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PokerStars 10th Anniversary review: The traveling EPT circus

10th-ann-thumb.JPGThere's a pub on the main drag in Monte Carlo. It has low ceilings, tight corridors, Guinness on tap, and a matchbook-sized stage where cover bands belt out "Roadhouse Blues" in the late hours. On a weekend night, it's tight, loud, and hot.

In 2005, John Duthie sat outside the pub smoking a cigarette. It was a chilly March night. Duthie was relaxed and reflective. Though he didn't drink, he was happy to entertain those around him who wanted a celebratory snort. After all, the first season of the European Poker Tour had just ended down the street. Duthie, the ringleader of a the whole traveling circus, was reflective. Against a brick wall and surrounded by his menagerie of circus freaks, the EPT creator entertained our questions. It was the first time I ever heard Duthie admit he'd first thought of the EPT while soaking in a bathtub.

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Duthie in the early years of the EPT

By now, the versions of Duthie's bath-borne genius have slipped off on many apocryphal paths, but the gist is the same. The man who won the televised Poker Million in 2000 thought, in essence, "Hey, Europe could use a poker tour." With a career of television production behind him, an intimate knowledge of what it's like to win big money, and a creative itch, Duthie put the wheels on his traveling circus in 2004. Season 1 of the EPT stretched to seven cities and awarded €4,780,972 in prize money. Now in its eighth season, the Duthie's EPT is among the most successful poker ventures in history. Season 7 of the tour amassed a total prize pool of €50,501,526.

How could such a thing happen? How could a single tour become so popular? Well, it begins with Duthie's undeniable genius buttressed by a piece of PokerStars 10 years of history. Though Duthie's hand guided the ship, there is no questioning that the oft-copied PokerStars satellites made the difference in the EPT. Over the years, PokerStars has sent thousands of players to the EPT and seen its qualifiers win many a championship. Over the course of seven seasons, the EPT saw its total season fields jump from 1,400 to nearly 9,000.

With Duthie and PokerStars working hand-in-hand, the next step was obvious. Expansion was the key. The first few seasons saw seven or eight events. Then, Season 4 reared its head. In December of 2007, the EPT added Prague to its schedule. It drew 555 players and was an instant hit. In 2008, Season 4 added Warsaw, Poland to the schedule. Two seasons later in 2009, the EPT crossed the border into the Ukraine where future Team PokerStars Pro Max Lykov won the first event in Kyiv. In the most recent season, the EPT hosted 17 major events in 13 cities.

But even that was not enough.

Like PokerStars, the EPT always had its eye on innovation. In early 2010, the people behind the scenes happened upon an idea. What if a poker tournament wasn't just a poker tournament? What if a poker festival wasn't just a poker festival? What if it was all part of some big vacation?

Boy, did that idea take off in a big way.

In March of 2010, PokerStars, Duthie, and the EPT headed off to the Austrian Alps for what they dubbed EPT Snowfest, a poker tournament wrapped into a ski trip, wrapped into a ski-lodge-mulled-cider-sipping vacation. It was a new paradigm. It was a new dimension. It was everything anybody needed to be happy wrapped into one week in a snowy paradise.

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The home of EPT Snowfest

Later that year, in August of 2010, the EPT built on the poker vacation idea when it hosted its first ever combination golf and poker event in Vilamoura, Portugal. The €1,100 buy-in event saw 14 players split up into four teams for a scramble tourney. Based on their performance there, they got extra chips in a poker tournament later. They might not have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate, but it was close enough for golf and poker to be a big hit on that Vilamoura vacation.

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Teddy Sheringham, Daniel Negreanu and Marcin Horecki on the links

And while for many years the EPT Grand Final was held in Monte Carlo, this year (2011) it moved for the first time to the Spanish capital, Madrid. Here's all the action from EPT Madrid.

Today, the European Poker Tour remains the continent's richest and most popular poker tour. It continues to blaze new trails across Europe adding new cities and locations when we least expect it. The tour is now in the middle of its eighth season. In less than two weeks, it will visit Loutraki, Greece for the first time.

And to think...Mr. Duthie was naked when the thought of it.

Congratulations to Duthie, the EPT, and PokerStars on nearly eight seasons of success. As PokerStars prepares to begin to begin another 10 years of fun, there's no telling how big the EPT could get.

For more information on the rest of the season 8 schedule, see the EPT Season tournaments page.

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We are publishing these daily review articles throughout November as PokerStars gears up to celebrate its 10th Anniversary.

Previous reviews:
Sporting greats
Making world champions
Party treats

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