EPT12 Prague: Why the lack of superstars is good for the game
What do Ihar Soika, Iklin Garibli and Josip Simunic have in common? If you follow the European Poker Tour closely, this should be a no brainer. But if you're only a casual poker fan--or if you've taken your eye off the ball once or twice--you might be surprised to learn that they have all won a High Roller event on the EPT in the past couple of seasons.
Although High Roller tournaments are supposedly the preserve of the elite, "known" pro, one need only take a wander through the tables during any pre-bubble period to discover that there are many, many players in these events who are yet to make a huge breakthrough.
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I saw two tables in the €10,000 event here in Prague this afternoon on which I recognised a total of one player between them.
The first table lined up like this: Henrick Hecklen, William Foxen, Rasmus Vogt, Aliaksei Boika, Mikhail Rudoy, Parker Talbot, Felix Bleiker. On the second I found Laszlo Bujtas, Diego Veiga, Rufat Mahmudov, Eddy Maksoud, Chady Merhej, Vladimir Dobrovolskiy, Jean Souprayenmestry, Eoghan O'Dea.
(As a Brit, I recognised the Irishman O'Dea, who is a former November Niner.)
I don't doubt that plenty of poker reporters will have been able to name a few more of these guys by sight, but I'm not going out on a limb to say that none of them are household names. They are, rather, potentially the next Soika or Garibli, i.e., the next player to prompt people in the press room to say, "Who's that guy?" a month after winning more than half a million euros.
For some fairly legitimate reasons, players and staff alike are perennially worried about the state of the poker economy, about whether the game can sustain and extend its exceptional boom years. And that's why I tend to be gratified when things like this happen. Honestly, there's a tournament going on down there attracting the best in the world paying €10,000 a head to enter and I, having covered poker for more than ten years, recognise only one player among 16.
That, to me at least, suggests that all is not lost. There are still new players coming into the game, moving through the ranks, and building bankrolls to take a shot at a High Roller. And I strongly suspect that most of their money has actually come from poker, that they're online beasts or cash game wizards, only recently pondering a move into the live tournament scene.
Either that, or I'm a terribly unobservant reporter. That's possible too, but let's hope it's the former explanation.
There's also the High Roller. That's on the High Roller page.