EPT11 London: If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere
One of British poker's proudest records was forged on the EPT. Through the first eight seasons of the tour, the United Kingdom was the only nation to celebrate at least one champion every year and even though those
useless limey bastards proud subjects of the Queen suffered an unfortunate dry period during Season 9, Tom Middleton and Victoria Coren Mitchell got them back on the right track again last time around.
In all, there have been 16 EPT Main Event winners from the United Kingdom, which is more than any other nation. London in particular has always been a hotbed for poker, ever since the Victoria Casino on Edgware Road, a former home for the EPT, opened its poker room - and they cut the ribbon there long before Chris Moneymaker changed the global scene.
The games here are tough and the table chatter is tougher. Such is the standard of poker in this city, and the length of time it has been played, that if you can make it here, there's a good chance you can make it anywhere.
Today's field on the opening flight of EPT11 London is pretty small by established standards, but everywhere one turns one spots a player who has made something of a splash in Great Britain, and who has subsequently gone on to succeed elsewhere too.
David Vamplew, for instance, grew up in Scotland but made his real breakthrough on the the world circuit at EPT London in September 2010, when he won £900,000 for beating a field of 848. Today, Vamplew is on the same table as James Dempsey, one of the best online players in the world, but who cut his teeth in the small casino tournaments in the UK. Dempsey's biggest scores have all come in Las Vegas, but his results list is dominated by the St George's Cross of England.
Sergio Aido and Adrian Mateos Diaz are two of Spain's most prominent poker talents. But, like many professionals from the country, they have relocated to the UK to continue playing online. Aido's biggest live score came when he won UKIPT London a couple of seasons ago, after which Mateos Diaz went to the World Series Europe in Paris and took down the Main Event.
They are flat-mates in London and together have drawn seats beside one another in the Day 1A field. "Home game?" I said to Aido earlier. He nodded and rolled his eyes, but was plainly unhappy at the development.
Similar to Vamplew, Robbie Bull is another proud Scot who has enjoyed the highest points of his career south of the border. Bull was Aido's successor as UKIPT London champion, prevailing this time last year in the Grand Connaught Rooms. He is sitting on the same table this afternoon as Phillipe Souki, another Vic cash game regular who made his tournament breakthrough at the UKIPT. He was fourth behind Aido.
Tudor Purice is originally from Romania, but he led EPT London for long periods last season, the first time he really came to prominence on this tour. He eventually went out in 14th, but is today rubbing shoulders with somebody who has gone significantly further in this city.
A young Swede named Michael Tureniec had put together only a handful of small live cashes before he came to London in October 2008 and made it all the way to a heads up duel with Michael Martin. Tureniec has subsequently won close to $3m at live tournaments, including an EPT title in Copenhagen three years later, plus ample more online. But he made it here first. His second place prize of £525,314 in London is still the largest of his career.
Mat Frankland, Simon Deadman and Ben Warrington are all at the same table. They are among some of British poker's brightest young talents, with Warrington having made an EPT final table in Prague and Deadman securing the biggest win of his career in Las Vegas this summer when he won the Hollywood Poker Open for $350,000. Frankland has online cashes of close to $2.5m, comprising scores of triumphs in the biggest tournaments across PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
You might remember Steve O'Dwyer from his victory at the Grand Final of EPT Season 9. If not, then maybe a third place in a Super High Roller in Barcelona or a WPT title in Denmark. However, prior to all that, he made the final table of EPT London in Season 8, pipped only by Benny Spindler. He returned to the final table a couple of years later, finishing fifth behind Ruben Visser. He treated it as warm-up for that success in Monaco a couple of months later.
Such is Tamer Kamel's standing on the UK poker scene that when he appeared on in the late stages of EPT London in March 2013, we were inundated with messages telling us how unexpected everybody was to see him at the top of the counts. Kamel had previously focused on cash games, where he had apparently become something of a silent assassin. Since that event, where he eventually finished fifth, he has dipped in to the occasional live tournament too - and has made final tables in High Roller events at both Prague and London again.
No one much fancied the chances of Georgios Karakousis when he amassed a big stack at last year's EPT London Main Event. He was too unfamiliar, too Greek and too grey to succeed. (Nobody said it quite so bluntly, but that was what everyone was thinking.) However, he was more lively at the final table than even Ludovic Geilich and ended up finishing second to Robin Ylitalo.
Karakousis is back today and is sharing a table with Charlie Combes, who just happens to be another young British player with an awesome reputation. How awesome? Well, he's won $4.8m in online tournaments, so pretty awesome.
All of this is before we even get to Barny Boatman, arguably the best known and well respected of all London-based poker players. Boatman has been a fixture at the poker tables of his home city for longer than most people have even known the rules of the game.
He may have won the biggest prize of his career in Las Vegas last summer, and reached his only EPT final table in Sanremo, but when he bleeds, his blood comes out in the colours of the Union Jack. Boatman takes his seat in the EPT field today among what amounts to a pretty sensational Best of British line-up.
Speaking of Brits, here's Laura Cornelius, of PokerStars.tv, who caught up with Ian Simpson in the UKIPT High Roller event. Simpson has gone from science teacher to poker player in a matter of a couple of years and has some very wise words for anybody hoping to make a similar transition themselves.
Follow our coverage of the EPT London festival via the main EPT London page, where there are hand-by-hand updates and chip counts in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. Coverage of the final table of the UKIPT Main Event is on the UKIPT page.