EPT London: The home leg
Of all the regular stopping points through five seasons of the European Poker Tour, only four have been visited during every renewal. There's the sun-kissed Costa Brava coast of Barcelona, where season five got underway earlier this month, and early next year, we'll be braving the Scandinavian madness and winter chills of Copenhagen. Then at season's end, there'll be the glitter of Monte Carlo for the typically shimmering Grand Final, the place where the curtain comes down on what is always another record-breaking tour.
This week, however, we're in London, England, where things are slightly different. There's no beach, for starters, and no roof-top swimming pool at the hotel. Just as well really, because there's scant chance of blistering sunshine, or even beautiful snow-fall to line the streets in picture-book white. There are no lagoons and multi-million dollar yachts, few Ferraris sweeping through Casino Square.
Why, then, does London remain one of the most popular stopping points on the EPT? Simple answer: there's no place like home.
For many of the PokerStars EPT family - the pioneer John Duthie included - London is where we belong. It's where all our flights to the further flung districts of Europe originate, and it's where we all return, sun-baked and frazzled when the tournaments are done. It's grey, it rains frequently, and even the buses are red with embarrassment over how much a taxi ride costs. But it's what we all know, it's what we all grudging love, and it's always a spectacular tournament, whatever else we can say.
This year, there's also the not-inconsiderable carrot of a guaranteed £1m first prize. At least. It will probably be more.
As usual, we'll be at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino on London's Edgware Road. Down one end of the street is Marble Arch, then Park Lane snaking down the side of Hyde Park.
We're not too far from Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. Take an hour with any moderately equipped camera and you could put together a catalogue of postcards to send home. A typically huge number of PokerStars qualifiers from around the world will probably be doing just that as they acclimatise to Great Britain, in preparation for the first day one tomorrow.
As ever, the qualifiers are joined in the field by some of poker's heaviest heavyweights, representing Team PokerStars Pro. Take a deep breath and run through the full list of those appearing here this week. There's Daniel Negreanu, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Chris Moneymaker, Humberto Brenes, ElkY, Isabelle Mercier, Luca Pagano, Dario Minieri, Chad Brown, Noah Boeken, William Thorson, Vicky Coren, Hevad Khan, Vanessa Rousso, Alex Kravchenko, Victor Ramdin, Alexandre Gomes, Barry Greenstein, Gavin Griffin, Andre Akkari, Katja Thater and Marcin Horecki.
If I had the time and about 150 more fingers or toes, I'd count up how many World Series, WPT or EPT wins are contained among that lot. Just as a précis, there are three World Series main event champions in Moneymaker, Raymer and Hachem, a few more 2008 WSOP bracelets on the wrists of Minieri, Negreanu, Gomes and Greenstein. And in season three, Coren was EPT London champion - she's another on home turf.
Then, as if that wasn't enough, we're joined also this week by all members of the PokerStars Six, that dominant sub-set of the November Nine who will contest the World Series main event final table next month. That means Ylon Schwartz, Darus Suharto, Ivan Demidov, Peter Eastgate, David "Chino" Rheem and Dennis Phillips all take their place. And that's not even mentioning another clutch of PokerStars sponsored players: you can also add Boris Becker, Kathy Liebert, Gualter Salles, Anthony Holden and the most recent EPT champion Sebastian Ruthenberg to the list.
It's going to be a busy one, which is why we're all going to need to make the most of tonight's party at Cafe de Paris on Coventry Street. There, we'll be mingling among the honoured guests and enjoying the always fine food and wine. And the best thing is that you can join us too if you want. Click HERE and print out the invitation below and get yourself along. All are welcome.
So we'll either see you tonight, or hope to know you're there reading about all the action as the players chase the top prize over the coming days. Stay tuned.