boy in PL.com's exclusive interview with the man right here.
The U.K.'s Robin Keston managed to make enough to claim second spot when he flopped a set of sevens against A-K to bring his stack barely over the $900k mark, and EPT4 Baden runner-up Denes Kalo is third with $642,000.
Team PokerStars pro Luca Pagano grabbed his record ninth EPT cash making the money today, but it seems the Italian isn't satisfied with just cashing this time around and will be looking to book a seat at the final table as he heads into Day 4 with $279,500 in chips.
Strangely, Luca's father Claudio sits just two spots above him on the leaderboard with $291,000. They look to be the only father-and-son tandem we've ever seen make the final eight on the EPT.
Play will resume Wednesday at 1 p.m. Monte Carlo time with the final 39 playing down to the final table of eight. Check out our Live Tournaments Page for all the gory details we gathered today and we suggest you return tomorrow to find out how it all goes down. We don't travel to exotic locations all over the globe, partying with the coolest people on the planet while bringing you the best tournament coverage in the business, just because we like it. We do it especially for you.