I had never been to Greece before this European Poker Tour event in Loutraki, but obviously I had certain expectations of ancient, colossal monuments and amphitheaters all around the place. Sadly, when I arrived at Athens airport it was pitch black and I was unable to see much, but at that point I was just happy to be alive as our flight had several screaming passengers after a little turbulence on our landing. To say it was windy was an understatement.
As soon as our taxi driver showed us outside to the car, I thought I was going to be taken away like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in a tornado of Grecian air! Even in the car on the way to the hotel, we could feel the car swerve due to the wind blowing and it was all quite exciting, if not a little terrifying. Not sure if it's just me who seems to get excited when my life is in danger a little bit.
So once we arrived at the Hotel Casino Loutraki it was bedtime immediately and we woke early the next morning to find that, no, the wind had not subsided. The other video crew we were with had already told us they weren't going to walk down to the centre of Loutraki (about 1km away) in the wind, but my cameraman and myself felt like we should at least try.
We had been outside for a matter of minutes and already both of us were crying our eyes out. We weren't sad, the wind was just so strong it was making our eyes stream, my ears were also becoming painful as the cold wind whistled through them. We thought about going back for a moment or two, especially after a gust had taken off my shoe and sent it hurtling down the road. I did eventually find it and we did eventually get to the centre of Loutraki, which wasn't very big, but did have a few bars and restaurants, a scenic coastal view and some quaint little gift shops.
If you want a laugh at me trying to fight against the wind, check out this video:
I'm sure there must have been a Greek god for winds and hurricanes and whoever they were, they were really showing everyone else who was boss that day and the following day.
We knew Loutraki would not be the busiest of EPTs, due to other tournaments going on and the economical crisis in Greece, but we were surprisingly happy with the turnout of 336 players after Day 1A and 1B were over. Most of the Team PokerStars Pros who began the tournament were busto by the end of Day 1. We saw Vanessa Rousso, Arnaud Mattern, Richard Toth and Marcin Horecki all hit the rail before Day 2.
Romanian Team PokerStars Pro Toni Judet became chip leader at the end of Day 2 and into Day 3. We also kept the rail going for Irish Team Pro Jude Ainsworth who we interviewed nearly every day up until his bust out on Day 4. No luck for the Irish that day, however he did take €7,500 for his efforts. This was me catching up with Jude about half an hour before his jacks were dominated by another Greek players queens:
Midway through the tournament, the hotel put on a fabulous party for all the players and media. It was good to see some of the more serious players let their hair down on a night out. I, however, needed no excuse to let my hair down, it was always down! I caught up with some of the Team Pros at the party, in amongst the entertainment from a female Michael Jackson impersonator, a sexy fire-eating lady and a dancing trio on stage. My night ended a little hazy with some new friends at the roulette wheel in the casino. Needless to say I didn't win so the less said about that, the better! Here's the video, before we got to that part:
I did a little research on the Greek gods before coming to Greece and had forgotten how interesting mythology could be. I wrote down a list of 12 different gods and what they represented to find out from our poker players, if they could be any one, which one would they be. After the party and being the last to leave, as usual, my choice for myself was definitely correct.
It was Day 4 that went by quite quickly as we saw, literally the biggest name in poker, Charalampos Kapernopoulos (get it?) maintain his chip lead all day, despite being an amateur player and Greek doctor. It only took me a few times to master the pronunciation of his name.
Towards the end of Day 4, our hope for a Team Pro to take the title vanished into thin air as Toni Judet, our last remaining contender got blasted away by poker's biggest name. However his run-good from the Greek gods was to peter out by the end of Day 4 and he went into the final table near enough the short-stack.
Zimnan Ziyard from the UK went into the final table with the chip lead and 2.7 million in chips. He accumulated most of these chips when he knocked out his friend and former university pal, EPT San Remo champ Rupert Elder. Rupert was visibly devastated at going out in 13th and we saw all hopes dashed for a double EPT winner. The final table was heavy with German players and PokerStars qualifiers, with no big names making it through.
The day started a little slow as the shorter stacks kept doubling up instead of busting, so we stayed eight-handed for a few hours. Then suddenly, all within two hours, we went from eight players to three.
It was left between British PokerStars qualifier, Zimnan Ziyard, German PokerStars qualifier Hauke Heseding and Greek blackjack professional John Taramas, who was the short-stack and who was kicking up a bit of a furore up in our media room, as he had been taking so long to make decisions and prompting the other players to make a deal. However, it wasn't to be for Taramas and after a long three-handed battle, he finally got sent to the rail, much to the disappointment of all his Greek railers.
Heads-up play began between both PokerStars qualifiers and they seemed glad to have Taramas out of the way after hours of grueling play. Tiredness and fatigue was showing in both players and the chip lead went back and forth a few times. It really could have been either of them who won this. But it was British Zimnan Ziyard who came on top victorious. Here is the winner video I did with him.
Loutraki made its debut stop on the EPT and a successful one it was. I have enjoyed the Greek way of life for the last week or so, (especially the food) and it was good to have seen so many others enjoy it as well. The wind had stopped blowing by this point, too, so as we stepped foot inside our taxi on the way to the airport, the Aegean Sea looked peaceful and calm with the sun shining. And onto the next stop, home please!