EPT9 Monaco Day 1A: The grandest of Grand Finals is go

Around this time a couple of years ago, the European Poker Tour went to Madrid. It is a fine city, the capital of Spain no less, and the tournament there was a predictable success. But no one talks about EPT Madrid as one of the defining events on this circuit. There's a single reason for that, which is rather easily expounded: Madrid is not Monte Carlo.

It is good, therefore, to be back.

Welcome again one and all to the Principality of Monaco, home of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final. This is where it belongs. In keeping with every stop on season nine, there is a full festival going on here this week, including 50 tournaments, a full cash-game program and all kinds of attractions on the side.

And there is also a €10,000+€600 main event, which kicks off today and which will hold our attention for the coming few days. It is the most prestigious tournament of all hosted in this continent and will likely award its winner something in the neighbourhood of €800,000.

As ever in these parts, the tournament room is the Salle des Etoiles, behind the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, whose curved windows offer one of the most dramatic panoramas over this most luxurious strip of real estate. Also as ever, the curtains are closed and the retractable roof is tightly closed for the start of the serious business at the tables.

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The Salle des Etoiles a couple of years ago, the last time we risked the sun

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A view of Monaco

"It is my enormous pleasure to welcome you to the final and most spectacular stops on the European Poker Tour," said Edgar Stuchly, President of the EPT, addressing the silent tournament room, lit only by the luminescent strips surrounding the felt of the signature EPT tables. "This is the perfect place to end another fantastic EPT season."

Stuchly was talking after anticipation had been raised a notch further by the new video introduction for the day, projected 15 feet across huge screens hanging from the roof. The title read "It's A Journey", which the visuals then carried us through: the list of the various locales visited this season, the moments of high excitement and devastation, hair standing up on forearms, skydivers (skydivers?) and Scott Seiver.

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Welcome ceremony at EPT Monaco

"We have had more than 6,000 main event entries and more than 35,000 festival players," Stuchly said. "The European Poker Tour is the biggest, most prestigious and richest poker tour on the planet."

In truth, today's turn-out so far is a little lower than expected, with about 60 players taking their seats early on, a number that will, of course, trickily upward through the opening levels of today and then take a huge surge forward tomorrow.

But the quality of the field is already second-to-none. One table of early arrivals included Jonathan Duhamel, Isaac Haxton, Mike Watson, Emil Patel and Boris Becker - or "poor old Boris Becker" as one media wag noted, measuring the poker talent amassed around that table. When Jake Cody wandered in, it seemed for a moment as if he too was headed there, but a last-gasp swerve took him to an adjacent table.

A few metres away, Steven Silverman took a seat next to Jan Bendik, next to Justin Bonomo. In the lobby, Sorel Mizzi and Mike McDonald were seen registering.

"We are pretty much ready to go now, with a starting stack of 30,000 and blinds at 50-100," said Teresa Nousiainen, the tournament director. She told dealers to put the button in front of seat one, and then told them to shuffle up and deal.

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Teresa Nousiainen, Edgar Stuchly and Thomas Lamatsch

A mighty industrial clang underscored the instruction, with those words written large on the tournament screens. From now on, those screen will show the clock clicking through what is likely to be about six 75-minute levels (full confirmation to follow).

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Shuffle up and deal

A quick note on how to follow our coverage. Head to the main EPT Monaco page, where you will find hand-by-hand coverage from the tables in the panel at the top of the page, which also includes current chip counts.

Our feature coverage can be found below the panel, including the latest from the side events. Don't forget, of course, to get ready for EPT Live, which kicks off at 3pm at PokerStars.tv.

We will also have our own video team out on the tournament floor bringing you chats with the players, as well as some dazed Blog reporters staring blankly into the camera. Mercifully they are absent from the first one of the week, so we leave you in the capable hands of Sarah Grant: