EPT9 London: Team PokerStars plays the Vertical Rush

When Joao Nunes stepped off a plane in London last week, he knew he had greater challenges ahead than only the UKIPT and EPT festival. Indeed, few people would have blamed the Team PokerStars Pro had he turned right around and flown back to Portugal.

In a matter of hours after passing customs, Nunes had a date at the top of a building. A very tall building. A building whose elevator was out of commission.

Nunes was one of six Team PokerStars Pros who had signed up for "Vertical Rush", a sponsored dash to the top of Tower 42 in the City of London in aid of Shelter, a charity supporting Britain's homeless. The summit of Tower 42 is 600 feet above the ground and requires the foolhardy and/or charitable to ascend 920 steps. All the money pledged goes directly to the charity, though, so it is all in a very good cause.

The problem, however, was about fitness -- or lack thereof. With poker players involved, we can usually rely on dedication and will-power, but those legs still had to climb the stairs, or risk humiliation.

"I am completely crazy to accept this challenge," said Nunes. "I am completely out of shape and I think that I will quit on the second floor. But I will do my best anyway."

That's the spirit, Joao.


Joao Nunes, right, follows Team Pro into Tower 42

As it happens, Nunes not only had to compete with his own inner demons, but he also had Leo Margets, Liv Boeree, George Danzer and Henrique Pinho bounding past him like gazelles.

The Vertical Rush took place on the same day that Margets was unveiled as a Team PokerStars Pro, so she had spring in her step already. She is also training for the Barcelona marathon at the end of this week, so was always likely to be the favourite for any kind of physical endeavour.

"I was much more nervous about the signing than the running," Margets said. "It was good for various reasons. It's always good when you run for charity, but it's also fun because it was the five of us competing there."

Danzer was less thrilled by the prospect -- although he quickly learned a lesson about the importance of clicking links in an email before signing up to anything.

"It was really unfair," Danzer said. "I got an email one week before, asking me if I wanted to do a 'vertical rush'. I thought it was strapped to the outside of the tower, they pull you up and you run on the outside, on the windows. That's what I thought, so I said yes, obviously because that sounded like a real fun thing to do. And then I opened the link that was in the email and it said you had to run up the stairs. By then it was too late. I had already replied, yes."


Liv Boeree prepares for the dash, with George Danzer looking on

Flash forward a week and Danzer was paying for his rashness. He was among the host of people in their red T-shirts preparing for the slightly different kind of rush.

At the start, it was easy going.

"I live on the fifth floor, so I just jogged up the first five floors," Danzer said. "On the sixth floor, I was fine. On the seventh, it just hit me like concrete. I had to stop. My legs were burning. Two levels made all the difference, from what you are used to."

It got worse. "If you ask me, the only thing I remember from the race from the 20th floor up is the taste of blood," Danzer said.

Even Margets agreed. "It goes exponentially," she said. "Every floor you go up, the pain, the suffering grows exponentially."


Leo Margets, from Team Pro to Tower 42

And it wasn't much better for Boeree. "It was much tougher than I had expected. I knew it was going to be tough, but it wasn't necessarily the legs, it was the chest," she said.

For all that, all of the PokerStars Five agreed that it was a worthwhile exercise and one they are likely to repeat again next year. Between 1,100 people who also endured the rush, Shelter profited to the tune of £310,000, which will go an awfully long way in their capable hands.


The PokerStars Five (l-r): Henrique Pinho, Joao Nunes, Leo Margets, George Danzer, Liv Boeree

Both Boeree and Margets also profited by the exercise to clear their minds ahead of the marathon that is EPT London. At time of writing, both have just made the money on day three.


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Images of the Vertical Rush are (c) Zandi Dezman

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour