EPT10 Prague: Familiar faces, old and new
The moments ahead of the start is a time for catching up briefly with friends and acquaintances, reminiscing of events past that have taken place in the weeks since the last EPT in London. It even includes the dealers. If they ever dealt a good hand to a player, they will forever greet them as an old friend.
Some players gladly greet each other with warmth, diving immediately into stories of recent results. Others meanwhile try to avoid certain people, caught in conversation but using the old Bill Clinton technique of pointing at a random stranger and waving, as an excuse to move on.
But every so often you spot a player to whom you are immediately drawn, such as Jean Zaffran on table 15.
It could be the solid green shirt he wears, open at the neck, which is covered by a grey and red scarf. But I suspect it's more than that. His face speaks of many years, and his grey swept back hair hints at a life of dash.
Like others of a certain age, being comfortable becomes a chief concern at the start of any activity, and a poker tournament is one of those times. Zaffran realised this as soon as he sat down, because he got back up again and walked over to a pile of unused chairs by the main stage, wrestling one free to bring back to his own chair to "double-up". Only piling it up proved as difficult as freeing it had, and a floor person had to come over to help.
He saw me and gestured with his eyes towards the table. It gave him a better view of the board, he said, before sliding down his chair to show what the world look liked when he was too low. Up on his higher perch he could see perfectly. He was also higher than everyone else, I said. He liked that too.
As play got under way Zaffran got stuck in on his plan of enjoying himself. It's possible that he has never played a live event of this kind before, certainly not an EPT. But men of his age, while preferring to be comfortable, also like to do things their way, being unfazed by potential embarrassment or undue attention.
For a start he may not be entirely familiar with protocol, as the three other players at his table quickly established. His bets and raises were the wrong amount, and he peers down at each chip, handling them individually as though part of a coin collection. After working out which chips are worth what he then piles them up, but in towers baring no resemblance to anyone else's, all mixed up with reds, greens, blacks, purples and blues in no particular order.
"Five thousand", he said during one hand. No, he didn't mean thousand. After some throat clearing he told the dealer what he meant in French, and she announced to everyone he'd meant "450".
The others smelled blood. At this point play was only four handed and Amir Sonsino was smiling. Bela Toth meanwhile check-called Zaffran all the way to the river, assuming this old-timer was digging himself a very deep hole. He soon found himself conceding to Zaffran's rivered straight. Toth grinned, but it was perhaps the grin of a man who realised he should have known better.
Of course, it could be that Zaffran's awkwardness is just an elaborate, and perfectly performed, act to lure the others into a trap. It would be nice to think it was, just in the same way it would be fun to see someone play every hand with Poker for Dummies propped open on their lap, frantically turning pages on every street. I just don't think it's going to happen. But in Zaffran's case, it might prove fun to watch.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.