Malta: The Lighter Way to Enjoy Poker

  • Malta poker events at lower price points lend themselves to more fun poker vacations
  • Giuseppe Rosa won the Battle of Malta Main Event for €200,340
  • Malta Poker Festival organizer Ivonne Montealegre is proud of its impact on the Malta economy
  • Daniel Lakerfeld won the Malta Poker Festival Main Event and €71,000
  • Montealegre finished second in the “Ladies First” tournament
Valletta Malta
The recently-completed Battle of Malta and Malta Poker Festival were testaments to grassroots poker. [Image:]

A poker fortnight in Malta celebrates the grassroots

The Battle of Malta and Malta Poker Festival are in the books. In pre-pandemic times, both were staples of the European fall schedule but this year, both sought to take advantage of the pent-up hunger for live poker by launching spring editions. Such was their success, testament to the power of both brands, that it would not be surprising to see them both become bi-annual festivals going forward.

The €555 ($585) buy-in Battle of Malta went first, smashing its €500,000 ($527,455) guarantee. In fact, 2,592 entries generated a prizepool of €1.24m ($1.31m) and a top heavy first prize of €200,340 ($211,341) which was won by the impressive Italian player Giuseppe Rosa. Then it was the turn of the €550 ($580) but-in Malta Poker Festival to wallop its €300,000 ($316,473) guarantee, 1,014 players contributing to the €486,720 ($513,446) prizepool. Daniel Lakerfeld emerged victorious to scoop the €71,000 ($74,899) first prize.

poker events aimed at this price point are the bedrock of a healthy poker ecosystem

In a game where the media coverage and column inches tend to go to the players in the upper echelons, these festivals were a celebration of grassroots poker. Credit is due to PokerStars and the Unibet DeepStack Open for getting behind the Battle of Malta and Malta Poker Festival, respectively. Poker events aimed at this price point are the bedrock of a healthy poker ecosystem, poker vacations which provide a link between pub poker/nightly casino tournaments and the bigger tours.

The Battle of Malta drew on poker collectives from all over the world

In 2018, Casino Malta acquired The Battle of Malta from Pokerlistings, moving it from its Portomaso Casino home. There was already a rivalry between the two casinos, so it’s fair to say there was no love lost after this transition. The event had just broken records in 2017, hitting a prizepool of €1m ($1.05m) for the first time.

Casino Malta co-owner Kevin De Cesare said at the time: “Being the owners of the hotel, casino and event organization puts us in a unique position to be able to elevate this tournament to the next level. Our two hotels provide the largest number of rooms situated around a casino in Malta, while our Arena can easily take some 140 poker tables all on one level and Casino Malta is significantly larger than any other casino in Malta.”

To be fair, he was right, and the event’s numbers swelled to 3,816 in 2018 and a shirt-busting 4,657 in 2019.

all things considered, the Main Event reaching 2,592 entries was a huge success

The 2020 and 2021 live editions were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions but in January of this year, the casino announced its return for an earlier-than-expected April slot on the calendar. With partnerships galore, branded side events ranged from €120 ($127) to €1,100 ($1,160), including “Let’s Play Poker Live,” “Poker League of Nations,” and “Israeli Poker Tour” events. It was clear that The Battle of Malta was drawing on poker collectives from all over the world and it must be said that all things considered, the Main Event reaching 2,592 entries was a huge success.

Unsurprisingly, the Main Event final table was an international affair with players from Italy, France, Poland, Estonia, Israel, and the Netherlands. With three left, all the players were guaranteed six-figure scores. Yossef Cohen and Stan van Dijk put in tremendous performances to finish third and second, respectively, but in the end it would be Giuseppe Rosa who would take home the trophy and the lion’s share of the prizepool, a whopping €200,340.

Battle of Malta Main Event Final Table Results

  1. Giuseppe Rosa – Italy – €200,340
  2. Stan van Dijk – Netherlands – €140,000
  3. Yossef Cohen – Israel – €100,000
  4. Noam Garama – Israel – €72,000
  5. Federico Petruzzelli – Italy – €54,120
  6. Jeremy Soreau – France – €41,680
  7. Karol Szyszko – Poland – €29,240
  8. Valter Marchi – Italy – €18,040
  9. Peep Kivistik – Estonia – €10,580

Montealegre bottles magic twice with the Malta Poker Festival

After the sale of The Battle of Malta brand to Casino Malta, the Portomaso Casino immediately got to work building another poker festival brand. Spearheading this was the former Battle of Malta Project Director Ivonne Montealegre who firmly believed that she could bottle magic twice. In 2018, The Malta Poker Festival smashed its €500,000 ($527,455) guarantee when 1,366 players showed up for its inaugural main event. The following year, it proved that it was no one-hit-wonder when 1,324 players took their seats.

The same fate befell the Malta Poker Festival in 2020 and 2021, but the event came roaring back last week when 1,014 players took part in the spring edition. Founder and Event Director Montealegre spoke to VegasSlotsOnline News about what this festival means to the island of Malta:

this event recaptures something that has been long lost in the poker industry – the fun element”

“The Malta Poker Festival is becoming a significant part of the Maltese national GDP. During what would be an otherwise slow season, over one thousand players from all over Europe and the world traveled to the island for a week to not only to compete but also to have a complete touristic experience. Our community is something of which I am very proud as this event recaptures something that has been long lost in the poker industry – the fun element. With such positive feedback from this Spring edition we are gearing up for a wonderful autumn event between the 24th and 31st of October.”

The emphasis on fun was echoed by the festival’s Social Media coordinator Donna Morton, who also spoke to VSO News:

“I especially loved the fact that so many amateurs came to play the MPF. Without grass roots tournaments like this I very much doubt that poker would survive. Ivonne and her team have brought together people from all over to play, make friends and network. I cannot wait for the festival in October and my inbox is already full of people saying that they want to come back. I think this is testament to the friendly atmosphere, the great structures and how well run everything was.”

Unibet DeepStack Open very proud to power the Malta Poker Festival

Unibet Poker has always prided itself on two things: a healthy poker ecosystem and five-star customer experiences. The Malta Poker Festival was therefore a natural fit for the poker brand which has been dipping its toe back into the live arena of late.

Unibet DeepStack Open founder Alex Henry spoke to VSO News, expressing his pleasure with the partnership:

“We’re very happy with the collaboration, the mix between the casino facilities, their amazing staff and UDSO’s unique structure along with our experience and community made this tournament a huge success.”

After seven days of exciting poker action at the Portomaso Casino, Daniel Lakerfeld was crowned the 2022 Spring Malta Poker Festival Spring Grand Event champion. He walked away with €71,000 after outlasting Simon György and PokerStars Hippodrome Live Pro Chris Da Silva, who finished second and third respectively.

Lakerfeld was not the only winner as Jan Daan Hoogendijk took down the Hendon Mob Championship for €13,415 ($14,152):

Malta Poker Festival Main Event Final Table Results

  1. Daniel Lakerfeld – Netherlands – €71,000
  2. Simon György – Hungary – €43,000
  3. Chris Da Silva – United Kingdom – €25,000
  4. Jasper van Moorsel – Netherlands – €18,000
  5. Georgios Ninis – Greece – €14,000
  6. Pawel Zawadowicz – Poland – €11,000
  7. Stephen Kane – United Kingdom – €9,000
  8. Nicolay Langfeldt – Norway – €7,500
  9. Piotr Tuczynski – Poland – €6,500

Women showed up in a big way for the Malta Poker Festival

Perhaps the most positive indicator at both festivals, but in particular the Malta Poker Festival, was the number of female participants. Montealegre has always been an advocate for women in poker, so when it comes to her own festival, she pulls out all the stops.

“Female participation in poker particularly strikes a chord with me,” Montealegre said. “I actually consider it to be my life’s work to get more women into poker. There were women at almost every table in the Main Event, but I am never satisfied. I want even more women for the next edition.”

When it came to the “Ladies First” tournament, 75 players registered, nine made the money, and when just three remained, Montealegre was one of them. There was a bit of business done and then when the tournament got heads-up, Montealegre surrendered the trophy to the very deserving Christina Read, a classy touch from the lady at the helm of a very classy festival.

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