EPT11 Malta: Ticking the boxes as a newcomer hopes for a regular gig

The European Poker Tour is in Malta for the first time in its 11-year history and, what's more, this is the first time in three years since we have visited an entirely new destination.

Back in the mid seasons of the EPT, after the first tentative, establishing jaunts around the continent, it seemed our passports were stamped every year by the officials of at least one new country. However, the last time we stood baffled in the middle of an unfamiliar street and said, "Right, who knows the way back to the hotel?", we were in Campione, Italy, in March 2012. Since Season 9, we have paced a well-worn track through the same handful of nations.

Campione turned out to be a one-off. As did Loutraki, in Greece, which we also visited during Season 8. Before that, Tallinn, Estonia, and Madrid, Spain, were the most recent new additions to the calendar, all the way back in Season 7. We only went twice to both of those destinations too.

It's not easy to be a newcomer to the European Poker Tour. That much is as true for cities as it is for players. In order to secure an EPT event for longer than only one or two seasons, a destination needs to fulfil a good number of criteria, not all of which will even be in its power to control*.

Malta, however, is reportedly doing rather well already and hopes are justifiably high that Portomaso can join the likes of Barcelona, Prague and the PCA as a fixture on the calendar. According to some of the senior EPT honchos (who permit us an audience in their palace only about once per lunar cycle) the single most important factor in deciding a new venue is space.

"We need the space to do what we want to do," our source, who we'll call The Wizard, said.

We have bags of space here in Malta. The main tournament room -- aka the Grand Masters suite -- has a capacity of 1,200 when it is laid out as a conference facility, and, in its poker layout, has ample room for 42 tables. The press room is on the gallery overlooking this expanse and even though that means a walk down a flight of stairs to see the action close up, this aerial perch is second to none.

balcony_ept11_malta_day1a.jpgOur home for the week

On the floor one further down, the Spinola Suite is similar in size and can comfortably accommodate all the side events. The Global Poker Masters turned the Vilhena and Wignacourt Suites into a television studio, while there are ample cash game tables down in the main casino. We can all stretch out.

Space was not an issue in any of Madrid, Campione or Loutraki (it was a bit tight in Tallinn), but those destinations didn't quite fit as a regular EPT stop for other reasons.

For instance, although it is technically in the vibrant capital of Spain, the Gran Casino Madrid is actually some way out of the centre of the city and players were required to take a bus ride from pretty much any hotel. Poker players don't do buses as a rule and the venue was quickly determined to be too remote. Besides, we already had the extraordinarily popular Barcelona leg, so the Iberian peninsula was covered.

Greece has been through some pretty testing economic difficulties over recent years, which rendered the holiday resort of Loutraki a little less attractive to local players than it might have been some time before. Meanwhile Campione, which is charming and magical in a kind of chocolate-box style, was simply too tiny to appeal to the hordes of poker players demanding a wide array of options for food, drink and other extra-curricular entertainments.

Once again, Malta has all of this covered. The casino is situated in St Julian's, the most built-up area of Malta comprising several distinct neighbourhoods. There are hundreds of restaurants and bars, loads of hotels and, in Paceville, as much extra-curricular entertainment as anyone could want. Furthermore, Malta itself is so small that it is possible to hop in a taxi and find oneself in a fishing village, a megalithic temple or simply beside a swimming pool without a care in the world.

Ultimately, player power will determine success or otherwise of a destination and again the omens for Malta are good. The latest number of Day 1 entrants for the Main Event sits at 258, which will inevitably grow by at least 50 percent tomorrow. It seems certain that we will pass 600 for the Main Event which, in addition to the monstrous IPT tournaments and the highly successful €25,000 Special High Roller, points to a popular spot.

The Wizard(s) will be looking closely at areas to improve -- there are always some -- but there seems to be no reason stopping Malta becoming one of the EPT's most successful, and regular, destinations.

*Various jurisdictions have different rules over poker tournaments, and this is usually out of the European Poker Tour's control.

Follow all the action from EPT Malta on the main EPT Malta page. There's action from the Main Event on the Main Event page, and information from the Italian Poker Tour event on the IPT page. You may also be interested in the EPT App, available on both Android or IOS. Good price, good price.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour