Live Poker in Europe Is Back and Poised to Boom

  • European players have set off for Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Costa Rica in preparation for the WSOP
  • Other poker pros are gearing up for the return of the live poker circuit in Europe
  • Festivals in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the UK are getting big turnouts
  • There are no Unibet Opens until 2022 but Unibet-sponsored IPO and DSO events are happening
  • The Dutch Masters is confirmed for November, no announcement yet on EPT Prague in December 
Aces on blue chips
Though the poker world’s attention is squarely on the upcoming WSOP, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions have helped kickstart the European poker scene. [Image: Flickr.com]

The Cyprus lifehack

With the Europe/USA travel ban largely still in effect, this week large numbers of European players made their way to Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and Costa Rica. They are based there for two-week stays to meet the requirements to enter America in time for the upcoming World Series of Poker (WSOP). 

For some high-stakes players, though, there is a curious life hack available. Despite higher COVID-19 case numbers, Cyprus is not on the US banned list. For that reason, the Merit Hotel, Casino and Spa in Cyprus has been their home for the past few weeks and likely the next few.

The Super High Roller Bowl drew some big names to the island, and most of those will also be in the mix for the Partypoker Millions North Cyprus Festival starting next week.

live poker is coming back with a vengeance

For the players who have decided to stay, there will be plenty of poker options in the coming months. With the vaccination rates steadily climbing, the restrictions all across Europe are loosening up. Casinos are reopening, and with that, live poker is coming back with a vengeance. 

Poker up and running in Czech Republic, Slovakia, UK

In King’s Casino, Rozvadov, the WSOPC just concluded with Italian pro Andrea Ricci taking down the 912-runner €1,700 ($2,010) Main Event for €236,489 ($279,673) and his first gold ring. Meanwhile, in Bratislava, Germany’s Maximilian Silz won the Pokercode Festival for €23,169 ($27,400). 

In the UK, the Grosvenor Poker Tour (GUKPT) has been back for a while, having completed three of its eight legs.

In July, Euan McNicholas turned his very first GUKPT buy-in into the London title and a whopping £165,800 ($229,267). In August, Poker pro Rick Trigg outlasted 461 players to take down the GUKPT Manchester. Most recently, Steve Jelinek emerged from a record field of 607 to take down the GUKPT Coventry for £105,050 ($145,262). Leg 4 of the GUKPT will be in Leeds next week.

Kicking off this week is the much beloved Kings of Tallinn, billed as the biggest festival in Northern Europe. The Main Event starts tomorrow and runs until Sunday, September 19. The schedule is also jam-packed with mixed games and cash games running round the clock.

The Kings of Tallinn is a can’t miss event, with something for everyone”

VegasSlotsOnline News spoke with poker player and writer Jason Glatzer ahead of one of his favorite events in his hometown. “The Kings of Tallinn is a can’t miss event, with something for everyone and the juiciest cash games. Teresa (Nousiainen) does a fantastic job every year and the casino is easily the best venue in Northern Europe with amazing hospitality and action,” Glatzer said.

The Olympic Park Casino and Hilton Tallinn Park is indeed a special venue, located right in the heart of the Estonian capital. 

The IPO announced its return on The Lock-In 

This week, Nick O’Hara took to the airwaves, announcing the International Poker Open (IPO) and, with that, the return of live poker to Ireland.

The popular TD and festival organizer went on Unibet Poker’s topical poker web show The Lock-In to discuss a whole host of subjects, not least of which was his excitement and anticipation for what is one of Europe’s longest-running and most popular poker events.

O’Hara was frank about the COVID-19 measures that would be in place. Vaccination certificates or negative PCR tests would be required at the door. Daily temperature checks would be administered and players with a high temperature would not be allowed in. Preventative measures would include closed dealer rotations (whereby each dealer will only alternate between four tables) and a requirement to hand-sanitize frequently. He also said he would have to wait and see what the government’s position would be on mask-wearing at the time. 

The IPO festival will be sponsored by Unibet Poker for the fourth time as it kicks off on October 20 and runs through October 25. The popular Unibet Open Tour will not be returning before 2022, but the Unibet DSO Tour is already on the road.

The Unibet DSO is in full swing

One of the earliest tours to go back on the road was the popular Unibet DeepStack Open (DSO). VegasSlotsOnline News spoke with the DSO creator, Alex Henry, who was very positive despite a tough couple of years. He said: “It was a difficult period for sure, but one thing has not changed. The French absolutely love their poker and they come out in big numbers all over the country.”

There have been three Unibet DSO events so far. “In July, we had 696 players in Paris; in August, we had 400 in San Remo; and last week, we had 481 in Cannes,” Henry added. 

These are very promising numbers, but Henry is cognizant of the problems that can still arise. He explained: “We had to cancel the event in Gujan Mestras, as the local rules meant that there could only be four players and the dealer on any table. That is obviously unworkable, but we hope to bring the DSO back there when the rules change.” 

While some regions are implementing stricter measures than others, there are some rules that apply to all of France. “There is no plexiglass, but each player must present a sanitary pass and wear their mask at all times,” Henry specified.

new players are injecting some new blood into the live poker scene

The DSO creator also noted how the pandemic has changed the demographics of who is playing live poker now. “It seems like we have lost one category of recreational player – the restaurant or small business owner. This is understandable as it has been a particularly painful time for them. What we didn’t expect is how many new players would show up, having discovered poker for the first time during lockdown.” It appears that, for now at least, these new players are injecting some new blood into the live poker scene. 

The next DSO event on the schedule starts October 29 and runs until November 7 in Annecy. 

Other major festivals are on the horizon

Casino Sochi in Russia has been open for some time and in October, it will play host to the least talked about EPT on the schedule. It’s no secret that PokerStars would prefer if this event didn’t happen, but its contract with Casino Sochi – which is imperative for its presence in the Russian online market – allows the casino to call the shots on this one. 

It is rumored that PokerStars may be making its return to the live circuit with EPT Prague, a staple of the European circuit for a decade. Nothing is confirmed as yet, but let’s just say that booking a hotel in the Prague Hilton during the second week of December is nigh on impossible right now. 

One iconic festival that is confirmed, however, is the Master Classics of Poker, which made the big announcement last week. The event will take place at the Holland Casino Amsterdam in November. 

Every summer, the WSOP creates a Wimbledon effect, whereby casual players get the itch to play some poker. This year’s autumn WSOP is likely to have a similar effect, magnified by the fact that people have been cooped up, some are tanked up and, with the travel ban, a shorter WSOP trip from Europe is not possible.

For those reasons, it is reasonable to expect a boom time for live poker across Europe as poker players try to make up for lost time.