Gimènez and Grafton Shine Brightest in the Costa Del Sol

Into the Andalusian abyss

I just returned from a splendid trip to the Costa Del Sol where I fired many bullets, some somewhat successfully, many more into the Andalusian abyss at the PokerStars Malaga event. Billed as a synergy of two tours, much like it was in the good ol’ days, the tournament series brought UKIPT and Estrellas together for a celebration of poker at the Gran Madrid Casino Torrequebrada.

it was Gimènez who moved into the ascendancy

The €1,100 ($1,181) Main Event came down to a heads-up confrontation between Artus Gimènez and Tomasz Wrobel. They immediately did a bit of business that awarded €156,200 ($167,663), the lion’s share of the remaining prize pool, to chip leader Wrobel. However, when the pair re-took their seats, it was Gimènez who moved into the ascendancy, ultimately taking down the tournament for €145,000 ($155,641).

The other big story of the festival was the two podium finishes, bronze and gold, for PokerStars ambassador Sam Grafton in the €2,200 ($2,361) and €3,300 ($3,542) “High Rollers.” The convivial Englishman is more used to genuine High Rollers without the inverted commas and his class shone through as he banked €37,500 ($40,252) and €62,450 ($67,033) for his 3rd and 1st place finishes, respectively.

Gimenez outlasts 1,145 players to win the Main

Gimènez’s win came in the largest Estrellas Main outside of Barcelona as 1,146 entrants generated a prizepool of €1,100,160 ($1,180,895). It is the Spaniard’s largest ever result and after four days of battling, he was clearly elated, saying that all week he had “played his best possible poker,” a point also accentuated by his 5th-place finish in the €2,200 High Roller earlier in the trip.

That €2,200 High Roller was ultimately won by Fabio Peluso for €70,630 ($75,813). Francisco Gomez took down the €330 ($354) Mystery Bounty Cup, Frenchman Theo Millioni won the €550 ($590) Deepstack, and Polish 4/5/6 card specialist Pawel Keller emerged victorious in the €330 Pot-Limit Omaha. 

The €3,300 Super High Roller attracted 77 players, boiling down to a clash of two elite players as Grafton had to fend off a challenge from the talented Italian Candido Cappielo. This pair of scores took Grafton over the $15.5m mark in live career winnings.

Nitpicker

There was much to admire about what felt like a genuine poker vacation stop, but it’s in my nature to nitpick and there was a little bit of room for improvement, so I’m going to offer my two cents in case PokerStars looks to return to this venue next year.

The poker room was at and over capacity at times and while this is a “victim of your own success” problem, it is still a problem, as side events had to be capped, tournament start time delays are inconvenient, and ten-handed poker is cramped.

rendered the excellent PokerStars app unusable for the week

Systems for registering were not as efficient as they normally are at PokerStars events, although I’m aware that the issue was with the host casino’s internal systems. This led to a few long queues and unfortunately rendered the excellent PokerStars app unusable for the week.

The dealers were, on the whole, very good, but I did feel like the floor was quite slow to balance tables and the payouts on side events were not advertised until far too close to money (usually with 20% of the field remaining). I didn’t like that we didn’t go hand for hand on the bubble of the PLO side event and I also didn’t like that the floor staff chose not to implement the rule where a couple of minutes come off the clock per hand during bubbles.

Too generous?

I want to be emphatic here that the overall experience was very good. It was a great schedule and, as a qualifier, I was looked after extremely well by PokerStars staff and a particular shout out to class act Ben Spragg who charmed/arm-twisted/bribed the barman to serve me a gin and tonic (which he also bought) after I arrived at the bar after busting my tournament five minutes after the players’ party was over.

PokerStars values the player experience above all else

Much like Unibet Poker, for whom I am a brand ambassador, PokerStars values the player experience above all else. It’s an important philosophy which separates them and the World Poker Tour from the majority of operators who treat the players like cattle. I think, however, that in one respect, PokerStars was too generous.

The Main Event structure was actually too good with 50-minute levels on Day 1, 60 minutes on Day 2, and 75-minute levels thereafter. The idea (which I liked) of generally having later starting times at a summer holiday destination was somewhat spoiled by play not ending until 3-4am on many of the days.

My recommendation here would be to do a noon flight with twelve 40-minute levels, ending at ~8:45pm and a 7pm flight with twelve 30-minute levels, ending at ~1:45am. That way players are free to choose their own adventure so to speak, prioritizing either an evening off to eat dinner as the sun sets, an afternoon catching some rays by the pool or, if they want, a relentless grind.

Leaderboard chasing

On a personal note, I felt compelled to play this stop, due to having had some decent results at the Irish Poker Open and knowing that there is a UKIPT Leaderboard for which these results counted. Leaderboard chasing is a fun extra incentive which I also did with Dara O’Kearney and two-time champion Daragh Davey for two seasons of UKIPT a decade or so ago.

In the absence of my Firm brethren, I spent some quality time off the tables with UK regular Dean Clay, high stakes beast Conor Beresford, #12 on the Isle of Man all-time money list David Curtis, and Top Paddy himself, GGPoker SuperMillions runner-up Michael Dwyer.

On the tables, I cashed twice, coming in 4th in the PLO event and 18th in the €550 6-max. That will throw a handful of points on the pile with stops in London and Nottingham still to go, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the result that would have put me top. That honor belongs to Malaga champion Artus Gimènez.

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