EPT10 Vienna: Treats galore with Festsaal in full bloom

You don't just get a seat in the Main Event for your €5,300. You also get free desert. As level one got going waiters and waitresses, carrying trays of germknödel, swept along the aisles, dishing out this local delicacy to any player not on some freakish exercise regime, or having given up sweet stuff for Lent.

To hundreds of players it's something new and mysterious to try. Looking like a ball of mozzarella cheese, at least to the eyes of homesick Italian tournament director Luca Vivaldi, it's served on a plate, eaten with a spoon and, after being tried by Vivaldi, was described awkwardly as "a kind of pastry thing with something like jam in the middle".

"It's a donut," said British player Rupom Pal, who'd just finished his and wished to put us out of our misery. "It's literally a donut. It's a good donut, but it's a donut."

Donuts though don't really have a place in the ornate surroundings of the Festsaal, perhaps the most elegant tournament room in the history of the European Poker Tour. Germknödels, which sounds much grander, now do.


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The Festsaal in full bloom

There is a welcome sense of something special going on with this event. And it's right to lift your chin a little in a place like this, perhaps straighten your posture, while humming martial tunes. The Hofburg palace marked both the high and the low point of the Hapsburg dynasty ("the game is Empire hi-lo split, gentlemen"), which ruled these parts for centuries until the end of the Great War really did it for the Central European Empire business.

But thankfully the palace and all its grandeur remain, but for the odd portrait, thought to be commissioned in the last days before Europe erupted in steel and artillery, that remains unfinished. According to history, it was here that such Emperors redrew the maps of Europe, with their images painted by the great Austrian painters of the 19th and 20th centuries. To Wikipedia though, it is where the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest was held.


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An unfinished work, or a painting of a storm cloud

The regal balls or banquets and now replaced with Flipout tournaments and side events. But there is still magnificence to be enjoyed, albeit in sweat pants and trainers rather than a plumed cavalry uniform and sabre.

One player who seems to have dressed for the occasion is English pro Michael Piper. When we last saw Piper in action he had a handlebar moustache. He hasn't shaved since then and now looks like he's been parachuted into Vienna from 1910; full beard, bowtie, and in the industrial black and grey of the time.

And quite right. If the action at the table is as enjoyable as the surroundings this week will be a treat. The richest poker tournament in the world should grace the richest venues, what with its own Empire, complete with opulence, Kings, Queens, Archdukes of assorted standing, and the odd dissident. One of them will take upon them new Vienna crown next weekend. That should be one of the more memorable coronations on the tour. If not the germknödels will make it a close second.

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Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.