The best-laid plans
In November 2019, the Unibet Open celebrated its 50th edition with a very special edition in Paris. The festival was a huge success with 480 players battling it out in the Main Event for a €89,070 ($85,925) first prize, eventually won by Omar Lakhdari. As is customary on the Unibet Tour, there was an emphasis on player experience.
one Unibet Poker ambassador stepped foot on the pitch
A welcome drinks reception took place at ‘Le Parc De Princes’ with players treated to tours of the then Unibet-sponsored Paris St Germain stadium. It may or may not be true that one Unibet Poker ambassador stepped foot on the pitch. That same Unibet Poker ambassador may or may not have sheepishly got off the pitch after being told there were snipers on the roof tasked with dealing with people that enagaged in such tomfoolery.
A few months later in Dublin, 294 players showed up for a fantastic event in the Bonnington Hotel. Martin Olali emerged victorious in that one, claiming the €64,110 ($61,858) first prize.
The next stop on the schedule was Tallinn and a highly anticipated event in the Park Hilton, a hotbed of poker, traditionally drawing players from every corner of Scandinavia. However, as we all know too well, 2020 didn’t exactly materialize as we all hoped it would. The best-laid plans of mice and men.
Open titles for Silver, Nitsche, O’Neill
Some sites remained optimistic for a fast return to normality but the Unibet powers-that-be saw the writing on the wall. ‘IRL’ became ‘URL’ as Unibet Poker became the first major operator to pivot its live tour to the virtual realm. Very successful online editions of the Unibet Open followed, keeping the tour alive.
The first Unibet Open Online champion was semi-retired poker beast Max Silver who carved his way through the 373-runner field, ROFL-stomping the final table, and ultimately defeating Jamie Nixon heads-up to win €77,320 ($74,472).
the first back-to-back Unibet Open champion
Then in December 2021, Irishman Padraig O’Neill become the first back-to-back Unibet Open champion after he outlasted 229 others to win the event for €52,622 ($50,657). He also won the October 2021 edition for €79,998 ($77,015), conquering a field of 387. Remarkably, both victories came from €50 ($48,14) super-satellites on Unibet Poker, meaning O’Neill parlayed just €100 ($96.27) to more than €130,000 ($125,152).
Another notable to take down a Unibet Open Online event was high-stakes crusher and DTO Poker Trainer creator Dominik Nitsche. He defeated a 319-player field in March 2021 to win the title and €68,527 ($65,968).
With a little help from your friends
By October 2021, there was a lot of pent-up desire for live poker. In the UK, the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour was back up and running. The World Series of Poker was on the horizon and it was rumored that the US would open its borders in time for European pros to play the Main Event. In Ireland, the hugely popular Unibet International Poker Open (IPO) was scheduled for its usual Halloween slot, marking the operator’s first foray back into the live realm. The event was a big success, crowning a champion in Jamie Cusack who took home €46,950 ($45,195):
Continuing to support live operators with whom they had previously partnered was a big priority for Unibet. Speaking with VegasSlotsOnline News, Unibet Head of Online Poker Kris Bergvall said:
After 18 months of lockdowns, our players were hungry for some live poker and our live partners were keen to provide that. We really value our relationships with organizers like Nick O’Hara and The Festival’s Franke Von Zweibergk who maintain the highest standards and prioritize player experience.”
Unibet Poker has supported the Patrik Antonius Poker Challenge in Tallinn and the Dublin Poker Festival. They will also be sending players to the upcoming Festival Bratislava and this year’s IPO. That synergy between live and online poker is vital to both sides of the industry and during 2021 and 2022, the French-facing Unibet DeepStack Open (UDSO) has gone from strength to strength. Tour organizer Alex Henry has hosted events in Cannes, Paris, La Grande Motte, Aix de Provence, Gujan Mestres, and San Remo. UDSO powered the last Malta Poker Festival and at the end of October, it will celebrate its 100th edition in Annecy.
The Chip Race Mystery Bounty
Earlier this month, the Unibet Belgian Poker Championships boasted its largest ever field with a whopping 650 entries battling it out in the seaside town of Blankenberg. Unibet’s Head of Live Events Nataly Sopacuaperu was blown away by the turnout, telling VSO News:
“It was great to see so many players at the tables, all enjoying themselves, after such a long time. I’m hopeful that we will have a similar response in Malta.”
One exciting addition to the Unibet Open schedule is the €550 ($530) buy-in Chip Race Mystery Bounty. Branded by the popular and handsomely-hosted global poker award-winning podcast, the Mystery Bounty will have €8,000 ($7,704) in added prizes, courtesy of Unibet Poker. Those prizes will be handed out prior to the ‘bounty phase’ ensuring the wealth is spread more evenly across all the participants.
Speaking with VSO News, Unibet Head of Poker Marketing Kat Arnsby was very on-brand, touting the importance of Unibet’s ‘rec-friendly’ ethos:
“If operators want more revenue by jumping on the popular format bandwagon they should make sure they are protecting recreational players from ways those formats benefit the better players.”
Unibet Open Malta: A record breaker?
This week, the Unibet Open returns to the live felt after 31 months and eight online editions. Casino Malta is the venue and if the popularity of the online satellites is anything to go by, the festival is primed to break records on the Mediterranean archipelago.
a jam-packed side event schedule of smaller events
The €330 ($318) Unibet Opener is on Wednesday, the 4-day €1,100 ($1,060) Main Event starts on Thursday and the highly anticipated €550 ($530) Chip Race Mystery Bounty will be on Saturday. There is also a jam-packed side event schedule of smaller events. If you can’t make it to the event, then you can still tune in to livestream coverage of the Main Event on Twitch where you will be treated expert analysis via the dulcet tones of Unibet commentator Henry Kilbane.
Having put player safety above all else back in March 2020, Unibet is now the last major poker operator in Europe to bring back their marquee live event. The Unibet Open was always a highlight of the poker calendar, a poker vacation for recreational and professional players alike. Its return is warmly welcomed.