TEAM ZYNGA LEAVE THEIR MARK ON IFP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

For many people the most incredible story to emerge from the IFP World Championships was not the performance of Nations Cup winners Germany, or that of Raul Mestre, who would win The Table to become the first official world poker champion. It was instead the story of Team Zynga, seven amateur players thrown into the deep end of international tournament poker and against some of the best players in the world.

Joe Barnard of the UK Poker Federation was with them throughout their incredible London adventure and chronicles their experiences here…

DAY FIVE – THE POKER GODS SHINING DOWN ON TEAM ZYNGA

All practice and warm-ups now complete, the team soaked up the atmosphere as top professional players from around the world began arriving at the Park Plaza hotel in central London for the first day of the IFP Nations’ Cup.

As a pre-event surprise for the team we laid on a traditional English afternoon tea in St. James Park, before the teams were then suited up in Team Zynga polo shirts and jackets, ready for action. Then it was over to County Hall.

Along with the 11 other sides, Team Zynga were invited in to the debating chamber to hear tournament director Thomas Kremser run through the event’s procedures, before the time to play finally arrived.

Each player was then escorted to their table in the correct capsule of the EDF Energy London Eye. This is what the trip was all about for Team Zynga – the opportunity to be a part of history.

Zynga are the first “digital nation” to be represented in an international sporting event, and team members Roger Ellis, Maggie Hailey, Brian Turnbull, Geoff Kinnune, Roei Shalev, Ricky Greer plus captain Jennefer Gallenberger, were willing pioneers of this innovative step by the IFP.

Enjoying the views across London, and the formidable opposition at the tables, Team Zynga can be proud of what they have achieved this week. After initially thinking that they had not done enough to progress into the second day of the event, a late announcement came through that in fact, all teams would be returning for Day Two and the conclusion of the Nations’ Cup in County Hall.

The poker gods continue to shine down on Team Zynga!

DAY SIX – TEAM ZYNGA HAVE THEIR EYES ON THE PRIZE

In the morning the 12 teams were back in action, split into two 36-hand heats. Zynga entered the first heat and, in the words of one onlooker, “totally smashed it!” With the results in Team Zynga had defied the odds, finishing second to send the all-stars of the United States, Ireland and Demark home early.

It was all down to some fantastic individual results: Zynga won the seat two contest and came second in seats four, five and six. Against professional players playing exactly the same cards… it was a truly remarkable achievement.

To add to the pressure, the six-team final was now contested over 72 hands and was streamed live around the world, allowing the now global fan base to follow the action from the virtual rail.

In a fiercely competitive final it was Team Germany who emerged victorious, ahead of Brazil in second place and France in third. In fourth place, ahead of Holland and Spain, was Team Zynga.

What Team Zynga had achieved was incredible. They’ve gone 15 rounds with the heavyweights and could hold their heads high when taking their seats at “The Table” the following day. The world’s first digital nation was a force to be reckoned with!

DAY SEVEN – THE LEGEND OF RICKY GREER

Seven players with just a smattering of live poker experience between them faced 128 poker professionals in the first ever IFP World Championship of Poker – “The Table”.

Deep end this may have been but a team strategy meeting was arranged, with professional players Gus Hansen (pictured), Mel Judah and Barny Boatman there to offer advice and encouragement. Then it was down to business.

In the beautiful setting of County Hall’s Rotunda, the IFP “The Table” anthem played out and President Anthony Holden proudly asked the dealers to shuffle-up and deal.

With a fast structure in place the field was reduced at a quick pace and Team Zynga lost its first two members (Brian Turnbull and Roger Ellis) within the first few levels. Zynga though were far from done.

In the middle stages Roei Shalev (right) was playing like a hero, making an agonising but correct read with pocket jacks. Roei also made a great laydown with ace-king.

Across the room, Geoff Kinnune and Ricky Greer were drawn in seats next to each other and were keeping afloat against the likes of Mike Sexton and Jennifer Leigh.

Maggie Hailey was sparring with Victoria Coren and took down a nice pot against her when she made a Broadway straight. Jennefer Gallenberger was in good company too – gaining the respect of her table which included recent World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Martin Staszko.

Soon though the volatile structure – in place to reduce 135 to a final nine in just a day – began to take its toll. Roei and Maggie were the next to fall, and Jennefer joined them just a few hands short of the dinner break. But with 50 players remaining Geoff and Ricky were still in the mix and standing tall.

Television crews and international media were flooding the stage and Team Zynga had their fair share of TV spots, proving to be one of the stories of the week. Could it really be possible that one of its members could make The Table?

Sadly, no.

Geoff was eliminated with about 40 players left and all but Ricky (left), an amateur player from Longview, Texas, were now railing the conclusion of day one. Ricky was refusing to budge, keeping his chances alive with a double-up against countryman Ali Eslami.

By now, with two tables remaining, players were beginning to see themselves reaching The Table. But for Greer it would not be a fairy take ending.
Greer watched as the bulk of his chips went to Igor Trafane, who out-kicked him. Reduced to a handful of chips Greer was able to shove with pocket queens only for his opponent’s nines to make a set. Recording a truly amazing result, Greer was out.

DAY EIGHT – TEAM ZYNGA LEAVE WITH THEIR HEADS HELD HIGH

Team Zynga took their seats in the spectator area of County Hall’s rotunda for the epic conclusion to a truly spectacular tournament.

The Table, dominating the room and rigged with cameras, took centre stage before the nine remaining players took their seats to applause, as Thomas Kremser introduced them. The atmosphere was incredible, and Team Zynga simply appreciated being a part of this historic occasion.

The chips were flying and players fell, with great play, bad beats and everything you could hope for in a final table.

Raul Mestre had dominated the table and sat with a huge chip lead. But when Trafane and Victoria Coren got it all-in with each other there was always a chance one of them might be able to tip the tables. But both players showed Ace-Queen, Coren’s in spades.

No one expected what happened next, three spades on the flop leaving Trafane as good as out of the competition.

Using this as a springboard, Coren’s fearless and uber-aggressive heads-up play helped her take a narrow lead. But losing a race with Ace-Jack against Mestre’s pocket-fives left her crippled, and a few hands later Raul’s Ace-Five caught a five on the board, enough to take the title of first official world champion of poker.

Time for one last Team Zynga farewell dinner to sign off an incredible week. Not only had the team achieved the unexpected in poker terms, the players had also become great friends, with plans already in place for a reunion next year.

It’s over and out for now, but you haven’t heard the last of Team Zynga who leave London with their heads held high…