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EPT Starts Off With a Bang in Barca, While Vicky Coren Wins at Home

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

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The autumnal regeneration of the European Poker Tour found the Barcelona Open kicking off the new season, pricier and more popular than ever. Two starting days just weren't enough for the horde of players raring to take a stab at the first EPT event, with its prize pool of €2,331,000 and a field that combined Internet and live stars, up-and-coming youngsters, and seasoned professionals.

In fact, the biggest of the big American names graced both the Barcelona and London EPT events, with Phil Ivey topping the bill and flying the flag for the States, along with Mike Matusow and David Plastik, who crept into the money in 38th place. In tournaments better known for being overrun by Scandinavians, who seem to win pretty much everything, it was interesting to see such a varied set of players. While Sweden did make up more than 10 percent of the field in Barca, only one Swede, Joakim Geigert, made it to the final table, while the handful of Americans cheered Ivey all the way to second place. I heard more than one regular lamenting the fact that with our reputedly tough European fields, these superstars of the game still manage to show us up. More amusingly, PokerStars uberblogger Mad Harper said having Ivey grace the EPT was like "having Tiger Woods turn up at my local pitch-and-putt."

While John Duthie probably doesn't like that comparison, it is true that the appearance of star players 6,000 miles from home ratifies the EPT as a truly international set of tournaments, with all the bells and whistles that go along with it.

It's all very well having excellent structures and a wide range of venues, but the cachet of a nowadays guaranteed big prize pool, as well as the attendance of players who've already graced TV tables several times before, bumps it up a notch. That and the corresponding bump in the buy-in (from €3,000 to €5,000) have just served to increase interest - and when sites start running satellites to send U.S. players wearing their shirts all the way to places like Baden and Deauville, you know you're on to a winner. That said, it all might be nipped in the bud with the new Internet gambling legislation in the U.S. taking hold, but that's a whole other story.

As for the results, Norwegian Bjorn-Erik Glenne took the top spot in Barcelona, proving that an 11-1 chip lead when heads up is just too much for even Phil Ivey to overcome, while there were two British players at the final table - Robin Keston, who finished eighth, and David Gregory, who took third (and impressed the sizeable audience with his fearless style of play). This tournament saw some close calls for other well-known UK players: Roland De Wolfe came 20th after some rather rotten luck consumed his sizeable chip stack, and Ian Woodley, Julian Gardner, JP Kelly, Javed Abrahams, Paul Parker, Les Kerrigan, Stephen Pearce, Nic Szeremeta, and Ryan Fronda, placed too, in descending order. I mention the full British success list only because it's one of the best finishes for this island of poker outside of the country, where British players comprised a chunky 38 percent of the field.

The tournament referred to is, of course, the European Poker Championship (the EPT at the Victoria Casino), where local player (and poker journalist) Victoria Coren took the £500,000 (€738,750) first prize. Now, this is interesting, and not just because she has the same name as the host casino. The first female EPT champ, Coren is predominately a cash-game player and can be found playing in the Vic on a regular basis. Hardly an online qualifier plucked from obscurity, she's been playing for almost as long as last year's EPT Grand Final winner Jeff Williams has been alive. A presenter and columnist, she's used to fielding questions on more detailed (and interesting) poker subjects than what it's like to be a female player, and another articulate, no-nonsense spokesperson for such players can't be a bad thing. Although not unbiased when it comes to the question of women in poker, I am neither convinced of women's innate psychological advantages over their male opponents nor thrilled to be stereotyped as unsophisticated and weak-tight (usually), despite the hackneyed "advantage" this gives over some players. Hopefully, as more women take down the big prizes in these tournaments, there will be less surprise registered and, in fact, less fuss made; it would be great to see poker become a true meritocracy, in which the gender of players is as important to the analysis of their games as their shoe size.

That aside, the heads-up finals against Australian Emad Tahtouh lasted just two hands, but the whole thing was an interesting battle between veterans like Jan Sjavic and Peter Hedlund, "gifted amateur" Sid Harris (who probably should buy a lottery ticket or two this month), and tournament regulars Michael Muldoon, Chad Brown, and Jules Kuusik. The Vic, too, managed to surprise the ever-increasing number of spectators and journalists by providing them with space and an Internet connection. I am always left wondering just how big European poker can get before members of the press need their own outbuilding from which to report on the action. The atmosphere was great overall, with the usually reserved British contingent out in force to support one of the regulars in her bid for the Championship title, and as for Vicky's thoughts on the result, the PokerStars press release caught her euphoric mood in a nutshell: "I am so happy and proud to win this tournament in the Victoria Casino. The whole EPT is an amazing thing - it's a fantasy to win any EPT event - but to win in London at the Vic is beyond my wildest dreams." spade

Jen Mason is part of www.blondepoker.com. She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.