EPT10 Vienna: Through the mists of time and cigarette smoke, Jin Cai Lin emerges

Although no Austrian has yet won an EPT Main Event, and PokerStars Blog has already declared the country's chances dead, this landlocked mass in the very centre of Europe has had much more to do with the development of poker than the modern player might think.

Young poker fans' eyes may begin to glaze over whenever anyone older than 35 begins to crack on about the television show Late Night Poker, but this is not idle nostalgia. Late Night Poker's influence on the poker boom simply cannot be overstated, and that programme, which began its run in 1999, has its origins in Austria.


The most famous felt in the game for a while

All the staff and organisation for the show came from the Concord Card Club in Vienna--the tournament director Thomas Kremser oversaw proceedings, while Peter Schmidt and Marina Rado (later Marina Kremser) pitched the cards. It wasn't actually all that easy to find players willing to part with £1,500 to play poker back then, and so Kremser et al turned to some of their regular customers and persuaded them to accept first refusal on a seat.

So it was that although many of the players were regulars from the Vic in London, there were plenty bringing an Austrian flavour from the Concord too.

Most memorably there was Jin Cai Lin, who became one of the undoubted stars of the show.

Cai Lin was the type of poker player who actually looked like a poker player should. These were the days (and this was the show) when poker was only just beginning its evolution into its modern incarnation, and smoking was still permitted at the table. Had it not, in fact, one suspects Cai Lin might not have played. He was practically nicotine-powered, it seemed.

Cai Lin did not speak English and so did not engage in much of the banter at the table. Instead he glared silently through the plumes of smoke at his opponents, frequently putting in massive bets with speculative hands (revealed through the pioneering glass table-top) and confusing players who were, at the time, some of the best in the world.


The first time a camera ever looked at hole cards

He won his heat in Season 1, then finished ninth in the final. Three years later, he won his Season 4 heat as well and that time was runner-up to Peter Costa in the final, earning £20,000, a pretty sizeable sum back then.

Cai Lin's name comes up frequently when fans of the show wonder aloud where some of the players have gone. But in his case, the answer is actually pretty simple: he's still playing poker at the Concord, still living in Vienna and is, in fact, still in this EPT field today. He still doesn't speak much English, so we can't share any of the Yin Cai Lin wisdom, but everything else remains much the same.

He arrived this morning in good time, wandering straight past a barrier blocking entry to the tournament room for the remaining players. It takes more than a glorified seatbelt stretched between two poles to halt Cai Lin. He strolled to his table, put his coat over his chair and dumped a bag on the seat. He was then ushered out again, but was going anyway: he had a packet of Camel cigarettes in one hand, a lighter in the other and needed to find the outside. (Smoking, it goes without saying, is now very much banned from the poker tables.)


Jin Cai Lin today, still competing with the best

Cai Lin maybe looks a little older (it happens to us all) and his hair, previously jet-black and slicked to his head, has one or two flecks of grey. But he still wears the rimless, narrow-rectangle glasses and he still sits in silence at the tables, waiting for his moment to pounce.

Today he has Michael Tureniec, Jude Ainsworth and Killian Kramer on his table, among others, and Viktor Blom sitting one table along. Blom was 9-years-old when Cai Lin was bringing his own brand of mania to Late Night Poker, and although the Swede likely doesn't know anything about his neighbour, there's a solid argument to be made that Isildur1 might never have existed without Cai Lin.

Day 3 of EPT Vienna is under way. Click through to the main EPT Vienna page for all the action.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour