EPT11 Deauville: Georgios Kapalas, continuing the Greek tradition in Deauville

We reported yesterday about the mini poker booms occurring in various European nations, focusing particularly on Poland. Eight Polish players returned for Day 3 today, and even though Dominik Panka was an early casualty, the red and white flag should still appear at least a few times on the payouts list here in Deauville.

It's time, however, to move south a few hundred miles and check in on Greece, for whom Georgios Kapalas, Evangelos Tsaris, Stavros Kalfas, Georgios Zisimopoulos and Ioannis Angelou-Konstas are still flying the flag in Deauville.

We don't write about the Greek players very much on PokerStars Blog, mainly, I think, because it's so ridiculously difficult to spell their names. (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V is the generally accepted spelling.) However Sotirios Koutoupas won this event last year, Georgios Sotiropoulos has already won a side event this week (a €1,000 Turbo, for €23,960) and Kapalas in particular has plenty of pedigree.

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Georgios Kapalas: Can Greece go back to back?

He has a big stack here on Day 3 in Deauville and has proven before that he knows how to wield it. In June 2009, he made a final table at the World Series and three months later became the first Greek player into the final eight on the European Poker Tour as well.

"I guess somehow my early success got some people motivated more," Kapalas says, reflecting on a good few years for Greek players on the EPT. "I started having some success in live tournaments before most other people did, but the talent was there also before. It's just they didn't have the bankroll to play outside the country in live events."

Since Kapalas's breakout year, Greek players gradually started to appear pretty regularly at EPT final tables. Konstantinos Alexiou finished fourth in Prague in 2008, Konstantino Nanos came third in Vienna in 2010 and there was then a hat-trick of runner-up finishes for Koutoupas (Prague, Season 9), Georgios Karakousis (London, Season 9) and Sotiropoulos (Prague, Season 10).

Koutoupas then became the toast of the country when he finally got over the line in this room last season -- although the elder statesman wasn't here to see it. "Actually it's the only year I didn't come to Deauville, and a Greek won it, so I had to come back," Kapalas says.

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Sotirios Koutoupas's big moment

This time last year, Kapalas was completing his mandatory military service, having postponed it as long as he could while he played poker through most of his 20s. It meant he couldn't travel to the European Poker Tour, nor the World Series, and also meant he passed up the chance to win a one-year sponsorship contract with PokerStars.

Kapalas was one of three players competing as a "Challenger" on PokerStars and beyond, a promotion organised by the Greek Red Spades. At the end of a year of competition, Kapalas was in a dead heat with his friend Kalfas, but did not contest a tiebreak.

"I couldn't play for nine months, so pretty much they had to give Stavros the sponsorship for the next year," Kapalas says. "He's my friend, and I knew it was my bad planning that I had to do the military service."

He did, however, manage to continue playing the major events online, an arena in which he has also had some notable success. Playing as "gkap13" online, he recorded the biggest win of his career in a WCOOP event in September 2012, finishing second in a $530 Six-Max tournament, for $101,000. He has since transitioned to sit and gos, then back to multi-table tournaments, and is now back playing bricks and mortar poker, with designs on the final table this week.

"I hope there can be two Greeks on the final table," he says. "There have never been two Greeks there before."

All of the advancement in Greek poker has taken place against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty in the country. The financial crash of 2009-10 affected all aspects of life in Greece, with the poker economy far from immune.

"It's definitely affected it," Kapalas says. "A lot of people don't have money to gamble with. I don't play live cash but I know that there's not a lot of money there.

"The crash also changed the tax system in Greece. It was huge for us. It's really complicated now for Greek players; I had to move to Cyprus and a lot of other players have done it too. We have to play from different countries, and it all started because of the crisis."

All the more reason to cheer on Kapalas and his friends today as they try to navigate what is becoming a frighteningly tough field. Kapalas's first had to do battle with Kevin MacPhee before his table broke, landing him two seats from Adrien Guyon, who has been opening pretty much every pot. But Kapalas has more than 250,000 himself and is taking it easy. "Everything is OK," he says.

Coverage from the Main Event of EPT Deauville is on the Main Event page. Check out all the action from around the festival on the main festival page. Also follow the action on EPT Live and stay up to date with the sensational EPT app for iPhone, iPad or Android.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in Main Event