Before seeing the schedule for the ninth season of the European Poker Tour, I would have expected to have gone to my grave without ever having uttered the phrase “mega-festival”. But not only have I now written it several times, I have also been to at least three of them, as well as jabbering into a microphone on the subject during a live internet broadcast (in itself something else I never thought I’d do).
EPT9 has been a learning curve for all of us, and awash with mega-festivals from start to finish. It is the name some bright spark in the marketing department chose to describe the enormous festivals that combine the European Poker Tour stop with the Grand Final of the regional poker tours that bring the tournament game all the way across the world.
In Barcelona, we had the Estrellas Poker Tour bleeding into EPT Barcelona; in Prague it was the Eureka. Here in London, we have just finished the United Kingdom and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT), overlapping with the EPT. The baby brother went out with a huge bang.
There were 1,099 players ante-ing up the £700 for a seat at that tournament, the largest number of players ever for a poker event in London. They created a prize pool of £746,221 and a first prize of £144,555, which was won late yesterday by Sergio Aido, of Spain, after a heads up chop.
It might have been “only” £700 to enter, but many of the world’s best players, in town for the EPT, decided to join the party. There were EPT champions — David Vamplew, Michael Tureniec, Liv Boeree, Jake Cody, Zimnan Ziyard, Ludovic Lacay, Mickey Petersen, Martin Finger, Roberto Romanello, Kent Lundmark, Toby Lewis, Kevin MacPhee, Anton Wigg, Julian Thew — and World Series bracelet winners or November Niners — Richard Ashby, Kenneth Aldridge, Willie Tann, Scott Shelley, James Akenhead, Sam Holden.
Olivier Busquet also played, sitting down for a five day tournament with a buy in less than a solitary blind in the games he usually plays. It was that kind of tournament.
And Aido beat them all.
But more than just the victory in the main event, there were some intriguing sub-plots to the UKIPT festival, which have also filtered into the EPT. Aido himself is central to one of them, because after finishing day three of the UKIPT main event, and securing his seat at the final table, he then jumped into a £1,000 turbo side event. He won it.
That meant that the day before he came to the biggest final table of his career, he made the second biggest. And he won (or chopped) both of them. Viva Espana.
As Aido was busy pulling off this startling feat, the British player Tom Hall was managing something very similar. He came into the UKIPT festival in second place on the overall UKIPT leader board, which awards a huge prize to the most successful player across the entire season. Hall’s friend Neil Raine was in first place, but after Raine played and bust the London main event on Day 1A, Hall scented an opportunity to overhaul him.
At the time Hall sat down to play the UKIPT, he knew he needed to finish in 36th place or better to top the leader board. The winner earns a year-long UKIPT passport — ie, a buy-in and hotel package for every event on season four — which is likely to be worth at least £10,000. (The full schedule is yet to be announced.)
Hall put his game face on and ploughed deep into the money. But then it suddenly transpired that Raine had cashed in a side event, picked up a few more rankings points, and left Hall now looking for a seventh place finish to earn sufficient points to take the lead again.
He couldn’t do it. He busted in 33rd.
However that was not the end of the story. Far from it, in fact. Hall realised that late registration was still open for the £2,000 UKIPT High Roller event, for which rankings points were available. Raine was already in the event, but bust before the money, meaning that Hall had another chance to pip him.
He took his winnings from the main event and bought in to the high roller, and then about 24 hours later he had his abacus out again. He determined that an eighth place finish would be good enough for him to collect enough points to overhaul Raine’s revised total. And he did it, finishing in sixth.
He picked up £18,050 for that, but more importantly he also became the UKIPT leader board champion (subject to final confirmation from the bean counters). He will now be freerolling through the fourth season of the UKIPT, which kicks off in June in Marbella (the outpost of the British in Spain.)
Hall is now in the EPT Main Event, sitting at Daniel Negreanu’s table, and also alongside Cesar Garcia, who also made the UKIPT final table. Form is a funny thing in poker: both Hall and Aido are running very well at the moment and will likely be threats even in the supposedly more demanding environment of the EPT. (If you had seen the UKIPT main event, you would certainly contest which is the more demanding.)
The first season of “mega-festivals” has been an unqualified success, with fields and prize-pools swelled massively across the board. No doubt something similar will occur throughout next year too. And if someone could just change the name, we will all be more than happy.
Follow live coverage of the EPT London main event on the EPT London page. Follow the final stages of the UKIPT main event on the UKIPT page. Follow the @PokerStarsBlog Twitter account to keep up-to-date with all the EPT action.