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French News

by Loic Sabatte |  Published: Apr 01, 2006

Patrick Bruel

The French public has only recently come to realize just how extraordinary a game poker is. In the past, poker was seen as a game played by crooks in the backrooms of smoke-filled cafés or insalubrious basements. The wake-up call came in January 2005 when, prompted by the successes of its American counterparts, French television networks decided to embark on the poker adventure.

The only French program entirely devoted to poker is presented by Bruno "King" Fitoussi, the poker pioneer in France, and the exuberant host of his own show, Tournoi des As. The show has proven to be such a hit that the French channel Paris Première commissioned an additional six episodes for 2006. The success of the program underlines the fact that poker is now acceptable in France, so much so that showbiz celebrities line up to appear on the program.

Next in line is the European Poker Tour (EPT), created by John Duthie and broadcast on Eurosport throughout Europe. In France, commentary is provided by the genius Michel Abécassis, known for his ability to convey the excitement and magic of poker, even to the uninitiated. His remarks are incisive, and he willingly focuses on the technical aspects of the game, which, in the minds of many people, are limited to the word "bluff."

Another important player on the French poker scene is Patrick Bruel, who is well-known not only as a singer and actor, but also as the winner of a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998. In September 2005, he appeared on a major national TV channel as a WPT commentator, and this had an immediate effect on television audiences in France. The nation was hooked, and since then the number of players in France has increased fivefold.

Today, the game is increasingly perceived as a competitive pursuit and, supported by journalists who have contributed to improving the image of the game, is steadily gaining public interest as the game of the future.

This year sees the second season of a much-awaited series of French tournaments, the France Poker Tour (FPT). Launched in 2004 by Charles Traounez and Antoine Dorin, the FPT is a series of free-entry tournaments held in 15 cities throughout France. For players, the goal is to qualify for the Grand Final at the Aviation Club de France (ACF), where more than 100 participants will compete for the title of French champion.

The first-annual FPT did not receive the level of media coverage that poker is given today, and the qualifying tournaments were organized using whatever resources were available. Across the country, the organizers had to host tournaments in their own homes!

The second season, however, was a different story. All of the qualifying events attracted more than 100 participants, even though there was no prize pool. Players were motivated less by monetary gain than by the desire to be crowned the national champion.

Four internationally known poker celebrities – Isabelle Mercier, Jan Boubli, Pascal Perrault, and Bruno Fitoussi – were invited to the finals. The €20,000 prize pool was provided by Everestpoker, and the atmosphere was exhilarating!

Having organized three of the qualifying tournaments myself (Tours, Le Mans, and Nantes), I know that the new wave of players is particularly interested in competitive poker, and not necessarily driven by the huge sums that can be won in prize money.

Today, the low buy-in (€100) Texas hold'em tournaments hosted by the Aviation Club de France are so popular that seats are sold out 24 hours in advance, and the club has to turn people away. The number of players in France is exploding, and for many, the ACF is the only place where they can take part in "real" tournaments with croupiers.

More and more home games are being organized throughout France, and as I observe this craze, I can't help thinking of the IH3PA and of its founder Tony Wuehle, who, more than 30 years ago, started his club in the United States.

Back in 1994, I wanted poker to take the French public by surprise. Today, it is a constant source of surprise to me. spade

Loic Sabatte is webmaster of