By now, the story is the stuff of legend. Just a few years ago, a poker player and TV director named John Duthie sat in the bathtub and had a small epiphany. As he told me in March 2005, "I sat in the bath and thought, 'that would be a good idea.'"
That idea was the PokerStars European Poker Tour. Back then, Duthie had just completed the first season of the EPT. By all accounts, it was a success. Even then, though, no one could've predicted how big it would get.
Tonight, Duthie stood before a crowd of hundreds of poker players and smiled. He is just about to wrap up the fourth season of the EPT and it again looks to be a record-breaker--reason enough to throw a big party.
Tonight's affair was one of those psychedelic eye-shows that have become familiar on the EPT. As people walked in tonight, they were greeted by giant spider-people on stilts and Devo-esque performers on stage. If not for a decent grasp on reality, this blogger might have been a tad scared.
The crowd tonight was a who's who of poker and champions. From newly-knighted members of Team PokerStars Pro, Gavin Griffin and Chad Brown, to the rest of the Team stable, the room was packed with PokerStars' finest. Moreover, the room was awash with EPT Champions and old friends. In the span of just a few minutes, I caught up with EPT San Remo champ Jason Mercier and EPT Copenhagen winner Tim Vance. If time permitted, the list of big names at the party alone would be worth noting. Instead, though, a few photos will have to do. Why? Because the poker room was ready to open.
Being the PokerStars blogger has more than a few perks. Among them is access behind the scenes. Tonight, in advance of the opening of the poker room, I slipped into the tournament building for a little look-see. It wasn't easy. The crowd outside the locked doors was deep and ready to play.
The poker room and surrounding area is, again, nothing short of amazing. For a few short minutes, all was quiet. The room sat empty as the dealers got a final bite to eat. It was the last time the room would be quiet for a week.
In the minutes before the room opened, hordes of dealers counted down their cards and took their seats in the most beautiful poker room on the planet. Bartenders iced down their drinks and prepared for the thirsty swarm. I wandered a bit more before popping into a brightly lit and semi-secret room. Flush with a fooseball table, a Wii, a Play Station, plasma TVs, and some really comfortable chairs, the room stood out in an already gorgeous building. The room, I'm told, is the PokerStars Player Lounge, an exclusive place of respite for the PokerStars qualifiers who have already made it this far. All week long, players will have the chance to kick back, play some games, and, if all goes to plan, play heads-up Battleship Poker games with members of Team PokerStars Pro.
As I walked back from the lounge, I heard a dull roar and knew the doors must have been opened. Sure enough, within ten minutes the poker tables were filling up. Players were sitting down for satellite events ranging from €300 to €1,000. The winners of each event will get a seat in this weekend's Grand Final.
Just like that, it had begun. With still a full 13 hours to go before play in the EPT Grand Final kicks off, there are cards in the air and money to be won.
The EPT Grand Final begins at 1pm local time tomorrow (7am ET). Full coverage can be found right here for the duration of the tournament.
Until then, a final look at the majesty of Monte Carlo and the home of the EPT Grand Final.