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A romp across the European poker landscape with the European Poker Tour

by Brad Willis |  Published: Jun 28, 2005


Most gambling cities have some surreal sense about them. Timepieces are irrelevant. The food seems to taste better. Above all, money seems to take on a different value. So, that's why it feels a bit gauche to toss a bellman at the Hotel Hermitage a ten-spot for carrying my bags all of 25 feet. After all, €10 isn't going to pay for the bun on a hamburger at the Hermitage. But the bellman's uniform costs more than anything in my generic luggage, so I don't feel so bad.

A helicopter hastily flown along the Côte d'Azurserved as a fine substitute for taxicabs. The players had been arriving in spurts over the past day or so. Greg Raymer sat in the lobby, sporting a dress jacket monogrammed with the PokerStars logo, and sandals on his feet. David "Devilfish" Ulliott was saying "Baby" in a variety of different ways and treating onlookers to his cell phone's custom ring tone: the 007 theme. It was Monte Carlo, a city where a simple, small apartment can go for more than €6 million. It was Monte Carlo, where a Monaco prince had once called a Hollywood princess his bride. It was Monte Carlo, a city that had just become home to more than 200 poker players.

Surreal, indeed.

Monte Carlo can blame a man by the name of John Duthie, a poker millionaire and veteran TV producer from the United Kingdom. Wry, dry, and known to wear bath slippers on the poker room floor, Duthie birthed the European Poker Tour in 2004 as a seemingly profitable homage of sorts to the wildly successful American creation, the World Poker Tour. The seven-stop televised tournament circuit started in Barcelona, Spain, raged across the European landscape, and landed finally in Monte Carlo.

When it was all over, Duthie would admit it was a bath-borne idea. Kicked back outside a Monaco Irish pub, sipping on a Coke and letting his shoes slip off his feet, Duthie mused in front of his Guinness-swilling colleagues.

"It's hard to believe," he said, a cigarette dangling from his fingers, "it was just a year and a month ago that I sat in the bath and thought, 'That would be a good idea.'"

Although the European poker circuit is thriving, Duthie needed some support. To draw the requisite number of players into the events, Duthie called on It proved to be a smart move. Online satellites drew players from all over Europe and the United States, and from as far away as Korea and Australia.

It was still a tricky proposition. Many of the cities on the tour knew more about roulette than poker. In fact, many of the cities had never seen live, legal poker before. Nor had they seen the traveling circus that accompanies a major poker tournament.

Somehow – against the odds, perhaps – it worked.

It's thematically comfortable to base this story at the end of the Monte Carlo Grand Final and the EPT's first season. The tales and lore born along the way are far too many to be told on just a few pages. It, too, is fortunate that one of the greatest stories of the entire circuit found himself at the Grand Final's final table. Brandon Schaefer, an occasional online player and recent college graduate, had planned on being the come-along buddy for his friend Carl Olson as he traveled to the EPT event in Deauville, France. Instead, Schaefer won his PokerStars Frequent Player Point qualifier, and took the trip for free. In a series of events that stunned even poker veterans, both Schaefer and Olson made the final table in Deauville, and then went on to take first and second place, respectively. Their victories vaulted them to Monte Carlo, where Schaefer again battled against the pros and odds and made the final table of the €10,000 Grand Final.

Humble, almost to a fault, Schaefer shrugged at one point during his mad rush, "I am living a charmed existence." At another point, Schaefer called Hendon Mobster Ross Boatman's all-in bet on a king-high board with a simple, "I'm not good enough to fold." Boatman had the king with a 4 kicker. Schaefer turned up pocket aces for the win.

When he reached the final table, Schaefer almost seemed embarrassed when his mother handed him a grapefruit from the rail. Earlier in the tournament, Schaefer had inhaled a grapefruit during a break to keep him going through the 12-hour day. Now, Schaefer bore a strange resemblance to former World Champion Johnny Chan. The orb of citrus tableside rounded out the likeness.

Wordless, stoic, and careful sat Rob Hollink on Schaefer's left. He was so quiet – almost invisible at times – he had yet to put a good scare into Schaefer. In fact, during a break, Schaefer surveyed the table and commented privately that he was truly concerned only with Alexander Stevic, another final-table player who had won an earlier EPT event. It was conceivably a forgivable oversight on Schaefer's part. Hollink might have gone unheeded by any young American amateur. He hadn't had the kind of TV time his fellow Dutchman Marcel Luske had in the previous years of televised poker. He was not a character like Luske, but he was a formidable foe, having cashed in six World Series of Poker events in the past two years (he would go on to take fifth place in the World Poker Tour Championship in 2005). In short, Hollink was more dangerous than he appeared.

If Schaefer didn't believe it at first, the next few hours at the final table made very clear Hollink's presence and potential for danger. The potential was fully realized by the wholesale carnage that erased most of the table from the competition. One by one, Hollink and Schaefer dispatched Romain Feriolo, Alex Stevic, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, Ben Grundy, Kevin Seeger, and Mikhail Ustinov.

David "Devilfish" Ulliott Marcel Luske Rob Hollink and his bounty

What remained was a David and Goliath story that few would've predicted: A quiet Danish pro versus a smiling American amateur.

The EPT television producers were counting out the foes' near-equal chip stacks when a familiar voice called across the floor.

"Brandon. Brandon, come here."

It was 2004 World Series of Poker Champion Greg Raymer. Schaefer walked over with the first signs of stress on his face and listened as the world champion offered generous advice. It was a private conversation, but one could imagine what was being said. Schaefer had been building his stack by snapping off his opponents' loose, aggressive play. Hollink was a different beast. Schaefer would not have the same opportunities against Hollink that he had against some of the other amateurs in the tournament.

The ensuing heads-up battle was perfect for television. The pair battled back and forth, often refusing to give up any serious ground. Then, Hollink took over, pushing Schaefer off hands that were presumably aggressive bluff attempts. Schaefer, however, would not back down, ramped up his aggression, and resumed the chip lead. In retrospect, it could be postulated that Hollink was setting Schaefer up, letting that ever-false sense of security set firmly in.

Brandon Schaefer (left) and Rob Hollink in heads-up play at the EPT Grand Final

If any proof were needed, it came in the form of one hand. First to act, Schaefer put in a standard raise and Hollink called. The flop came down with two tens and a 3. Schaefer bet out, Hollink doubled the bet, and Schaefer announced he was all in. Hollink's immediate call was all Schaefer or the railbirds needed for proof that the contest was almost over. Schaefer stood, wincing, throwing back his head and refusing to look at what he already knew. Hollink held a 10 to Schaefer's 3.

Crippled, Schaefer limped into the next and final hand, making top pair on the flop but falling to Hollink's rivered two pair. Schaefer limped away to the stands, where he could find comfort only in his mother and the beauty of EPT hostess Caroline Flack. Hollink's comforts were greater: an EPT championship, a load of cash, and his first major international win.

Yes, even in Monte Carlo, where princes rule and the walls are papered with Euros, poker players can reign supreme, if only for a week.

And for Schaefer, there's always next year. Word is, his mom is already shopping for grapefruits.

Brad "Otis" Willis is a freelance writer and web content manager for