EPT10 Prague: Seven seasons and seven very different winners
Seven years of EPT Prague has conjured up some memorable finalists. Also some key moments in tour history.
Back in Season 4 Prague hosted its first main event. Back then things looked a little different. While it was staged right here at the Hilton, some of the rules were different, primarily those relating to smoking. Basically there were no rules, at least outside the tournament room. It turned the lobby outside into a kind of giant health warning. By the end of the week walking to the tournament area from the lobby was the equivalent of smoking 40 Marlboro Reds. By the end of the week it took an arm full of nicotine patches to hold your cards steady.
Aside from that it produced a memorable final table, not just for its line-up of eventual winner Arnaud Mattern, runner-up Gino Alacqua (who insisted he'd only come to Prague in search of romance), and Dag Palovic, but also for the final table itself, set up in a kind of amphitheatre design with spectators only a few feet from the action, peering down at the table from a bank of seating.
Arnaud Mattern wins in Season 4
A year later all that had changed, turned over to an enormous television set that dominated the room and which would help spark a poker boom in nearby Italy.
Italians at that point had been a rare sight on the EPT, with a few stalwarts such as Luca Pagano and Dario Minieri flying the tricolour with considerable success. But that was before Salvatore Bonavena led what felt like a tidal wave of Italian players into a main event. It's a wave that never really rolled back, and Bonavena can take credit for it. It was also the first time that a winner's photo included what seemed like every single Italian citizen passing through Prague at the time.
Salvatore Bonavena with Italy after his win in Season 5
Things got serious a year later. There may not have been the TV set to contend with but player did have to traverse the formidable Jan Skampa, who became the first Czech winner, draping himself in his country's flag as he posed for photos €682,000 richer. Justification as far as the economic student Skampa was concerned.
Where Skampa had been meticulous, merciless, and poised, that story was turned on its head a year later as Roberto Romanello lifted EPT silverware.
As snow flurries outside kept people wrapped up inside, Romanello powered his way to the title, denying another Italian winner in Emiliano Bono, for an emotional final act. The Welshman, who never hides the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve, wiped away tears as he collected the eye-watering first prize of €640,000.
A season later Martin Finger put in a completely dry-eyed performance to trounce his way to a first prize of €720,000 ahead of finalists such as Nicolas Levi in third place and David Boyaciyan in second. Then, like a man with some unfinished business it was Boyaciyan who was back the following year to put the record straight.
Reaching his second Prague final table in succession, Boyaciyan came within reach of the title, but didn't count on a stampeding Sotirios Koutoupas, who nixed a deal to finish second, and eventual winner Ramzi Jelassi, who proved one of the most popular winners in tour history.
Jelassi, like so many others, had been a regular on the tour since season one. Always considered a talented opponent, his effort was now justified and his relief palpable at having succeeded after so many attempts. "Finally," he said, as he collected his trophy and first prize of €835,000.
Season 9 winner Ramzi Jelassi
As high as that figure was last season it's likely to be broken this year as close to a 1,000 players walk through the main event turn-style. Those numbers will be confirmed tomorrow. Whether or not the eventual winner lives up to hat has come before will be for you to judge next Wednesday.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.