EPT9 Barcelona: The origins of the High Roller phenomenon

August 19, 2012


It is final table day of the Super High Roller event and it says a lot about the way the EPT has progressed that we barely bat an eyelid any more at 60 players parting with €50,000 to play a game of cards. They’re now battling to cut up a prize pool of €3m. Big deal. Meh. Whatevs.

It wasn’t always like this, though, and a glance at the history of High Roller events reveals how long it actually took to get these things off the ground. The first time a side event at an EPT festival had a larger buy in than the main event came in London on season five – October 5, 2008 – when the “Million Pound Showdown” attracted 86 players, parting with £20,000 apiece.

There’s some neat continuity here in that the player finishing third that day, good for £241,000, was a young Canadian named Michael “SirWatts” Watson. Watson currently sits around the EPT9 Super High Roller final table too, another four years into a glittering career. (Watson was beaten by Jason Mercier and John Juanda that day. They haven’t done too badly ever since either.)


Michael Watson: at the first High Roller final, and the most recent

That was something of a false dawn for High Roller events, however, as it was a long time until that number of runners would be seen again. The PCA had a High Roller event that season (48 entrants, won by ElkY), as did Deauville. But that French leg paid only three players from a field of about 20, Juha Helppi taking €192,000 for the win.

By the time they got to Monte Carlo, on May 3 2009, the Grand Final crowd and Monaco jetset meant 79 players parted with €25,000, eventually offering the biggest chunk to Vanessa Rousso, who won more than half a million euro.

Then, however, there was Kyiv. Oh Kyiv. That High Roller event remains memorable, largely as it was Shaun Deeb’s first ever live tournament victory. The online hero, accustomed to beating fields of several thousand, had one of the struggles of his life to beat the Kyiv high rollers. Yeah, all three of them. Including Deeb himself.

After that hilarious tournament, High Roller events got a good deal more common and consistent in their number. According to Neil Johnson, the European Poker Tour’s Live Event Specialist, it was around the end of season six that players began requesting a €10,000 event at every EPT stop. That was a figure much higher than the main event buy in, but obviously less than some of the monster buy ins.

“They know that they will have a 10K at most places, plus a 25K big one in the PCA and the Grand Final,” Johnson said. “It’s a very dedicated player group that wants these kind of events.”

Ahead of season nine, where we are today, tournament organisers have also amended the order in which the High Roller events are spread through these longer EPT festivals. We kicked off with that Super High Roller, there will be a €10,000 Heads Up tournament starting on Wednesday, a €10,000 single reload tournament starting Thursday, then a €5,000 six-handed turbo next Saturday.

“We have given the players a solid reason to appreciate the whole festival,” Johnson said.

The Super High Rollers are now down to seven players, after the elimination of the short-stacked Jim McCrink. Dan Smith leads, Mike McDonald is in second and Ilari Sahamies third. That’s quite a line up.

And when they’re done, there’ll be another High Roller right around the corner.


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