It's easy to get the mistaken impression that the Grand Prix circuit is dominated by traveling Pros. Nothing steams a bunch of loyal local fans more than seeing their favorites knocked from competition. Small wonder, then, that the Hotel Gloria filled with the spectators' wild cheering as Carlos Romao blew away Alex Shvartsman's blockers to take the title.
Alex and Carlos faced off in the Grand Prix Finals under the close scrutiny of one of the largest group of onlookers in the history of the game. In fact, the crowd was so excited that during the Top 8 the room had to be cleared due to excessive noise. The crowd was allowed to return for the Finals under the watchful eyes of the judging staff. They behaved themselves, quiet as mice as they scrutinized Romao's games.
Alex's deck was no match for Carlos' in their two extremely quick games. The Brazilian had great draws while the American had to do the best he could with a deck that seemed to have fallen asleep. The Finals were fast and furious, a sharp contrast to Alex's previous Top 8 matches.
In fact, Alex Shvartsman almost single-handedly held back the Finals for about an hour due to his very long games. His quarterfinals, against Damian Brown-Santirso, took an extra hour and his semifinals, versus Rafael Alvarenga, was not only long but also involved extensive sideboarding. Shvartsman was feeling sick and had to take a break between the mentally taxing rounds to regain his concentration. He was even the target of a Brazilian practical joke when a few spectators wanted to lock him in the bathroom to keep him from playing the Finals! Alex took it all in stride, smiling and joking with everyone.Carlos Romao shows off his trophy
A day two of a Grand Prix is always full of great stories. All day long Carlos Romao was sad because he wasn't being chosen for a Feature Match. When he finally got one he was paired up against Rafael Alvarenga. Not only are they very good friends, they were also both in the Top Eight of the last Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo. Rafael went on to win that event. At this encounter they decided to intentionally draw the round hoping to win their respective matches and meet again in the Top 8. This was doubly important for Romao, as he still hadn't tasted the glory of the Feature Tables.
Well, they both made it to the Top 8 separated so that they could only meet in the finals. Although Alvarenga's finished fourth, that's hardly a small accomplishment. Seeing the two friends share the awards ceremony was, in a word, heartwarming.
Romao's Top 8 adventure began with a win over Rafael Le Saux. The Chilean was not very happy with his Top 8 deck and made a crucial mistake in the first game when he miscalculated an attack. When he realized his error he literally collapsed on the table, so shaken was he by his misplay. The Chilean's self-confidence was shattered and the silent Brazilian crushed him in the second game.
Justin Schneider was Carlos's opponent in the Semifinals. The American has just recently came back from hiatus and seems to be in top shape. His Kibler-inspired deck (he had a Rith and a Cloak) was more orthodox than Carlos' but the Brazilian won the match when Justin ran into some mana problems in the third game. The American left seriously disgusted at having lost to Carlos' deck. His negative comments about the Brazilian's deck were taken very seriously by a section of the crowd that tried to pick on him, in a polite way, during the award ceremony.
The Top 8 held plenty of other stories. Justin Schneider's return to magic greatness after a two-year absence is incredible on its own, but add to it Shvartsman's record eleventh Grand Prix Top 8, the confusing nationalities of Damian Brown-Santirso, Rafael Le Saux's teddy bear and strong local representation from three Brazilians (including Daniel Brasil do Corma, a 1700-flagged player), and the result is beyond belief.The Top 4: Rafael Alvarenga, Justin Schneider, Alex Shvartsman, and Carlos Romao
Two well-known Pros came very, very close to the Top 8 with David Williams finishing in the tough ninth position and Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz in 13. In fact the end of Williams's last round left a bitter taste in the audience's mouths when he refused to shake his opponent's hand and walked around the play area visibly upset with his fate. He had expected to draw into the Top Eight, but the pairings forced him to play it out. He then proceeded to lose a game to mana difficulties.
Still, it's natural to get upset at unfortunate circumstance. By the time the awards ceremony got underway, everyone's mood had brightened. The smile on Carlos Romao's face said it all as he showed the award to the roaring crowd. All the top four players got a big cheer and a warm round of applause from the audience. But this was a partial happy ending. The real happy ending will only happen if the tired Carlos Romao manages to get to his class in time. The poor man raced from the tournament area to catch a plane back home. If he misses this one class, he'll fail his course and be unable to attend PT Barcelona. However, he's sure he'll make it. To both.