Monte Carlo: The World's Most Stylish Gambling Destination
Monte Carlo has always commanded a certain mystique and exclusivity.
Much of that is due to the fact that this desirable and chic district of Monaco is where the uber-rich and famous flock to flaunt the accoutrements of their wealth, namely eye-wateringly expensive holiday homes, impractical supercars and the obligatory super-yacht parked in the jam-packed marina.
In fact, Monaco, which is situated on the French Riviera roughly halfway between Nice and the Italian border, is home to the greatest number of millionaires per head in Europe.
Almost one in three residents are members of this exclusive club.
Monaco covers two square kilometers - roughly the same size as New York's Central Park - and houses a tiny population of just 38,000. While Monaco's the world's second smallest country behind the Vatican, it's no shrinking violet.
You could say the sun-kissed principality does have a certain je ne sais quoi.
"It is true that Monte Carlo has a very special aura, even though it's hard for me to pinpoint the exact cause of it," said Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier. "However, if you want a taste of European luxury and grandeur, Monte Carlo is your best bet."
Fellow Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier said there's definitely something different about the place.
"Monte Carlo is one of the most beautiful and extravagant places I have ever visited," he said. "You know that most people walking around are rich but a lot of them aren't necessarily trying to flaunt that. People seem relaxed and content."
Gambling in style
As well as being closely linked with unadulterated extravagance and conspicuous glamour, Monte Carlo has also long been associated with casinos and high-stakes gambling.
This stretches back to the middle of the 19th century when Princess Caroline, the shrewd wife of the Prince of Monaco at the time, Florestan I, hatched a plan to construct a casino to try to attract upmarket visitors and stave off the ruling family's lingering money troubles.
Today, Monaco boasts a handful of casinos; however native citizens, or Monegasques, are barred from gambling. That includes poker.
Ascend the Avenue d'Ostende, and you'll eventually encounter Monaco's most famous and prestigious landmark: the 154-year-old Casino de Monte-Carlo (to give it its official name).
Decked out in lavish marble and sumptuous décor beneath intricate ceilings and spectacular chandeliers, the palatial gaming venue simply oozes opulence, making it one of the most famous casinos in the world.
Armchair Formula One fans will recognize it from the annual Monaco Grand Prix when the procession of cars repeatedly screech through Place du Casino.
This high-roller gambling lair and its stunning façade have also been the backdrop for a number of films, including Golden Eye in which a tuxedo-clad James Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, beats cigar-puffing femme fatale Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) at a game of high-stakes baccarat.
Monte Carlo has also been featured in the Bond film Never Say Never Again and was the filming location for the 2004 film Ocean's Twelve, the sequel to hit casino heist film Ocean's Eleven.
A royal history of poker
With more than its fair share of high-end casinos offering blackjack, roulette, poker and more, Monte Carlo is naturally considered a glamorous and classy destination in which to sit down and play poker. After all, it regularly played host to the European Poker Tour (EPT) Grand Final - the climax of what was Europe's most prestigious poker tour.
The impressive Salle des Etoiles (Room of Stars) is also the venue for the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo from April 25 to May 5.
"It's a great experience to play in the stunning Salle des Etoiles where usually the rich and famous are celebrating," said Edgar Stuchly, PokerStars' Director of Live Events. "For me this is certainly one of the most impressive poker rooms globally."
Mercier describes Monte Carlo as an "awesome place to play poker."
Away from the felt, Monte Carlo boasts fantastic restaurants and exclusive nightclubs to complement its natural beauty.
"The best way to experience Monte Carlo is just to walk around," said Stuchly. "But I would certainly say you should visit the Grimaldi Palace, the harbor, the luxury hotels and casinos and the beautiful beaches."
Likewise, Team PokerStars Pro Fatima Moreira de Melo loves returning to this "beautiful hideaway."
"Even though a lot of people own a place there, it is not overcrowded - apart from when the Formula One is on," she said. "People are just chilling, walking their dog on the promenade besides the beach or having lunch on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean."
Start saving your pennies
The principality's compactness means it is an easy destination to fully explore.
"There are many, many beautiful parts of the city, and because it's so small you can easily see it all on foot in one day," said Team PokerStars Pro Liv Boeree.
