Arriving anywhere late, and in total darkness, and it’s not easy to get the lay of the local land, to get your bearings. Touching down last night in Portugal and all you could see from the windows of 90-mph taxis, for the moments you don’t have your eyes closed, were rows of stubby buildings painted white and the odd car dealership, but not much else on the coast road from Faro airport to Vilamoura. But it’s when you get here that you feel the opposite – your eyes are suddenly wide open.
The Tivoli Marina Hotel, our home for this week, towers over the yachts, power boats and anything else that floats and has an owner about to pay mooring fees in the local marina. If your hotel room balcony looks the other way then you’re spell bound by sun tan beaches and the Atlantic Ocean. Distant clouds may look like far off islands on the horizon, but start rowing due south and there’s nothing between here and Casablanca. Head east and it’s a lonely 4,000 miles to the eastern seaboard.
All that became clear at sunrise this morning, but last night we had just the usual welcome of an EPT party to tide us over. While in one corner of the lobby well dressed hotel guests in dinner jackets and evening wear enjoyed a cocktail demonstration, in our corner poker players in track pants and t-shirts – their own form of evening wear – enjoyed a frenetic display of local dancing, complete with press-ganged audience participation and greased by a free bar and canapés.
They’re here, of course, for the first ever EPT Vilamoura. This week the EPT breaks yet more new ground in a place usually reserved for tourists with long luggage keen on experiencing one of Europe’s golfing capitals. A kind of adult golfing theme park, with five courses just minutes away. They built them and they came, and it’s not hard to see why. It may be November to you and I but here it’s an even 22 degrees outside, thanks to Portugal abolishing winter here some years ago. A few fishermen with bills to pay sail off the coast, but other than that the only signs of life are at Vilamoura Casino, a short walk from the hotel where the immediate destiny of several hundred poker players is about to be decided.
It’s the usual deal for day 1a. Players will start with 30,000 chips with one hour levels and a structure that so far this season has produced some memorable poker. It all happens within the walls of the Salao Miralago tournament room, a mint chocolate coloured ballroom looking out to sea, with tables on three levels and lighting that could be from the dining car of the Orient Express. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting.
So dig out your shorts, flip flops and think summer again. The players are arriving and we’ll be underway shortly.