PokerStars welcome parties are not massively different from any gathering at which there are a bunch of strangers and an open bar. The pockets of folk who are already acquainted liberally swill free liquor and grow nostalgic about the last time they liberally swilled free liquor in each other's company, while the untethered strays liberally swill free liquor and gradually grow acquainted.
Last night, this much-practised tradition took place in the Cloud Nine bar on - wait for it - the ninth floor of the Hilton Prague. There, the usual smattering of Team PokerStars Pros joined a huge army of online qualifiers and all the other clingers on at an EPT (Hello!) for a nice turkey dinner and a few shandies. And some folk grew acquainted.
A veteran of many parties past is Shaun Deeb, the PokerStars passport winner and all-round tournament poker sensation. Deeb has recently stunned this close-knit community by announcing, at the age of 24, that he is retiring from tournament poker to focus on other pursuits. Many of the conversations last night centred on this revelation, often including Deeb himself, who was prepared to answer whatever questions folks had on the subject.
Among his inquisitors was Melanie Weisner, a PokerStars qualifier from New York City, Deeb's home state.
"What part of New York are you from?" Deeb asked Weisner.
"Greenwich Village," she replied.
"Oh, I'm from Albany," Deeb said.
"I know," said Weisner.
Weisner - aka Callisto 5 - is an online poker pro, and so knows Deeb very well, at least by reputation. She admitted that she had contributed to the many online forum discussions of his retirement announcement, expressing her surprise and disappointment that he would no longer be providing the inspiration for a whole legion of online pros and their forays onto the live stage.
Weisner is one of them. She's no stranger to live play and made her debut at the World Series last year, where she hung out with (and was backed by) Kevin "Bel0wAb0ve" Saul and Christian "Charder30" Harder, among others. Although this is her EPT debut, she knows Europe very well having studied here during her undergrad days at NYU. As a musical theatre major, Weisner spent two years in Prague, fell in love with the city and vowed to return, even after her studies took her back to her native United States.
Poker gave her the opportunity to return: she played an $800 qualifying satellite on PokerStars, originally intending to take a seat in Barcelona, but happily switching it to Prague.
Weisner was wisely tapping up Deeb last night for his advice on how to approach an EPT event, but was probably not expecting to be seated on the same table as him, to his immediate right no less.
Although Deeb crashed out during the first level (not necessarily following his own advice to keep it tight in the early stages - see 1.45pm update here), Weisner remains as we go into level three. She's had some excellent results in the online environment, particularly in the lower buy-in rebuy events on PokerStars.
The words: "Treat it like the hundred freezeout," coming from Deeb must have made Weisner very comfortable indeed.