Monaco is also an extremely safe place. With over 600 CCTV cameras trained on almost every square inch and more police officers per capita than anywhere in the world, this level of security is there to reassure and protect Monaco's well-heeled inhabitants.
These include a host of celebrities and sports stars, not to mention a few high-stakes poker stars who have set up home in Monaco at one time or another. A notable pair includes Scandinavians Gus Hansen and Patrick Antonius.
But Monaco doesn't just let anyone up sticks and move there. You'll need to open a bank account in Monaco and then deposit funds, usually between €100,000 and €1M depending on the bank, to prove you can support yourself.
Carrying €1M in your back pocket is the equivalent of being on the breadline in this playground for the filthy rich. Property prices are some of the highest in the world - a half-decent pad will set you back €5M-€10M.
In return, residents pay zero income tax after it was abolished in 1869.
Although father-to-be Mercier would probably sail through any wealth test having won over $17M in live tournament winnings, the four-time WSOP bracelet winner couldn't see himself becoming a foreign resident anytime soon.
"I personally wouldn't want to live there, but I'm very happy to visit once a year," he said with a smile.
Memorable poker moments in Monte Carlo
Ivey and Jackson Go Mano a Mano
Back in 2005, five-bet shoving with air was as rare as Doyle Brunson being seen in public without his ten-gallon hat.
But that's exactly what happened when Phil Ivey and Paul Jackson engaged in a memorable nerves-of-steel bluffing war holding queen-high and six-high, respectively. The pair clashed heads up at the climax of the Monte Carlo Millions.
"Watching this hand is like witnessing great art; it was absurd and great at the same time," an exuberant TV commentator gushed. "It's just mind-blowing."
The grainy four-minute clip was one of the first poker videos to go viral, racking up 2.3 million YouTube views to date.
Watch it! http://bit.ly/2oY3Efo
Griffin on a Heater
U.S. pro Gavin Griffin was the first player to ever win poker's coveted 'triple crown,' securing WSOP, WPT and EPT titles.
The second leg of his historic trio of victories came in Monte Carlo when he took down the EPT's Season 3 Grand Final in March 2007. Outlasting a star-studded field of 706, Griffin scooped a whopping €1.8M, which was the first time anyone had won more than one million euros at an EPT stop.
Monster Hands Collide
The EPT Grand Final in Season 8 saw three players get it all in holding a pair of aces, a pair of kings and a pair of queens. And, quite incredibly, JJ was folded preflop too!
Adrian Mateos had the worst of it with queens, making him the outsider with just 16% equity in the hand, but the poker gods were smiling down on him as he spiked a queen on the turn.
Watch it! http://bit.ly/2ojpwSP
Suited and Booted
Before hoodies and headphones became obligatory apparel at the tables, a handful of poker's elite players - Phil Hellmuth, Gus Hansen, Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliott, John Juanda and Phil Ivey - dressed to impress for an elegant high-stakes game in the principality.
Donning black dinner jackets, they sat down in Casino de Monte-Carlo's stunning Salle Francois Blanc room in 2005 for a $120,000 buy-in invitational Sit & Go.
Ivey eventually emerged victorious, beating an equally dapper Juanda heads up.
Heads, You Win, Tails, You Lose
All-in coin flips are essential to tournament poker, of course.
But when all the chips are in the middle to decide the outcome of an EPT Grand Final, it's sure to get the old heart pounding and palms sweating.
In Season 8, Lucille Cailly and Mohsin Charania had already thrashed out a deal when ace-king butted up against a pair of queens to decide who scooped an additional €200,000.
The tension in the room as they went off to the races was palpable...
Watch it! http://psta.rs/2oYbiXd
Travel essentials for Monte Carlo
Time zone: +1 hour BST
Average temperatures in April and May: 14°C and 17°C
Average rainfall in April and May: 65mm and 64mm
Official language: French
Dialing code: +377
Legal gambling age: 18. Citizens of Monaco are forbidden from taking part in any cash games or tournaments.
Getting to Monte Carlo: Monaco doesn't have the space or the topography to accommodate an airport but the nearest airport is about 22 kilometers away in Nice, France. Those wishing to arrive in true style have the option of a 10-minute helicopter transfer.