This year EPT London has a bit more meaning for me. This EPT festival is my 85th since I started reporting on the tour, and is my tenth anniversary, not in years perhaps but in EPT Seasons. This, for me at least, is where it all began in Season 2. Years later I’m now institutionalised.
Back then the European Poker Tour was almost unrecognisable to what it is today. So was I come to think of it. That was my beard and heavy smoking phase. But the venues, the players and the poker were all different (anyone remember the re-re-raise?) and while the tour was in only its second season it was already hugely popular and expanding all the time. Its appeal–what with the big fields and ever growing prize pools– was obvious.
Grosvenor Victoria Casino–the first home of the EPT London festival
So today, ten seasons on, I’ve picked out a few highlights, made a few observations, and got all nostalgic for that era before Ed Hardy, before Twitter, and before the Obama administration.
Where is the press room?
There was no press room because there was no press. Well that’s not strictly true. Brad Willis represented the PokerStars Blog, still in its early days, and tried to come up with nice ways to describe Edgware Road. While the handful of smaller companies reporting from the tour found a space in a corner and worked off their knees. I also remember that the greatest fear at EPT2 London, apart from forgetting that short trousers were not permitted, was to accidentally take a picture of the gaming floor, which was strictly forbidden and was punishable by ejection from the casino.
Who’s that guy?
It was a time during which heroes of the tour were still being made. Admittedly there were a few false starts – some of the people we claimed were great were, well, not–but that didn’t stop people looking.
For me, arriving at the Grosvenor Victoria for the first time (alone it seemed in adhering to a sports jacket dress code) it meant carrying around pages of foolscap on which were printed names and faces of players. It’s how I found Ville Wahlbeck (who would bubble London 2) and Willie Tann (playing again today), although owing to a typo I referred to him as Tony Wann.
This was easy when you didn’t know who these people were in the first place (see Tony Wann). Vic regulars–the old timers who had paid dearly for their poker education–would be offended when asked for their names, or at best wave you away. It would be wrong to suggest this habit was a thing of the past. I’ve since asked the names of such strangers as Antoine Saout and Dimitar Danchev.
What’s the Wifi password?
These days it’s the first thing players do on as they take their seat. Back then, while there were mobile phones there was no Wifi, and no Twitter on which to bad mouth the opposition. That was done in forums instead, or in some cases in person.
Buying in directly
Chris Moneymaker had by now started the online revolution, and the full effect was being felt on the EPT–hundreds of players were now qualifying for Main Events for just a few dollars.
Chris Moneymaker ten years after his win
But back then “qualifier” was a derogatory term, marking you out as a player of little experience and ripe for the picking. Now of course it’s an annotation that denotes a player with sound financial sense.
There were already the Iveys, the Hellmuths and Negreanus, but they were rooted firmly on the other side of the Atlantic (for the time being at least). Therefore new heroes were being made at each EPT tournament.
But it was a simpler time and champions came and went. Elky wasn’t peroxide, Luca Pagano still wore a Blue Italia track top, and Mickey Petersen hadn’t been born yet. The old guard meanwhile were already talking about “the good old days” of Season 1.
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier during his “my hair is fine the way it is, thanks” phase
What do we do now?
In those days the Main Event was all there was. That was it. No side events, no cash games unless you were in a casino, no jet-skiing, no hybrid events in which your points accrued in an obscure alligator wrestling contest translated into chips. The days were long, hard, and you were lucky if you avoided a crazy Scandinavian along the way.
One of the more memorable EPT winners
As far as EPT2 London went there was plenty of drama. The winner, Mark Teltscher, served as a slightly bolshie anti-hero. A young Finnish pro called Ville Walhbeck went out on the bubble, while a fresh-faced American by the name of Tom Dwan finished in 12th place, earning his first live career cash.
Other personal highlights
— Watching a round of hands being completed in complete darkness, by the light of mobile phones, during a power cut at EPT Kyiv.
When the lights went out in Kyiv
— Reporting on the Berlin robbery from inside a store cupboard.
— Accidentally taking part in a trade’s union march on the Maidan in Kyiv.
— Being on nodding terms with Boris Becker.
— Witnessing the start of Jason Mercier’s career in Sanremo, where he won a thrilling final table in Season 4.
Watching Jason Mercier’s arrival on the world poker stage
— Walking for 45 minutes in Warsaw during mid-winter snow looking for an Indian restaurant that turned out not to exist.
— Watching Victoria Coren-Mitchell finally putting the double winner story to bed, winning again in Sanremo.
(Most, if not all of these stories, made up the bulk of my best man’s speech at my wedding.)
Ten years on I still have the sports jacket, and while I used to be able to remember the name of all the winners, there came a point around Season 8 that the list became too long. Winners are now all a blur. That includes whoever it was that won in Barcelona six weeks ago.
At work on the EPT. No seriously, it’s a proper job
But that’s enough of the confessional. The EPT was a hell of an exciting place to be ten seasons ago, and none of that has really changed. It’s the most prestigious tour for a reason and there’s no better place to watch and write about poker–even if they’ll soon be so many winners that I’ll be back to carrying around pages of foolscap with names and faces printed on them.
Follow the action from the EPT London Main Event this week on the PokerStars. You can also watch live coverage on the EPT Live webcast between October 14-18 on PokerStars.tv.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.