If you followed the PokerStars Blog’s coverage of European Poker Tour a year ago you might remember how the shape of the tour changed in front of our very eyes. Poker’s evolutionary trail has always wound its way through different jurisdictions, be it north America, Scandinavia, Germany, Luton or the internet. But last year Prague introduced us to the Italians, and geez, what an introduction.
The scenes in this room 12 months ago, when Salvatore Bonavena, a housing officer and amateur poker player from Vida Valencia, won the Prague title, was like watching Rocky Balboa finally get the brute Ivan Drago to stay down. After various efforts that nearly went the distance – Luca Pagano in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, Dario Minieri in San Remo and Warsaw – Bonavena rocked the poker world to claim a first title for Italy, and himself a cheque for €774,000.
Salvatore Bonavena in action at the final table last season
It was a week dominated by Italians who at times could put no foot wrong. Only eight would cash from a hoard of hundreds though, but three of them reached the top five. Third placed Andrew Chen memorably tried to get the better of them, but the young Canadian couldn’t topple the amateur dramatic momentum of the Italians sweeping to victory on a tidal wave of good natured entitlement. Massimo Di Cicco played Drago to Bonavena’s Balboa, but being Italian himself provided another cause for heroic flag waving celebration, and back in fifth was Francesco Ciriani. When it came to winner photos they simple all got in front of camera. No one had the heart to stop them.
The result was like spraying jet fuel onto flames already raging from San Remo the season before where Dario Minieri turned poker into a true spectator sport creating an atmosphere more like a soccer match.
Now, alongside the reserved Pagano and the incendiary Minieri, Bonavena fits in somewhere between. A cult hero to veterans of the circuit: Sal Bon, El Bona, The Sal, The Bon, call him what you like, Bonavena plays like a happy champion. A month before his EPT win he had triumphed in La Notte Del Poker in Venice for €90,000 and then added another $40,000 cashing in the WSOP main event. That’s a good enough reason to enjoy yourself.
A year later that crowd of Italians remains, many now regulars on the tour. Ciriani is now a regular, played yesterday while Michele Limongi, Alfonso Amendola and Giovanni Salvatore, who won the recent San Remo leg of the Italian Poker Tour, all play today. All now wear nicer shoes.