EPT champ Razvan Belea qualified via an online satellite, then won it for €1.17M. Here’s his advice for online qualifiers for their next trip.
When you dream about winning a poker tournament, which event are you winning?
The online grinders among you might dream of taking down a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) title. For the weekend warriors who only get to play on a Sunday, you might aspire of winning the flagship Sunday Million (or even the enormous Sunday Million Anniversary on March 26).
But the vast majority of you probably said you dream of winning a big live tournament, like a European Poker Tour (EPT) title.
It’s not hard to see why. The excitement of playing under the lights on the TV table. The joy of having your friends and family cheering you on on the rail. The jubilation of raising the trophy in the air as the confetti rains down.
If that’s your dream, the good news is that live poker is booming right now and there are more online satellites running for live poker tournaments than ever before.
Online packages to the EPT and PokerStars regional tours (UKIPT, LAPT, EUREKA, BSOP, FPS, ESPT) give regular poker players the greatest chance of achieving this goal. You can not only win your way into a tournament that you wouldn’t normally play, but you also get your hotel and expenses covered, too.
THE ONLINE QUALIFIER WHO WON €1.17M
We recently brought you a step-by-step guide to what happens after you win an online satellite to play on the European Poker Tour (EPT).
But what about when you actually arrive at the tournament destination? How should you prepare for play? And how should you spend your time?
To find out, we recently spoke to EPT Paris 2023 champion Razvan Belea, who took down the enormous Main Event for €1.17 million.
Belea, a 34-year-old poker pro living in Bucharest but originally from Târgu Jiu, Romania, qualified for the €5,300 buy-in tournament via an online qualifier on PokerStars and went on to win it all. So he seemed like the perfect person to ask.
“It’s really amazing. It’s like a dream, you know?” Belea tells PokerStars Blog. “My brain doesn’t know what to think of it all. It’s all I ever dreamed of.”
THE JOURNEY STARTS AT HOME
Belea turned professional around a decade ago and has put in some serious poker study in that time. It helped him not only to win his online qualifier but to feel comfortable at the tables, particularly when faced with some tough tablemates.
On his way to the EPT Paris title, Belea played against the likes of Nick Petrangelo and Ben Heath, as well as former EPT Prague and World Series of Poker Main Event champion Hossein Ensan.
“Always think positive that you can do it and win it,” Belea says. “You can play with the best and beat the best.”
We’re not saying you need to start hitting the books and revising your poker strategy in order to do well at an EPT event. In fact, when asked, most professionals suggest simply playing your game and focusing on having a fun experience.
But if brushing up on your poker strategy will make you feel more comfortable at the table, then that’s where your EPT journey should begin.
“I had the ability to learn from a lot of people who came into my life through my career,” Belea says. “I learned different things from different people and I took lessons from all of them.”
Belea finds that the more he studies, the more motivated he gets. He actually prefers to play against tough competition.
“This was always my mindset,” he says. “I always dreamed of playing with the best and beating them. Because even if you make some mistakes against them, you’ll learn more than you would from playing against someone who doesn’t play a lot.”
For you, that might mean playing a few tournaments down your local cardroom. Or it might mean taking some shots at online events you might usually avoid.
Whatever it is you want to work on before your live event, you’ll find some useful strategy articles at PokerStars Learn.
PLANNING YOUR SCHEDULE
Before you travel to the location of the live event, it’s a good idea to check the schedule of the festival. That way, you can not only choose which Day 1 you want to play (assuming there are multiple Day 1 flights) but also which other tournaments you might want to play, either before or after the Main Event, should you get eliminated.
In Belea’s case, Paris was a destination both he and his wife had longed to visit. So he planned his schedule around a vacation.
“My wife has wanted to visit Paris with me for a long time,” he says. “She has always said “let’s go to Paris!” and now we had this opportunity to combine it with an EPT. Then I won the satellite as well, so I was freerolling the accommodation and travel. Everything was perfect.”
Belea decided he would register for Day 1B of the EPT Paris Main Event, as that gave him a few days to relax and soak in the sights of the City of Light.
“Before I played Day 1B, I had two days with my wife to explore the city,” he says. “I was planning on playing some side events too, but instead I took the days off.”
Poker might be the reason you’re in a location, but it doesn’t need to be the be-all and end-all of your trip.
PokerStars always puts on fantastic activities for qualifiers and their plus ones. In Paris, for example, there were daily tours of the Eiffel Tower, wine and cheese tastings, and open-top bus rides, to name but a few.
“You need a balance between life and poker,” Belea says. “I would definitely tell people to think about their schedule. Don’t just play and play and play.
“Find a few days to relax, especially before a big event like an EPT.”
TIME TO PLAY
When the big day comes, it’s natural to have some butterflies in your stomach. This might be the biggest poker tournament you’ve ever played, after all.
So it’s important you try to make yourself feel as relaxed as possible.
“Get a good night’s sleep, go to a gym, go for walks, anything that will help you to be fully relaxed,” Belea suggests.
Belea also suggests keeping hydrated with a water bottle and planning in advance what food you’re going to eat during the day. That way, there’s no stress when you reach the dinner break.
You might also find yourself playing on the TV table at a certain point during the event. If so, your friends and family back home will be able to watch you play and cheer you on.
It can add some pressure if you’re not used to it. So Belea suggests pretending as if the cameras aren’t there and simply focusing on playing to the best of your ability.
During his EPT Paris run, he played on the feature table regularly but not once did he watch the streams back in his hotel room after play had ended.
“I don’t know what the commentators were saying,” he says. “I just knew I had to focus on playing my best game and I think I managed to achieve this.”
He certainly did. Belea put on a clinic at the final table and took down the event for a career-best score of €1.17 million. In doing so, he became the first-ever Romanian EPT champion.
And it all started with an online satellite on PokerStars.
“I’ve motivated a lot of people in Romania,” he tells us. “I received messages from old friends who had stopped playing poker. But then they saw me do this and now they want to start playing again.
“It’s nice to see that you’ve motivated all of these people who are messaging you. One guy told me yesterday that poker is his dream. Now wants to follow the dream because of me. It’s amazing.”
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