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Unibet Open Valencia - By Petri Pietila

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Jan 01, 2011

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The fourth Unibet Open of the current season took place in October in Valencia — a Spanish city whose name is associated with Unibet thanks to football. This year Unibet was offered an opportunity to arrange a poker tournament in its “home town” because the casino company CIRSA opened a new casino in August near the city centre. “Valencia is the only sensible poker tournament location out of all the cities in Spain because of our link to FC Valencia,” says live poker manager Ewa Kwiatkowska of Unibet.
A Brief History
Ewa Kwiatkowska from Poland has been working in the casino business for 18 years. She started as a dealer in Casinos Poland, and when the company began to offer live poker in the year 2000 she jumped in and has been in the business since.
Kwiatkowska worked her way up to poker marketing director and has established co-operative relationships with all the big Internet poker companies arranging live tournaments in Warsaw including the first Unibet Open in Warsaw in 2007. The 2008 Unibet Open in the Polish capital was a big success and when Unibet asked Ewa to take care of the whole series, she took it and since January 2009 she’s been its the manager.
Responsible for everything concerning Unibet Open, she chooses the venues, takes care of all the negotiations in the arrangements, organises competitions, and is in charge of both the budgets and marketing campaigns. Kwiatkowska investigates about 60 casinos a year around Europe in order to choose the venues ranking each in a variety of areas.
In order for the casinos to get points they should have experience in poker, convenient transportation, the availability of 4-5 star hotels in their neighbourhood, and they should make a good initial impression on her also.
About one-third of casinos meet the standards and they are then strong contenders to hold a Unibet Open. When Ewa finally selects the casino, she visits the place twice. The first visit is to establish the agreements regarding all the details of the tournament, the other visit is only for monitoring and taking care of small details. Kwiatkowska’s work demands a lot of knowledge of European political and legal culture because every country operates under different rules.
“In the beginning it is quite difficult to trust in people, if the same place is used often for the tournaments then the work becomes much easier,” says Ewa Kwiatkowska.
Kwiatkowska’s work improves on the basis of customer feedback. Many of the regular players have got to know her personally and have given her a lot of constructive feedback. The latest improvement has been the increase of the starting stack from 10,000 chips to 15,000, as players wanted to play longer with a deeper stack.
All Unibet Open tournaments follow the same format. The game starts at 2 p.m. local time and there are two starting days. The tournaments last four days and only the final table is played on the last day. On the first day a welcoming party is held, and on the third day, which is often Saturday, players go to eat out together. It’s said that starting on 1B can be quite heavy — the games last 14 hours and players have to continue on the next day without getting the same rest as their day 1A opponents.
CIRSA Casino, Valencia
When Ewa arrived to check Valencia’s casino for the first time, the site was still under construction. She was still impressed. Casino’s business manager Javier Gutierres Marques says that nowadays poker is very important for CIRSA. The company arranges its own CIRSA Poker Tour across Latin America and Spain.
The cash games played in Valencia’s casino are quite big. They start every day at around 3 p.m. in the afternoon and normally the starting table has €2.50-€5 blinds. Tables with €5-€10 blinds open in the evening. In cash games about 60 percent are aged 18-35, and the rest are above 35 who have moved to hold’em from other poker games. Usually older players have played more in bigger rings.
The bright and pleasant CIRSA Valencia casino is about 8,000 square metres in size. There are five floors including two for underground parking. Usually three cash game tables are opened in the casino. Eight out of 21 tables in the casino are roulette tables and the rest are tables for card games. There are three restaurants and two terraces.
Unibet and Valencia
The Unibet Spanish manager is Juan Barrachina, who has been working for the company since 2005. He told Card Player that Spain plans to introduce a similar gaming licence system as France and Italy, but being more ambitious, it hopes to do it much better. Juan estimated it could take at least two years to get the licence system ready and he himself has been an active lobbyist in the law-making phase.
Barrachina said the most important issue is to get politicians to understand that gaming tax should be based only on income and not turnover. Nowadays many companies that pay a lot of gaming tax are bitter towards Internet operators, who do not pay tax to Spain, Barrachina points out.
Unibet and Valencia have close ties, particularly in soccer. Barrachina has always had good relations with the team and many of his relatives have worked in leading positions at the club. He heard about previous sponsorship problems and just before the start of the season flew to London to explain to Unibet the sponsorship opportunities at FC Valencia.
Intrigued with the idea Unibet agreed a six-month agreement. The shirts used in the game had already been made and the Unibet logo ended up appearing in an unusual vertical way on the shirts.
The deal provoked a lot of comment that Unibet saved the famous club. The cooperation has progressed well and now Unibet is the main sponsor for the club in difficult economic times.
The sponsorship has brought a lot of positive publicity to Unibet, especially in the Valencia region, and the Unibet country managers in other countries have followed the example — Unibet logos can be seen on the team shirts of Nömme Kalju, Ferencvaros, Rapid Bucharest, and Vilnius Zalgiris.
It is unfortunate that Valencia is not easy to reach by plane from Finland or Holland as Juan would like to send many more customers to watch the team play and enjoy the 300 days of sunshine the city offers.
We Have a Winner
Before the start of Unibet Open Valencia Javier Gutierrez Marques was worried about the size of the poker room. He would have liked the casino to have a bigger poker room for international tournaments — 400 participants is the most CIRSA Valencia casino can hold. This renewal of the Unibet Open came close to the limit with 361 players taking to the felt. Sixty-four were from Spain, 55 from Holland, and 36 from Denmark.
The number of participants was equally divided into the two starting days, but the Spanish players seemed to prefer 1B. Ninety-five players progressed to day 2.
The eventual winner, Denmark’s Thomas Tang was below the average stack at the start of day 2. Tournament organisers and the general public generally like to see a familiar poker face take a tournament down, but often hope for a true Cinderella story in the €1,500 events.
Unibet Open Valencia threw up a couple of Cinderella stories — Finnish player Juuso Aaltonen, knocked out one player after another, and the local favourite Jose Diez, who won the seat online and was strongly supported by the audience, finished third winning €59,560.
When the main event got heads up it was between Thang and Andreas Hofman from Germany.
Thang was sixth in chips when the final table started but rose to the top when his pair of eights stood up against A-T, and Thang, who works fulltime in the Danish poker federation, got to go back to Copenhagen €138,080 richer.
“At the final table my biggest opponent was Antanas Gueorguiev from Bulgaria, who was chip leader when the final table started and has earned over $750,000 in his career,” said Thang. He jokingly added, “In the end the best player won and my wife already knows how to spend the prize money.”
The next Unibet Open stops at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino, London in early December.
“In a marketing sense the London event in 2009 was our best and it obviously attracted many more famous top players than other Unibet Opens,” said Kwiatkowska.
She does not have the Unibet Open schedule ready yet for 2011, but says it will be a Christmas present for the players when she makes it public at the end of this year.
In the end she said that she would describe Unibet Open as more than just a poker tournament, but as an experience when players eat, drink, and sightsee together. Everyone stays together, is treated equally, and the aim is to try and create an excellent atmosphere. ♠