That’s the outside world taken care of, full of cobbles, church spires and hot booze, time now to look inwards, at ourselves and our surroundings, to tiled floors, fluorescent lighting and cold sandwiches.
As far as tournament rooms go what the function suite at the Prague Hilton lacks in grandeur, it makes up in space, and for several hundred poker players that’s good enough. Wood panelled walls are as good as it gets in here, with stage lights hung from the ceiling. But beneath them there’s ample space for 30 tournament tables and a another dozen set off to the side, permanent home to the comforting clatter of cash games for the deft, the defeated and for those still too shell shocked to know what they are.
It was in this place where two of the most memorable EPT finales have been seen, first in the heaving coliseum of season four when, without the intrusion of cameras, Arnaud Mattern and Gino Alacqua brought the first Prague event to a head, the Frenchman, now elevated to the ranks of Team PokerStars Pro, winning €708,400 and a place on the recognisable list.
Then a year later, a surge of Italian talent used Prague to launch an assault on the EPT, a cast that came from the south and that has since then shown no drop in enthusiasm, thanks to last year’s heralded champ Salvatore Bonavena. What we’ll get this year to beat will be known soon enough. In the meantime pick your early tournament favourite from this day 1a lot:
For Team PokerStars Pro Ruben Visser, Joep van den Bijgaart, Marcel Luske and Pieter de Korver are here, as is Marcin Horecki and the German contingent of Katja Thater, Sandra Naujoks, Ben Kang and Florian Langmann. Also here is former champion Mattern, who arrived at his table a little the worse for wear but is already up a few grand and singing happily to himself “Tonight’s gonna be a good night.”
Andreas Hagen makes a welcome return. Italian Luca Falaschi and OJBS guy sit alongside each other and opposite Almira Skripchenko. Konstantinos Alexiou is back to top his fourth place finish last season. Other former finalists include Vilamoura heroes Pierre Neuville and Jan Skampa, sitting on Nicolas Levi’s table, as well as Mark Gork, Julian Thew (more a winner than a finalist) and Georgios Kapalas
One handed table of the level: As players continue to register and the tournament officials open new tables to accommodate the latecomers, it seemed for a moment as if Alex Catala, on table 15, had the best draw of the lot. He was sitting alongside, well, no one – except eight empty chairs and unfilled television release forms.
As if to rescue him from the ignominy of being beaten out of a pot by these invisible foes, the EPT Dortmund champion Sandra Naujoks drew up an empty chair, and they were soon joined by John Kabbaj, a bracelet winner at this year’s World Series. Then, as if the table wasn’t already stacked enough, Benjamin Kang made this a fearsome four.