EPT11 Prague: Welcome to the new-ish poker world
Every now and again, if you've been covering poker for a while, you think the game might have reached saturation point, or at least filtered sufficiently into mainstream awareness that people generally know that the old stereotypes no longer apply. And then you have a conversation with someone who says, "Do they all sit there wearing visors?" and you realise misconceptions endure.
It's a strange thing the way poker has changed, even though it all seems perfectly normal for those of us on the EPT. Days like today at the EPT Prague Poker Festival make it starkly apparent once again. Absolutely everything about the modern game is different from the way most non-poker followers would expect: we are in a hotel conference facility in Prague, for starters, rather than on a riverboat in the middle of the Mississippi.
Before the Super High Roller final table got started today, four of the seven players who will contest the €2,448,765 prize pool were loitering, waiting for the off. Stephen Chidwick sat a corner, the bright green cord from an ear-bud trailing out his ear and into an iPad. He has ended his flirtation with T-shirts bearing the patterns of wild animals (e.g. this or this) and is today kitted out in a black hooded top and orangey granddad shirt, the kind of get-up that would not set him apart from anybody on any high street across Europe.
Chidwick is among the best poker players in the world, responsible for taking this game to a new level, into a new era. And that's what a poker pioneer looks like these days: perfectly normal.
Not far away, Brian Roberts supped on a cup of lemon tea. Yeah, I know...what a wuss! What happened to slinging shots of whiskey, huh? Chased down with a bar fight. But, no, rein in those stereotypes again, folks. Roberts is one of the most successful online cash game players in the world, who has amassed a small fortune playing this game over the past few years. He is American, but that's about all he has in common with the saloon-bar rounders. He's whip-smart, coldly analytical and modestly attired in beige trousers and a black sweatshirt.
Juha Helppi whiled away the pre-tournament minutes looking at his smartphone in unflustered silence. He is another veteran of the (modern) game and has been playing on the EPT since season one. But despite sitting and waiting to play cards for more than seven hundred thousand euros, he might have been waiting for a bus. Nobody bothered him for an autograph or a photo; no one seemed concerned that he has won more than $5m playing live tournament poker over the past few years. He strapped on mirrored sunglasses when action did finally get under way (yeah, sunglasses indoors is still a bit weird, I'll confess) but otherwise again: perfectly normal. Fashion report: black zip-up hooded top and jeans.
Thank goodness, then, for Paul Newey, who has at least brought a slight hint of razzle-dazzle to proceedings. The former director of Ocean Finance, who transitioned to poker after selling his company for £200 million in 2006, at least makes the most of his time out of a business suit. The volume is always turned up on his shirts and the glistening of his watch could illuminate a small town. He is, in many ways, living the contemporary version of the poker player's dream: he'll play a £20 tournament in Birmingham if the mood takes him, but can also rock up to the One Drop.
Newey's final table appearance here in Prague this afternoon caps a remarkable year. He recorded his first EPT High Roller cash in the Bahamas, then made the money in a main event for the first time London. Now, he has completed the hat-trick with a deep run in a Super High Roller event.
The start was delayed slightly this afternoon as we awaited the arrival of about 40 per cent of the field, otherwise known as Leonid Markin, Ivan Soshlikov and Vladimir Troyanovskiy. There's another way in which modern poker differs from the old movies: some of the best players in this game these days come from Russia.
No doubt, some of the movie makers from the 1970s-80s could have had a field day with the prospect of a Cold War stand off over a poker table, but again, the truth is somewhat less dramatic. When they got here, the Russian trio hardly emerged from a Sputnik space pod and there's not a facial scar to be seen anywhere near them. Soshlikov is wearing a leather jacket, but it's hoodies too for Troyanovskiy and Markin.
They are poker players first, Russians second.
Keep tabs on the Super High Roller final table on the Super High Roller page. Follow all the action from the Main Event on the Main Event page. The Eureka Poker Tour is also playing to a winner today. Follow all that on the Eureka Poker Tour page. And when you've read all that, enjoy some time to yourself.