Looking back at this summer’s 2022 PokerStars EPT Barcelona, most will remember Giuliano Bendinelli as the big winner for taking down the €5,300 buy-in Main Event for €1.5 million. But there was no one more dominant during the European Poker Tour festival in Spain than Uruguay’s Francisco Benitez.
Benitez, a 16-year poker veteran who primarily plays online, started off the series on the Spanish coast by taking down two high-roller events, an already impressive feat (he was the only player to win multiple events at the festival) that he followed up by making two additional high-roller final tables.
All said and done, the 31-year-old Uruguayan cashed for $1.1 million at EPT Barcelona and picked up the four largest live cashes of his career, according to The Hendon Mob.
PokerNews spoke with Benitez during EPT Barcelona about his background as a professional poker player in South America and his breakout year on the European live circuit.
Learning Poker in Uruguay
Benetiz started playing poker when he was only 15 years old and was a professional by the time he was 18.
“I have 16 years (of experience) playing,” Benitez told PokerNews. “13 years professional.”
How much poker is there in Uruguay?
“Not much,” Benitez admitted, adding that there are a few tournaments but they are “not that big.”
The South American country has hosted a number of poker festivals and events, including World Series of Poker Circuit (WSOPC) Punta del Este, Brazilian Poker Series (BSOP) Punta del Este and partypoker MILLIONS South America, where Benetiz finished fifth in a $25,000 Super High Roller for $60,000.
Benitez is also a constant traveler and has cashed in poker tournaments around the world, including at 2014’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas and 2016’s EPT Monte Carlo and at 2021’s WSOP in Las Vegas.
“I live in Uruguay, but I travel a lot,” he said. “Not a lot, a lot, but I travel four to six months a year.”
But the vast majority of Benetiz’ poker playing has been online, where he plays under the username “Tomatee” and has amassed millions in earnings.
“I love the feel of playing online, playing everything,” said Benitez. “I play a lot online, every big series online. And I play EPT not (that) much, not every EPT. I don’t play much live. I play two live tournaments per year, two EPTs and maybe something in Vegas. But not much.”
“I love the feel of playing online, playing everything. I play a lot online, every big series online.”
Crushing in Barcelona
Despite not playing the EPT much, Benetiz made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Barcelona and took down one of the first events of the series, €10,200 Mystery Bounty, for €114,080.
In a winner’s interview after that victory, Benitez told PokerNews the win gave him “more confidence for the rest of the tournaments” and that he planned to “play everything — every high roller, the Main Event; everything.”
Benitez, whose only request after the tournament was that he get a photo tossing his cards into the air, kept his promise and played a packed schedule at EPT Barcelona. It wasn’t long before he found himself posing for another winner’s photo with a second PokerStars spade trophy in hand as he took down €25,000 No-Limit Hold’em for €341,565 after a heads-up deal with his friend and fellow South American Ramiro Petrone of Argentina.
After the ICM deal, a final hand was dealt to determine how who would take home the trophy and, as fate would have it, Benitez picked up his second win of the series.
Not long after, Benitez was making yet another run in €25,000 No Limit Hold’em, where he finished in fourth place for $197,272.
PokerNews spoke with Benitez a few days after that six-figure score on Aug. 15 as he played Day 1 of the €100,000 EPT Super High Roller and asked if there was a secret to his breakout live poker year.
“I don’t know, no secret,” he laughed. “Just focused … I feel very good. I feel good. I don’t have much to say, that’s it.”
While he didn’t cash in the €100,000 event, Benitez made a deep run in €25,000 Single-Day High Roller later in the series and found himself heads-up against Leonard Maue for his third victory of the series. He couldn’t win a flip when he got it in with ace-nine against the German’s pocket deuces and had to settle for the runner-up prize of €421,480.
Battling With Erik
The small field of elite players in the EPT Barcelona high rollers included Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel, with whom Benitez had some history.
Last August, Benitez came close to winning his first bracelet in a $10,000 Super MILLION$ High Roller on GGPoker but ultimately finished runner-up for $759,419. Who finished first? None other than Seidel, who earned his ninth bracelet to tie Johnny Moss in fifth on the all-time bracelet list.
Benitez played with Seidel throughout the series and the two made a final table together in the €25,000 event that Benitez wound up winning, while Seidel fell in sixth place for €81,030.
“It feels good (to play with Erik) … I am so curious and asked him about his age and how (much) time (he has spent) playing poker.”
Benitez, a friendly player who at one point in the series PokerNews saw walking through the ESPT Main Event field and fist-bumping the players he knew, said he took the opportunity to chat with the legendary poker veteran who had denied him a bracelet.
“It feels good (to play with Erik) … I am so curious and asked him about his age and how (much) time (he has spent) playing poker, and that’s it,” said Benitez. “He told me 37 years playing. Just curious, and feel(s) good to meet with him.”
Seidel was in the €100,000 Super High Roller field as PokerNews chatted with Benitez. The Poker Hall of Famer went on to finish second in the event, the highest buy-in of the series, for $1.3 million.
Four Biggest Live Scores
While Benitez insisted there were no secrets to his success EPT Barcelona, the European festival was undoubtedly a breakout moment on the live felt for the Uruguayan.
All four of his cashes at EPT Barcelona were larger than his $89,903 cash from a third-place finish at the 2014 PCA, which was his biggest live score when he flew to Spain last month.
Whatever live festival Benitez decides to play next, the Uruguayan poker pro will be sure to crush, though it will hard for him to be more dominant than he was at EPT Barcelona.
Benitez’s full results at EPT Barcelona are available in the table below.
Francisco Benitez’s 2022 EPT Barcelona Results
|DATE||EVENT||PLACE||PRIZE (IN EURO)||PRIZE (IN USD)|
|Aug. 18, 2022||Event #41: €25,000 No Limit Hold’em||2nd||€421,480||$432,687|
|Aug. 12, 2022||Event #16: €25,000 No Limit Hold’em||4th||€191,790||$197,272|
|Aug. 10, 2022||Event #11: €25,000 No Limit Hold’em||1st||€341,565||$350,647|
|Aug. 8, 2022||Event #3: €10,200 No Limit Hold’em – Mystery Bounty (Event #3)||1st||€114,080||$116,263|