An island paradise, a whole lot of cheap booze, a big buy-in tournament and a slew of cash games. Combine this with a contingent of young Euro-rounders and a few of their friends and you have the Caribbean Poker Classic.
Sponsored by CryptoLogic Inc. and fed by online qualifiers from its many skins, the CPC is an annual favorite for players and media alike. After all it's not every event that lets eliminated players sweat out their sorrows while building a tan and sipping a pina colada.
For the players who are fortunate enough to survive the day, much the same fate awaits them once the chips have been bagged, minus the sun of course. Here on St. Kitts the nightlife is almost as vibrant as the daytime, with a long row of beach bars just a short walk away.
One hundred and fifty lucky individuals made the trip and as previously mentioned the vast majority came all the way across the pond from Europe. Brits, Skandies and innumerable other nationalities are represented here and, as one might expect, things have begun to get a bit out of hand.
At the afternoon's onset the atmosphere in the Nevis Ballroom here at the St. Kitts Marriot and Royal Beach Resort was subdued. The sound of chips being shuffled and subsequently tossed in the pot was the only thing heard, punctuated occasionally by the shout of "Seat open" by one of the dealers. The eliminations were scarce in the first few levels as players eased into the $15,000 starting stacks and 50-minute levels they were afforded by the tournament staff.
As the levels progressed, though, and more and more players were ejected from the tournament, finding their way to the adjacent cash tables and the conveniently placed bar, things began to change. The tone quickly went from library to New York Stock Exchange and the sound of the chips was abruptly drowned out by the screams of the players at the low-stakes games who were playing much bigger than their limits would suggest.
Inside the tournament area the players were still attempting to maintain a modicum of restraint. Of the 150-person starting field we saw a marked void usually filled by the professionals. A scant few made the journey with Juha Helppi, Pete Giordano, Peter Jepsen and Nicolas Levi among the most recognizable. Also in attendance was ex-footballer Tony Cascarino who has become a fixture on the EPT in the last few seasons.
Filling said void were the online qualifiers toward whom this event is primarily geared - players whose skills far outweigh their adolescent appearance and whose earnings would be the envy of most people twice their age. While familiar faces were scarce, talent was not. As the stacks got bigger and the blinds and antes continued to rise, putting more and more dead money in the middle each hand, the uber-aggressive style that Northern Europeans are known for began to characterize the play.
The first player to get his hands on a significant number of chips was Finland's Juha Helppi. A regular at the CPC, Helppi took an early lead until running into a bit of bad luck in a big hand against Jon Parsons. It was a battle of the blinds with the two players seeing a flop of 7♠ 6♠ 4♥. Helppi checked and Parsons bet. Helppi check-raised and Parsons moved all-in.
It was substantially more back to the Finn but Helppi had his opponent covered by a wide margin. After a lot of thought Juha made a great call and tabled A♦ 7♣. While Parsons' 8♠ T♣ could win the hand by hitting the inside straight draw, pairing the overcard, or runner-runnerring a flush, no one could have predicted that he would do all three by the time all the cards were out. The 5♠ hit the turn, nailing his straight, and the T♠ hit the river, pairing his ten and completing his flush. Helppi could only shake his head as the massive pot was pushed to the player on his left.
Juha never fully recovered from that blow and would hit the rail a few levels later. Parsons succumbed to the same fate, unable to put Helppi's chips to good use.
It's been said many times that no poker tournament has ever been won on the first day but as the field is pared down and the chips begin to find their way in greater numbers to those players sitting atop the leaderboard, the faint outlines of an event's landscape begin to emerge. And while upsets are the norm in this game, the advantage has to be given to those players who are able to amass more chips than their opponents in the early stages.
Going forward in this event we are starting to see the mountains and the valleys. Paul Collins is currently king of the hill, with Gustav Lundholm and Samuel Lehtonen not far below. At the other end of the spectrum is Chris Back, barely able to see the sun with just $12,600. We'll have to wait for tomorrow to see how things shake out though as we continue down that narrow road to the final table.
We'd also like to point out that PL.com is the only live-updating crew with the dedication and, shall we say, cojones, to make the trip down to cover this outstanding event. While it may not be the WPT or the EPT, we feel confident that many of the players whom we've seen today will be making an impression on the poker world, once they turn 21 of course.