EPT Dortmund: Ahoy there!
Ship-shape: Katja Thater
by Simon Young
The soft sound of waves lapping on the sand; exotic drinks and morcels; beach bars with attractive staff; a who's who of poker's finest magicians. Think you are back in the Caribbean for the WPT? Think again, for this is Dortmund, Germany, at the start of what could be a record-breaking week for the European Poker Tour.
We are here for the first-ever EPT event in Deutschland, expecting to top the 480 runners who sat down for the biggest field so far in Barcelona last September. And to get us in the mood, PokerStars threw a lavish party that your's truly left reluctantly in order to keep you up to date (I know, it's a tough life).
Allow me put you in the picture. Dortmund is a city of about 600,000 people - the seventh largest in Germany - and not far from the border with Holland. Traditionally it is an industrial heartland, yielding steel, coal... and beer. Sadly the steel workers and the miners have long since put away their tools, but happily the brewing is still a feature of the city, and let me tell you that they do a pretty good job with their pale pilsner lager.
Just south of here is the picturesque Hohensyburg Casino, home for this trail-blazing tournament. It nestles in a forest, presenting a thus-far unique venue for your intrepid PokerStars players. Coming, as ever, from across the globe, they all met up for the party to launch the tournament. Set in a warehouse, the party venue was transformed magically into a beach scene, with sand, decking, picnic tables and BBQ food. Fire eaters entertained as our qualifiers got to know each other before the serious business began across the felt.
Joining the cash and frequent player point satellite qualifiers were Team PokerStars players ElkY (Bertrand Grospellier), from France, Katja Thater, revelling in representing the Team on her home soil, and Holland's Noah "Exclusive" Boeken, the newest recruit playing his first major event since signing on the dotted line.
Welcome aboard: Noah Boeken
ElkY with EPT admiral John Duthie
Other big names were also enjoying the atmosphere, including Marcel Luske, from Holland, who got into the party spirit with a huge pizza, which at least prevented him from snatching a microphone and bursting into song.
Slice of the action: Marcel Luske
Here, too, is Anthony Holden, British author of the unmissable poker book The Big Deal, and who's sequel "is now at the publishers after being finished on time - thankfully". Also present is ex-professional footballer Tony Cascarino, who played for Ireland and Chelsea, and is now very much at home on the poker table. "I'm in reasonable form after cashing in two tournaments in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, so this could be another nice result," he said.
Kick out of poker: Tony Cascarino
And to add to the mix, we have two recent EPT winners playing in Germany - Thang Duc Nguyen, the German who won in Baden, Austria, last October, and Magnus Petersson, the Swede who beat ElkY heads up in Copenhagen in January. Magnus is looking for another good result: "After that win in Copenhagen I am playing far more relaxed. It has improved my game further," he told me.
Hungry for victory: Thang Duc Nguyen
Swede smell of success: Magnus Petersson
Finally, I bumped into PokerStars' Poker Room Manager Lee Jones, who was enjoying meeting many of the site's players - and the lovely Natalie Pinkham, who presents the EPT television show.
Natalie Pinkham and Lee Jones
I did have another nice shot to show you, intending to bring the whole party scene to your desktop. But my camera, rather irritatingly, decided otherwise (donations for new lens to PokerStars account SuffolkPunch). So for now, it's goodnight. Join us tomorrow (Thursday) for Day 1A. We will follow it up with 1B on Friday, before the two sets of survivors join forces for Day 2 on Saturday, hoping to make it through to the big final table pay day on Sunday.