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French News

by Benjamin Gallen |  Published: Jul 01, 2007

Le Grand Prix de Paris, post-World Poker Tour
For everyone involved in the management of the poker room at the Aviation Club de France, the big question in early May was: Will the Grand Prix de Paris survive without the World Poker Tour label? Just weeks before, the French authorities decided, for no real reason, that they wouldn't let the WPT crew film the event. While the Deauville Casino simply gave up last February when similar news came about the European Poker Tour, the Aviation Club stood firm and maintained its schedule, WPT or not. After all, the Grand Prix de Paris had lived a successful life for several years before poker was even on TV. However, with the European schedule being awfully crowded these days, the risk was real that the event would simply bomb, as many players could choose to pass on an event with no TV exposure.

At 4 p.m., minutes before the official start, the supervisors could relax; 68 players had shown up to play on the first starting day. About the same number of players would be in line the day after, making for a total of 139 runners, enough for a €1.3 million prize pool: Clearly, the event had suffered, but was still having some success, especially with a prize pool of that size. "That's good," one of the staff members said. "Better than we expected at first." All in all, the event featured an interesting mix between the local players and the pros from England, Scandinavia, America, and Eastern Europe (Russia, in particular, was heavily represented). All of those foreigners were lured in mostly by the perspective of an easy paycheck against the French, generally viewed as weaker players, with some reason, I would say, as only two of them made the money (they made up about half of the starting field). Indeed, some crazy plays were witnessed during the week: Overbetting and overcalling seem to be the norm at the Aviation, even for a competition that big.

The tournament director had decided to keep the tournament on the same schedule as planned before the WPT cancellation, meaning the 139 runners had six full days to complete the competition! The beautiful structure (20,000 in chips to start with, and 90-minute rounds) allowed a lot of play, and also made for some very short days. On day three, 26 players showed up: Play stopped as soon as the money spots (18) were reached, after only 90 minutes. It was the same deal on day four, when a final table of nine was decided after five hours of play.

The tournament went on with a "good old days" feeling floating in the air, with no TV cameras, no online poker shirts, and only a handful of press members in attendance (me, European Bureau Chief Rolf Slotboom, and the Brit crew from Blondepoker). We were witnessing what's possibly the only five-figure buy-in event left on the circuit with absolutely no TV coverage. On the first day of play, the atmosphere was very strange as the results for the presidential race came out on the news, displayed all over the Aviation's TV screens. An extended dinner break was conveniently called at 7 p.m. so that the local players could follow the results. A few hundred meters from the club, the newly elected Nicolas Sarkozy was celebrating his victory on the Champs-Elysées at the prestigious restaurant Le Fouquet's. I was hoping for the new president to show up at the club, so that I could perhaps ask him a few questions regarding the future of poker in our country under his reign, but alas, he had better things to do.

In the end, it was an 18-year-old Canadian, previously unknown, who took down the competition. Will Ma, that's his name, beat a final table composed of high-profile players such as Jeff Lisandro and Ram Vaswani to win the €422,560 first prize. Will transferred his already highly respected online skills onto the real green felts: The Grand Prix de Paris was just his first competition ever in a live cardroom! It was quite an amazing feat. Will is too young to play in the American casinos, but until he turns 21, I'm sure we will hear more of him on our side of the Atlantic.

Cancellation of the month
This French news column wouldn't be a real French news column if I wasn't mentioning some kind of bad news. After the Deauville EPT and the Paris WPT, the French Cancellation of the Month Award (beware, I copyrighted this) goes this month to the National Poker League, which pulled out at the last minute from the Paris Open, the €4,000 buy-in tournament that was supposed to take place right after the Grand Prix de Paris at the Gaillon cardroom (a new poker spot in the capital that I praised a few months ago). The recently created NPL gave up when it couldn't get the permits to shoot the event in time. The Paris Open is no longer part of the NPL, but still remained on schedule, however. This decision is especially strange when considering the fact that the NPL is absolutely not linked to any illegal online gambling company. What's next? Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the next move by the authorities is to ban the selling of card decks and chip sets … I'm only half-kidding.

Benjamin Gallen is a reporter for