EPT9 Prague: A part of Prague that will always be Lebanese
In recent years, the European Poker Tour has grown to be so much more than a handful of isolated events spread out through a nine-month season. These days, there's a certain continuity of buy-in and festival shape, with a lot of the familiar faces travelling the circuit in one big happy charabanc.
There is also the added bonus of the EPT awards, dished out at the end of every season to the superlative performers from the tournament series. There are gongs for achievements in many of the poker variants plus the much-coveted Player of the Year title, which comes equipped with all kinds of extras.
Further to the individual awards is the Country of the Year accolade, handed out to players of an individual nation deemed to have had turned in the best per capita performances. The total number of entrants from that country is compared with their list of cashes. The country with the highest "cash efficiency coefficient" is injected with a healthy dose of national pride and the chance to play a special Country of the Year freeroll for a prize pool of €10,000.
So it was that a small part of the tournament room in Prague today became an outlying enclave of Lebanon. Sixteen of their best - the most winningest nation from season eight - crossed swords for an intra-country battle. Lebanon bested Bulgaria as the nation of the year, recording 23 cashes from only 93 entries - an average of about one cash per ever four entries. And then they all went up against one another for a €5,000 first prize. Second was worth €3,000 and third €2,000.
That, at least, was the idea. But when they got down to four handed, with Jacques Torbey, Nicolas Chouity, Elie Ghazal and Ramez Haddad all with chips, things suddenly got a little crazy. According to the dealer who was charged with keeping order over these final exchanges, there was a lot of discussion in Lebanese (the "English only at the table" rule being deemed a little harsh in these circumstances) about possibly doing a deal. They apparently decided not to deal, but then all of a sudden all of the chips went in.
Torbey was declared the winner, but when they went to the cashier's cage, it became apparent that a deal had actually been agreed. Torbey and Chouity would take €3,000 each; Ghazal and Haddad took €2,000. Everyone was happy.
In truth, they should probably have paid a bit more to Chouity as it was his performances during season eight that propelled Lebanon to the top of the charts. He cashed three times - in Campione (34th), Prague (101st) and Monte Carlo (86th) - which is not a bad return from just one man. None of the other three cashed at all.
But all of them seem to be working on that. Haddad seemed set on reinvesting his €2,000 in a satellite to tomorrow's main event, and you can bet Chouity will also be there.
No one has ever won two EPT events, but the race for the two-time Country of the Year is now under way.
Follow hand-by-hand coverage, plus latest chip counts, in the panel at the top of the main EPT Prague page.