EPT11 Barcelona: Estrellas raises the bar. Again.
In the early days of EPT Barcelona, the poker tables were crammed on to a casino floor that was not ready for this kind of thing. The room was too small for the hordes who would attend, and players grew accustomed to asking about 16 people to breathe in in the attempt to wriggle to their chairs.
Meanwhile the lady and gentlemen gamblers of Catalonia, dressed as if attending a debutante ball, looked askance at the arrival of these peculiar interlopers. They put down their glasses of expensive claret and scrammed.
A couple of years ago -- Season 7 to be precise -- the problem was solved by moving about 50 yards down a corridor and into the conference facility of a neighbouring building. We're still "in" the casino, but the action takes place in an enormous function suite now, as well as plenty of other smaller rooms branching off it. There's space to stretch out a bit.
That, at least, is the theory. But today it feels like being back in Season 6. The casino floor is again awash with poker tables, around which are seated hundreds and hundreds of players.
The reason for the flashback feeling is the success of the Estrellas Poker Tour, which has brought more than 2,500 players to Casino Barcelona this week. The Estrellas is the regional tour that visits Madrid, Valencia and Marbella before winding up for its grand final in Barcelona.
Spain is in the middle of an enormous poker boom and it's staggering to see how the crowds here continue to swell. Last season, the third renewal of the Estrellas tour, Soenke Jahn of Germany outlasted a field of 1,798 to win €169,136. This year, there are about 700 more.
Day 1A had 438 players. Day 1B attracted 873. Even before registration officially opened for Day 1C today, 1,000 players had signed up, and the latest news from Neil Johnson, the PokerStars Live Events Specialist, is that we're now beyond 2,600.
They have filled up the main conference room, they have filled up another spin-off tournament area, and lo and behold they're back on the casino floor for super satellites and cash games. No matter how much room you give the poker players of Barcelona, they will need more.
Sarah Grant, of PokerStars.tv, caught up with Natalie Besate, the Estrellas Poker Tour manager, to talk about the astounding success of this event. The video team also took a tour through the building to take a closer look at the sheer scale of the tournament.
It's not easy to put together a poker tournament that diverts attention away from a €50,000 Super High Roller event, which features some of the best players in the world. But it's almost impossible actually to see the high rollers hiding in the midst of the mammoth Estrellas field. They are on six tables; the Estrellas players are on about 100.
What's more, there's a pretty good chance that the prize pool of the Estrellas will eclipse the Super High Roller. It costs €1,000+€100 to play in the former and €48,500+€1,500 for the latter, which means a 50-strong field of high rollers will contest about the same total as the 2,500-ish in the Estrellas event.
The good news for poker fans the world over is that the final table from the Estrellas tournament will screen on EPT Live on Thursday. Be sure to tune in.