EPT11 Malta: Wash your mouth out and show some respect for Malta's 'Poker Mama'
A new destination on the European Poker Tour means new stars to discover, and it doesn't take long mixing in Maltese poker circles until the name Jackie Cachia comes up. To rephrase that slightly: you'll hear people referring to someone called "Poker Mama" in Malta, and that'll be when they're talking about Cachia, such is her standing in the local game.
Cachia, who was born and raised within a couple of miles of Casino Portomaso, is a former director of her family's business, who occasionally played a bit of blackjack or five-card draw. But eight years ago, her partner's Canadian nephew visited Malta for a holiday and taught his aunt how to play hold'em online for play money. Cachia opened an account, then played a few freerolls in the local casino. She has traded boardroom for the poker room pretty much ever since.
Cachia now has live tournament winnings totalling close to €80,000 and has racked up the most in-the-money tournament finishes of any Maltese. She is also good friends with the organisers of all poker events here in Malta and, moreover, has become popular among the poker-playing ex-pats who have made their home on the island.
"Me and Ike Haxton?" she says, by way of example. "We're buddies!"
Cachia is playing in her first EPT Main Event, but describes meeting Haxton during a PokerStars staff tournament in Malta, and subsequently remaining in touch. "He's a friendly guy, and ever since, whenever he sees me, he comes up to talk to me," Cachia says. "He's not a snob at all. He's like, 'Hi, how are you doing?' And it's pretty impressive. You're sitting at the poker table and Ike Haxton comes up to you and says 'Hi', I get a bit of respect for that."
The Ike endorsement is always nice, but Cachia was highly respected in the card-rooms of the island long before the Team PokerStars Online arrived to the Mediterranean. The "Poker Mama" nickname came from an Italian tournament director, who had noticed the matriarchal role Cachia had taken on with the young players on the island.
"I discipline the young players if they do something stupid at the table," Cachia says. "The Maltese foul language is some of the worst in the world -- I mean it, it's really, really offensive -- and I really do tell them off. I tell them, 'You can't talk like that.' And they respect that. I'm friendly with everybody. There's no reason for them to hold a grudge."
Cachia has also played on "Team Poker Mamas" in a poker event here on the island.
Poker in Malta is probably best described as being in a pre-boom state. There are three casinos on the island (and plans for a fourth), all of which have poker rooms, but Cachia says there are usually only about two cash game tables running at any one time. However, there are also daily tournaments, with buy-ins ranging from about €30 upwards, and Cachia is proof that it is possible to graduate from these events to the bigger international circuit.
She still plays whenever she can in the local events, but has also picked up results in Ireland and Italy, as well as in the United States, where she recorded the biggest cash of her career (in a Venetian Deep Stack event, for $17,851). She also won the ladies event at EPT London last October, which brought her a first trophy.
Cachia is confident that there is a rich appetite for poker among native Maltese, but says there are a couple of legislative hurdles to overcome before the country's full potential can be realised. Presently, local players need to be 25 or older to enter casino premises, even if tourists can play from 18, and Cachia says the poker rooms miss out on plenty of potential young talents.
"It's big discrimination," Cachia says. "There are a lot of Maltese who play online, and I think that if they put down the age, we're going to have a big boom. We really would have a big boom because there are lots and lots of young Maltese players who play online."
The EPT's arrival should help raise the profile of poker on the island to new heights, and the this festival has been anticipated with great relish.
"We are so excited," Cachia says. "There's been talk about the EPT coming to Malta for a couple of years and everybody has been saying, 'Will they come? Will they come?' And finally, you're here. I'm really friendly with the managers here, the staff, and I'm telling them, 'Guys, you have to make sure everything goes well because we want them back.' It seems to be going well. The venue is great. It's perfect."
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.