David Lappin: Anastasakis Wins Battle of Malta, but Thomas Kremser’s Presence Is a Stain on Poker

  • Thomas Kremser made a surprising return to tournament officiating at the Battle of Malta
  • Dimitrios Anastasakis won the Main Event and €285,000 after a three-way deal
  • Kremser was ousted as EPT tournament director in 2011 for allegedly skimming from prize pools
  • Allowing Kremser back is a risky move and could damage poker’s reputation
Pocket sevens (poker hole cards)
The Battle of Malta event was a fantastic event, as expected, but a shadow was cast upon the festivities with the presence of disgraced former EPT tournament director Thomas Kremser. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Kremser took the reigns

In the movies, when a villain is defeated, his master plan thwarted, his true intentions exposed and his defenses undermined, he is tried and convicted, jailed, vanquished, expelled, frozen in ice, exiled to a desert planet, or Hans Gruber-ed off a tall building. This delivers a cathartic moment for the audience, a sense of closure, and an optimistic message that crime doesn’t pay and justice ultimately prevails. 

waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike again and wreak havoc on the world

Sometimes, however (particularly if there is a viable sequel), the bad guy escapes at the end, evading punishment, leaving the audience unsatisfied and craving more. In Part 2, he returns with a new devilish scheme. He wears a mask, fooling some but not all. Having laid low for a period, biding his time, he plots and maneuvers, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike again and wreak havoc on the world.  

Thomas Kremser recently made his return to the world of poker tournament officiating and just last week, he took the reigns for the Battle of Malta Main Event. Thanks to new hair, botox, and a facelift, he was hardly recognizable, and this intrepid reporter/donator to the prize pool only realized it was him when he did commentary on the livestreamed final table on Wednesday. 

Anastasakis wins the big one

The Battle of Malta drew a huge crowd last week, with over 4,000 entries from all over Europe. The convention center in the Intercontinental Hotel is a colossal room, but it was brimful of poker players on the busiest days of the festival, a testament to the popularity of this poker power brand. 

The Main Event boasted six starting flights and ultimately boiled down to a final nine, three of whom walked away with six figures. After the eliminations of Konstantinos Nanos, Omer Azulay, and Claudio Barone, there was a cagey passage of play as the tournament remained six-handed for several hours. 

Rising blinds would ultimately force the action as Gabrielle Re re-shoved A♣️9♣️, running into the K♠️K♥️ of Dimitrios Anastasakis. Next to go was Cristiano Zambonelli, who came out on the wrong side of a K♦️K♥️ versus A♦️Q♦️ confrontation, Toivo Rinne turning a flush to send the Italian to the rail. Having enjoyed the chip lead on a couple of occasions throughout the final table, it would be Emmanuel Houssais who fell in 4th place after flopping top pair, top kicker in a three-bet pot versus the flopped straight of Anastasakis.

it was chip leader Anastasakis who would deliver a quick one-two to end matters

With three players left, a bit of business was done as Will Jarman, Rinne, and Anastasakis banked a chunk of the prize pool, leaving €100,000 ($97,166) up top for the winner. With the ICM shackles off, play understandably loosened and it was chip leader Anastasakis who would deliver a quick one-two to end matters, holding A-6 in both hands. Neither short stack Jarman’s A-Q nor Rinne’s A-7 could deprive Anastasakis of a famous and deserved victory. Jarman received €125,000 ($121,458) and Rinne got €165,000 ($160,324), but the lion’s share went to Anastasakis, who took home €285,000 ($276,924). 

A smoother experience 

The jam-packed side event schedule was ideal for grinders as the fast structures meant you spun up a stack or were onto the next one efficiently. This was a stark contrast to the Unibet Open from the previous week, which offered slower structures and lots of off-the-table activities. Unibet certainly gave the players more bang for their buck, but to be honest, I enjoy both flavors of festival. 

standard of dealers was markedly improved

The last Battle of Malta before the COVID-19 pandemic was a messy affair, possibly a victim of its own success as the sheer volume of players to be accommodated put an enormous amount of pressure on dealers and staff. The spring edition last April was an improvement, but still felt a little frenzied at times. This time around, it was a much smoother experience, as it seems like Casino Malta has figured out the formula for getting players through the turnstiles en masse. Credit for this should go to Telly Bartolo and his team for responding to player needs. The standard of dealers was markedly improved and I suspect the contributions of Nick O’Hara and Glenn Doyle greatly enhanced the organizational side of things. 

There was, however, one troubling addition to the Battle of Malta team in the form of disgraced former European Poker Tour (EPT) Tournament Director Thomas Kremser. His presence drew ire from those familiar with his shady past and rightly so. Poker is under the microscope right now as cheating scandals abound. The last thing we need is the return of notorious figures from poker’s past. 

Persona non-grata

It is 11 years since Kremser was replaced as EPT tournament director, becoming a pariah in the poker community and a persona non-grata at poker festivals. At the time it was alleged that he was skimming money from prize pools. Poker player and documentary producer Miikka Anttonen was adamant about wrongdoing when he posted to the 2+2 Forum:

this whole mess got swept under the rug pretty hard by PokerStars”

“It’s actually super interesting because this whole mess got swept under the rug pretty hard by PokerStars and they still owe players hundreds of thousands of euros (rough estimation) from this… A PokerStars employee basically stole players’ funds for many years and once Stars found out, they decided to not tell anyone and not refund anyone. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who fell victim to this scam, myself included.”

To quote legendary Finnish journalist Juhani Tyrisevä: 

“The case itself was quite clear. The whole story came out thanks to Juha Helppi, who was one of the three players left in the $5,000 side tournament. The players were negotiating a chop and Helppi noticed that the event had 80,000 chips more than there should be. It was quite obvious that the buy-ins of four players had been misguided from the prize pool. PokerStars put €20,000 back into the prize pool, but I do not know whether the money came from Kremser or the company’s own pocket.”

For his part, Kremser has long claimed that his departure from PokerStars was amicable and, at the time, he defended himself, saying:

“We made a chip inventory, looked at player lists and counted all the money back stage, but couldn’t find a mistake. A meeting was called…and it was decided to add money to the prize pool for the avoidance of doubt which was agreed by the players.”

A stain on poker

For many, poker is a fleeting interest and there is a rapid attrition rate of players and industry figures. This allows for formerly disgraced people to worm their way back into the fold. Perhaps the Battle of Malta organizers were unaware of Kremser’s checkered past, or perhaps they considered the allegations against him to be mere rumors. After all, he was never formally charged with stealing and PokerStars took no action beyond severing ties with him. 

What is true, though, is for seven years, prior to the development of a computerized system, all registration and money transactions at EPTs were carried out by Kremser’s wife Marina Rado and during that period, Kremser was an avid sports car collector. Take from that what you will. 

the reputation damage his presence will do to your brand

With regard to his return a decade on, maybe he has sold the story of a hard-working industry professional, looking to make a comeback after unfair treatment, or maybe it has been decided that his period of exile is over and he is a redeemable figure. If it is the former, then buyer beware and prospective employers need to watch him like a hawk, not to mention the reputation damage his presence will do to your brand. If it is the latter, then I would strongly suggest that there ought to be no statute of limitations for someone who would pilfer from the players and that his legacy is a stain on poker. 

Sequels are only fun in the movies.