Something was going on. You could sense it. People were lingering near the stage in the tournament room of the EPT Prague Main Event. A couple held video cameras and were dressed a little scruffy in combat trousers and t-shirts. Most, however, were dressed smart; skirts, dress pants, and pressed shirts. All wore black.
A few metres away, Daniel Negreanu stood with his arms around two fans posing for a photo, blissfully unaware that there was a congregation growing behind him. Perhaps it was the sponsored pro's professionalism; perhaps it was just his bladder distracting him.
"I'm gonna make pee pee," said Negreanu as he wandered past, heading direct to the bathroom at the break.
It was getting larger: the mass of people dressed in black, not Negreanu's need for the toilet. Considering the speed in which the Team PokerStars Pro hurried towards the door I'm guessing there wasn't much room for expansion. That is what breaks are for, I guess.
At the centre of the growing group was one man who, quite noticeably, wasn't wearing black. It was Hassan Peymani, co-director of Volcano City, the company that produces the EPT Live webcast for PokerStars (and for those with longer EPT memories, one half of SIKTILT). Peymani wore a smart jacket and jeans combo, resplendent with a clean white shirt. All in all, he looked like a man that subscribes to Esquire magazine, or perhaps has his wardrobe coordinated by his girlfriend. My money is on the latter.
The EPT Prague Poker Festival has been breaking records this year. It's had the biggest Eureka Main Event ever with 1,315 players and another year-on-year increase for the EPT Prague Main Event with approaching a thousand players so far registered (up from last year's 864). But the brains behind the tour were ready. A record 171 tournament staff were prepped for this festival, more than any other event PokerStars has ever held. More even than the PCA. A nod to this, to the awesome dealers and floor staff that keep the action flowing for 11 days straight (with round-the-clock cash games, no less) was needed Peymani felt.
"We're making a video on dealers to go on EPT Live and YouTube. I'm not yet entirely convinced it's going to be a great piece," Peymani told me in a characteristically self-deprecating way.
But they're trying it out. That's what these webcast guys do. They try things, see what works and what doesn't, and have been doing an incredible job with EPT Live since its inception. It's now watched by more people than most national TV shows and streamed in more languages than you can shake a stick at.*
*We are assuming that you can only shake a stick at maximum of 14 languages. PokerStars do it in 15 thanks to the hard work of the TV team.
On stage, eyes down
Peymani spoke to Tournament director Teresa Nousiainen, who was afforded the luxury of wearing a bright splash of red due to her senior station. She addressed the PA system: "Okay, dealers, if your table is clear please come up to the stage. While you're up please keep an eye on your tables."
A sea of black swept up onto the stage as the dealers formed waves of the best shufflers and pitchers you're likely to find anywhere in the world. That said, you wouldn't want to fall under their collective gaze, particularly the three Finns who were standing front-right of the stage. Sometime dealers, sometime floor staff, I've seen these three casually necking large shots of vodka over dinner as if it was water. The Finns really are a breed apart. Just take a look at Ilari Sahmies at EPT Barcelona, for a solid example of Finns at work and play.
"Thank you for doing this. First we're doing sombre and serious. Be mean," said Peymani.
Peymani's Scottish accent is clear to me, but across a tinny Tannoy and to a wide group of Europeans then it might not have one hundred per cent clear to all. It seemed to come fairly natural to the Finns who stared down at the camera as if it was threatening to take their bottle away, not so to one mop-topped Italian who stood grinning ear to ear, much like an MTV video jockey delivering breaking news about the next shock-horror Miley Cyrus music video.
EPT tournament director Thomas Lamatsch glanced across and said, "If you're not serious then you don't go to the cash games."
Mop-top quickly stopped smiling.
The Volcano City guys quickly bagged the straight-faced footage, and with that in the can it was time for the festive cheer. Literally. On Peymani's command, the dealers let out a loud, synchronised "Happy Christmas" that barrelled across the room. They're a jolly bunch, these dealers. Just don't ask the Finns for a glass of water at dinner.
Keep an eye open for the EPT Live segment on dealers and YouTube later in the festival.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.