The PokerStars Women Live EPT Grand Final, in Madrid on Wednesday, was an international affair with countries from across Europe represented, as well as the United States. But when it was all over, it was a local, from Madrid, who won it, doing so with the support of lots of friends standing by on the rail. They were there to cheer her through every hand she won at the final table, her boyfriend too, offering vocal support and encouragement. When it was over she was embraced and cheered like a local soccer hero.
Sara Mariani is a slight but attractive young woman with dark hair. Her smiles and easy laughter telegraph the fact that she is friendly and approachable, but her calculated approach at the final table was as innocuous as it was deadly, managing to come back from being the table short stack in the early stages.
Mariani maintained a low profile throughout the tournament, but managed to hold onto her seat by winning the occasional all-in. She rarely got callers, so managed well, gathering blinds to hang on. As players were eliminated, including PokerStars Team Pro Vicky Coren (third), and Friend of PokerStars player Charlotte Van Brabander (fifth), Mariani chipped-up gradually but was still way behind when she came to heads-up against second place finisher India Storrar.
Storrar had built a huge chip stack, winning several key hands, and being the big favorite early on at the final table. India qualified for the tournament by winning a PokerStars Women Live satellite, but she is an experienced player from the United Kingdom, with some very solid results under her belt. Her chip stack and confidence at the table lead most observers to predict her victory.
However, a few hands near the end made dents in her stack, and then two key all-ins sealed the deal. The first was Storrar's ace-ten against Mariani's jacks to double Mariani. Then the final hand--ace-three for Mariani against Storrar's pocket fours. It was all over when Sara hit the ace on the flop. Storrar made a quick exit while Mariani was left to have her photo taken for the blog and be interviewed by PokerStars Women about her big win.
After cashing out her prize of €11,600 for first place, Sara sat down with me to answer a few questions. She was elated and all smiles as she responded to my questions with the help of her boyfriend as translator.
Q. First of all, congratulations! Do you have big plans for the cash you just won in the tournament?
A. Yes, thank you so much! I plan to use part of it to help finance a visit to the United States where I want to study eventually. I would like to pursue a Master's degree and work on my English.
PokerStars EPT Women Live winner Sara Mariani
Q. What is the biggest challenge for you when you play against women?
A. The biggest challenge is women's intuition. I think women are good at determining what cards you have and figuring out who has the best hand. Even as a woman myself, it can be hard to play against women for that reason.
Q. What is your experience level in tournaments?
A. I have won four live tournaments at casinos here in Spain, but this is my biggest win. The largest before this was €5,000.
Q. How often do you play on PokerStars?
A. I play every day. I play satellites to win a seat to big events.
Q. What kind of advice can you give to women playing in tournaments?
A. Lose the fear. Many women are afraid to sit down at a live tournament and instead hide behind their computers. They need experience playing live and online, experience in all different areas of poker. That will give them more confidence. I feel very comfortable playing live and I think that helps me.
Six places were paid in the tournament, with three of them qualifiers from PokerStars Women Live satellites. Here are the payouts for the tournament and the prize winners:
1st - Sara Mariani, Spain, €11,600
2nd - India Storrar, PokerStars qualifier, United Kingdom, €7,000
3rd - Vicky Coren, Team PokerStars Pro, United Kingdom, €4,100
4th - Evangelia Triantafyllaki, PokerStars qualifier, Greece, €3,000
5th - Charlotte Van Brabander, Belgium, €2,000
6th - Anna Maria Lafavia, PokerStars qualifier, Italy, €1,400
Other notables who finished in the top 18 included Melanie Weisner, Birgitta Johansen, Jennifer Shahade, Ann Marie Woodard and Margaux Ponnelle.
Note: PokerStars does not accept players from the United States
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For other tournament reports see http://www.pokerstars.com/poker/promotions/women/news/