Few spectacles on the European Poker Tour can rival that of an Italian winner. When Salvatore Bonavena won in Prague four seasons ago, becoming the first and so far only Italian winner, it seemed that Italy itself celebrated with him, metaphorically and physically as most of them appeared in his winner’s photo. It brought passion to the game never witnessed before.
The EPT first came to Italy in Season 4, bringing with it a rabid band of supporters, monitored by an equally rabid press corps who jettisoned any sense of impartiality in favour of outright bias.
That year their best hopes lay with Dario Minieri, at the height of his powers that week, who arrived for the final table on the backs of the Italian press who overnight had turned bed sheets into banners which they hung around the casino.
Minieri did his best. At times he dazzled, using skill or verbal cheek to stun his opponents. But his campaign would end in third place. His countryman Gregory Genovese could only manage fifth.
It was the start of a series of near misses for Italian on home soil. In Season 5 Danilo D’Ettoris finished eighth. In Season 6 Claudio Piceci finished in seventh place while Guiseppe Diep went out next in sixth.
Then in Season 7 the home crowds had reason to feel optimistic.
With two tables left six Italian players featured in the last 11. This was Italy’s best chance for the title and once again the locals Vespa’d into town to cheer home their boys to an inevitable victory. Bring them home they did, in 11th, tenth, ninth, eighth, seventh and sixth.
After that the locals learned not to raise their hopes. So they didn’t, when Rocco Palumbo finished seventh in Season 8 or when Stefano Puccilli also busted from the Campione final, also in seventh.
Will the flags be hung out again this year?