Two o'clock Greenwich Mean Time on Easter Sunday saw almost six tables' worth of rounders straggle bleary-eyed from church (yeah, right) or bar back to the felt at the Citywest Conference and Golf resort just outside the Irish capital. Their bankrolls were guaranteed at least a €6,500 boost but their collective sights were set firmly on the tournament's €801,400 first prize.
The day's agenda? Reduce the field by 46 players, such that on Monday only six would remain in the hunt for the title. Standing in the way of the tournament director's goals for the day was the grim fact that nobody, not nobody at the final six tables wanted out early, lest they miss out on a six-figure prize and, worse still, be forced into attending afternoon mass with the missus.
Leading the pack into the third day of play was Mark Spellman, whose $337,500 placed him more than $32,000 above second-place Lars Hougaard. Also in the hunt for glory were Sorel Mizzi, Julian Thew, Neil Channing, Padraig Parkinson, Thomas Fougeron and Surinder Sunar, among others.
The conclusion to Day 2 had seen the bubble bursting with about an hour left in the day and then 20 players fairly dashing to the exits after getting rid of the last of their short stacks. Day 3 began no differently, with the dealers' cry of "All-in and a call" ringing out through the tournament area as some players realized that yes, maybe church with the missus wouldn't be a bad idea after all.
By the end of the first level, 18 souls had been eliminated from contention. It would be the second level of the day, however, where things would really get interesting, as 2007 Irish Poker Open third-place finisher Sorel Mizzi single-handedly ended his hopes for a repeat performance with a massive blowup that saw him literally* spontaneously self-combust at the table.
Mizzi would self-destruct for real a few hands later, flaming out in around 34th place and earning a paltry €13,000 for his time. Also finishing in the same pay bracket was Julian Thew, who lost a race with A-K against Carsten Joh's pocket tens and thus was eliminated.
The next pay bracket would be the final resting place of one Padraig Parkinson, the hometown hero and crowd favorite whose every move was cheered by the pro-Irish gallery. Parkinson struggled throughout the day, putting forth a resilient effort in the face of some unlucky cards, but would eventually succumb after his jacks ran into Willie Haughey's pocket queens in a pre-flop all-in confrontation. Parkinson would take home €18,000 and likely some liquid in his system in the form of free drinks from the bar next door.
The field kept dwindling and the levels kept moving along, with the event's inertia hampered not so much by slow play but by the seemingly endless pauses to recoordinate the TV feature table. Level increases turned into breaks and breaks turned into siestas as producers, cameramen and Good Samaritans funneled players from the epilepsy-inducing lights of the stage back out to the tournament floor and back again.
By dinnertime only 21 players remained, and after dinner a large contingent of them headed back to get a second look at that meringue. Among the eliminations following the meal were Frederic Levy, John Kabbaj and Surinder Sunar, who busted in 17th place after getting all-in with pocket sevens against Donal Norton's A-6 and saw the board come K-Q-10-J-8, giving Norton the broadway straight and sending Sunar to the cashier's table to collect his €24,000 prize.
Peter Linton would spend most of the day at the top of the chip leaderboard, but with 13 players remaining the young Englishman would lose a substantial pot to Tim Blake with A-K against K-Q on a Q-8-8-K-4 board that would put him on the downward spiral to destruction. Linton would outlast a few more opponents before going out in 11th place for €32,500 when he shoved with Q-J and ran into pocket queens.
Next out would be Day 2 chip leader Mark Spellman, whose elimination at the hands of Neil Channing would not only thrust Channing into a dominant position at the final table but also earn the PokerListings.com Painful Elimination of the Month award.
Spellman got all-in with 6♥ 6♦ against Channing's 5♠ 5♥ and saw the flop come A♦ K♦ Q♦, leaving him needing to avoid only one out to stay alive in the tournament. The turn card was the 2♥ but the river the dagger 5♣, giving Channing the miracle set and sending Spellman packing in 10th.
With Spellman's elimination the field was reduced to one table and Neil Channing was indisputably captain. The Englishman held one-third of all chips in play and raised nearly every hand he was dealt, at one point raising eight or nine hands in a row before Donal Norton finally shoved over the top of him.
Norton's efforts notwithstanding, there was little anyone could do in the face of Channing's domination, as Eric Larcheveque found out when he contributed more to the Channing Fund after losing a $1 million pot with pocket eights against Channing's Q-J. Larcheveque was out in eighth for €75,000, and after short stack Carsten Joh busted in seventh for €100,000 the final table was set and the day was done with 12 more hours of poker in the bag.
The final six contenders will return to the felt on Monday at 2 p.m. (GMT) to play out the tournament and PokerListings.com will be beside them all the way. Here are the end-of-day chip counts and seating positions:
|Seat 1||Neil Channing||$2,748,000|
|Seat 2||Tim Blake||$921,000|
|Seat 3||Danilo Paulsen||$716,000|
|Seat 4||Thomas Dunwoodie||$544,000|
|Seat 5||Edwin Tournier||$562,000|
|Seat 6||Donal Norton||$1,164,000|
* Note: Not literally; he actually doubled up William Martin with K-J against A-Q on a Q-J-7 flop.