EPT10 Grand Final: Swimming in the Shark Cage

There is an eight-foot high metal cage swivelling on the extended platform that stretches out in front of the TV feature table at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final. Several thick black cables, which are spliced together, run around the circumference of the shark cage supplying the power to move the metal structure. As the cage spins the cables move with it, pulling taut from stage left.

A cameraman, Frank Baglino, director of photography of 'Ride on the River', stands by the cage pointing his lens towards the TV stage and players including Gus Hansen, Vicky Coren Mitchell and Patrik Antonius. He doesn't see the cables snaking toward his feet. A colleague does, however, and quickly guides Baglino over the health and safety obstacle.

This shark cage is dangerous business. And fun. And one player will win $1,000,000.


Sharks: David Williams, Maria Ho, Gus Hansen, Vicky Coren Mitchell and Patrik Antonius (l-r)

I'm going to be honest with you, upon first hearing about the new televised format I wasn't convinced that it was going to set the world alight. My cynicism had got the better of me, but since hearing the early feedback during the PCA, I'm inclined to think I should scribble my nay-saying onto a piece of paper and eat it. Shark Cage looks like it's going to be really entertaining. (So much so, in fact, that I'm introducing it into my next home game and I'll give you instructions how to do so, too. See below.)

The Shark Cage televised tournament is taking place across eight heats, each featuring six players. A quick bit of maths later, that's 48 players all gunning for one $1,000,000 no-deals-allowed first prize. Heats one and two took place at the PCA, while heats three and four take place here in Monaco. The remaining four will play out at the start of Season 11 at EPT Barcelona - the 100th ever European Poker Tour stop - while the Shark Cage big money final will take place towards the back end of the year.


Gus Hansen: waiting for Antonius again?

This morning at 11.30am, today's Shark Cage contestants started to circle back stage in the green room for heat three. You may have heard of them: two-time EPT champ Vicky Coren Mitchell, tour regular Maria Ho, high stakes legends Gus Hansen and Patrik Antonius, and WSOP Main Event runner-up David Williams. That makes five. What about the sixth contestant? This is your spot, the online qualifier seat.

Hansen, Ho and Williams sat waiting in the green room (that's a fancy name for 'waiting room' in TV lingo) for their briefing from EPT presenter James Hartigan. You'd think that getting five players together in time for a freeroll shot at a million bucks would be easy. Not necessarily so. Hansen certainly thinks not. "Put it this way, I'm not going to spend too many minutes of my life waiting for Patrik Antonius," said Hansen, who one would imagine is better informed on the relative punctuality of the Finn than most. Hansen wandered off downstairs to buy a friend into the €10,600 EPT Grand Final Main Event.

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Vicky Coren Mitchell in the Shark Cage

As the Great Dane left, the Great Brit entered. Coren Mitchell, fresh from her historic two-time EPT win in Sanremo walked into the room. A member of the production staff had already been dispatched to pick her up a cup of tea, which kind of goes without saying. Some EPT congratulations and hugs later, Coren Mitchell grabbed a croissant and started discussing the length of today's play and breaks relative to the size of the male and female bladder. Among her many commitments, Coren Mitchell is a presenter of highbrow quiz show 'Only Connect' and has been working hard to work her way through a large pile of scripts for upcoming shows. Yesterday's early exit from the EPT Grand Final should help on that front. Poker's loss is British TV's gain.

Hansen returned and was followed in by the news that Antonius was also on site. "He's here? Beautiful," said Hansen, somewhat uncomfortably echoing the thoughts of many poker fan boys.

Before anyone could rush off to the bathroom or buy anyone else into the Main Event, Hartigan stood up to address the room, "We're thrilled you can all play. Suffice to say you're all here because you're all big names in poker and you've all accomplished so much. Ultimately what we want to get out of these shows is enjoyment, fun, conversation, banter - we really want you guys to enjoy yourselves at the table."

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Hartigan then rattled out the finer instructions of the event, such as how to play 'bluff' or 'value bet' cards when betting rivers heads-up. All the rules were also clearly and exhaustively printed on A4 sheets of paper. To summarise, if you correctly bluff a player on the river and they don't call then you send them to the cage and get extra chips should you make it to the final. Equally so if you call someone's bluff they get sent to the cage and you collect extra chips for the final.

Classic tournaments rules have been loosened for this TV tournament. You can call with the nuts on the river because you stand a chance to send your opponent to the cage; you can show one card during a hand to get a reaction; you can talk through a hand out loud and try to angle your opponent into slipping up. Basically any 'cash game nonsense is allowed'.

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EPT tournament directors? Put them in the cage!

Want to play Shark Cage at home?
Do you want to play Shark Cage in your home game? You can! Okay, there won't be a big glitzy TV set or a large steel cage in the corner of the room, but there's nothing stopping you from playing a sit-and-go using your own makeshift bluff-or-value river buttons. Rather than put someone in a cage you can allocate any number of penalties to getting the call wrong. Maybe they can be made to get the next round of fizzy drinks from the fridge or have to wear something ridiculous until the next player gets penalised. Remember, it's a fun format. Keep things loose when you're playing Shark Cage. Show cards, talk fast and play faster, but, most of all, enjoy it.

- Shark cage uses a 30 second shot clock. Keep it quick like this or extend it for more leisurely play. Give each player two 'time bank' chips to extend their decision.

- Give each player a 'bluff' and 'value bet' card or counter. Or you can get players to type 'bluff' or 'value bet', or even just 'B' or 'V', on their phone and place it face down on the table. This must be done before a bet is made. Keep it simple and clear.

- A 'bluff' will only carry a Shark Cage penalty if the player using the 'bluff' card forces a player with a stronger hand to fold. You both have to show on the river in heads-up.

- Shark Cage rules only run when play is four-handed or more and when the action on the river is heads-up.

Find out more about Shark Cage.

Click through to live updates, features and interviews from the EPT Grand Final Main Event and the EPT Grand Final Super High Roller.

is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.

Rick Dacey
@PokerStars in European Poker Tour