EPT Budapest: Welcome to Hungary

As unlikely as it might sound, there are still some spectacular destinations in this rich and varied continent so far unvisited by the European Poker Tour. Of course, we will always have Barcelona, London, Copenhagen, Prague, San Remo, Monte Carlo and all the others, but there's no particular reason that we must stop there. And so we haven't.

This week the EPT has rolled into Budapest for its first ever visit to Hungary. And on first glance, the only question leaping to mind is this: why haven't we been here sooner?

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The Royal Palace

This is another exquisite European capital, spanning out from the grand sweep of the majestic Danube across small hills and through slender, cobbled streets. The roofs of pastel-coloured cottages, punctured by lines of chimneys, twinkle with multicoloured mosaics. Medieval churches, cathedrals and basilicas display the finest work of generations of visionary architects and stone-masons. And the ornate stylings of a succession of bridges link the two sides of this formerly divided city, fusing the formidable castle complex in old Buda, to the tangle of lanes, squares, cloisters and gables in what was formerly Pest. As one, Budapest is sublime.

History lessons, though, will have to end tomorrow, when eyes will return to the familiar beige baize of the EPT poker tables. They are already lined up - more than 30 of them - spilling out of the Las Vegas casino and into the adjoining five-star Sofitel hotel, whose residents enjoy views across the river and to the magnificent Royal Palace turned art gallery high on the hill.

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Among those residents are many of the 500-odd players expected for the largest poker tournament ever held in the country. And among those players are several members of Team PokerStars Pro, as well as a characteristically fine clutch of PokerStars qualifiers, comfortably the most feared party of marauders in modern central Europe.

In the first category this week, we have nine of the Team's finest ambassadors: Marcin Horecki, Katja Thater, Luca Pagano, Vicky Coren, Dario Minieri, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Noah Boeken, Alex Kravchenko and William Thorson. Just to pick two out of those, Horecki made the final table at the last EPT in London, while ElkY is fresh from his spectacular WPT success at the Bellagio last week.

These are joined by the PokerStars sponsored players Kara Scott, Marcel Luske, Johnny Lodden, Jan Heitmann, Sebastian Ruthenburg, among others, plus those qualifiers boasting a heady mix of veteran's guile and uninhibited youth: David Colclough, Danny Ryan, Valdemar Kwaysser and Laurence Houghton, to name but four. In total, we're expecting close to 500, each paying €4,000 for their seat. That will produce a prize pool of grand proportions, enough perhaps to impress even the Habsburg dynasty, who shaped this wonderful city through its most prosperous times.

The first card will be dealt at 1pm tomorrow, central European time. That's day 1A, to be followed on Wednesday by day 1B, Thursday is day 2, Friday is day 3 and our final is on Saturday. Don't miss it.

As ever, the video blog team are in Budapest, and you can follow their exploits at PokerStars.tv.

There is also coverage of the event in a variety of languages, which we will link to tomorrow - including a brand new Hungarian blog for all the latest from Budapest in this most difficult of native tongues. Again, stay tuned.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour