PokerStars Festival London: What brings the stars out to play?
Towards the end of Level 7 of the High Roller event here at the PokerStars LIVE card-room in the Hippodrome Casino, London, Igor Kurganov got moved to the vacant seat alongside James Akenhead.
That put a Super High Roller regular, with more than $12 million in recorded tournament winnings, alongside a former November Niner. Akenhead's pedigree is such that his $1.3 million payout for ninth at the 2009 WSOP represents only about a third of his lifetime cashes.
While it's probably safe to say that neither was especially thrilled by the development, certainly neither let on. Kurganov continued swilling from a glass of red wine and talking about the merits of wireless headphones, while Akenhead kept his headphones (wired) well and truly in place and stoically ignored the chit-chat.
And then they played a big pot.
Kurganov opened his button to 2,000 (blinds were 400/800) and Akenhead, who is unlikely to believe a button raise from a player like Kurganov, three-bet to what looked like 6,500. Kurganov called and they saw a flop of 2♠3♠9♦.
In a flash, they were all-in--and I am genuinely unsure who moved first and who blinked. The cards were on their backs with Kurganov's K♠Q♠ with plenty of equity against Akenhead's A♦9♠.
But the 8♥ turn and 7♦ river missed Kurganov, meaning Akenhead had to break his silence to count out his chips. He had 18,300 and scored a big double. It left Kurganov with about 20,000.
That pot serves as introduction to the fact that this tournament is pretty stacked. For players accustomed to life on the global circuit, a £2,000 buy-in High Roller may sound like small fry, but that's far from the case.
The Red Spades are out in good number, with Liv Boeree, Aditya Agarwal, Felipe Ramos, Jake Cody and Luca Pagano representing Team PokerStars Pro. Meanwhile Niall Farrell, Remi Castaignon, Adrian Mateos and Sebastian Malec have all won EPT Main Events (in addition to Cody and Boeree).
Orpen Kisacikoglu and Paul Newey are regulars in the highest buy-in Super High Roller tournaments. Slaven Popov, Jimmy Guerrero, Michel Abecassis, Pierre Neuville, Ludovic Geilich, Morten Klein, Georgios Karakousis, Adrian Allain, Chris Moorman and Tamer Kamel have been at EPT Main Event final tables, in addition to their other many achievements.
(Philipp Gruissem, remarkably, has not but he has won more than $10 million. He's here too.)
In total, this tournament attracted 178 entries, which is the biggest ever High Roller event at an equivalent London stop, at least as a standalone from the EPT. Tournament officials are still figuring out the payout schedule but it should be around a £350,000 prize pool.
And that, bottom line, is why the stars have come out to play. There's not a single poker player for whom that kind of money isn't worth winning.