EPT8 Campione: Italians dominate but still await second winner


In the history of the European Poker Tour there has only been one Italian winner. It's not a lot (still one more than Spain, who must content themselves with the soccer World Cup) given the numbers of Italians who parade themselves on the EPT, not least in the six events already staged on their home soil. It's a number that's surprisingly low.

The holder of that single title is the honourable Salvatore Bonavena.

Bonavena was something of a surprise when he fell from the sky, landing on the poker world in Season 5 to win the EPT Prague crown and a first prize of €774,000. With that he lifted the EPT trophy and also a poker nation to its feet, single-handedly (it seemed) opening the doors for Italian players to flood the tour. It was Italian poker's coming out party. And yet, there has been no winner since.

Italy's only winner: Salvatore Bonavena

It all started in Season 1 when Luca Pagano reached two final tables. Pagano served as Italian poker's first poster boy (literally that is, his face still looks out from wall-mounted promotional material). Then, in Season 3, something happened. A pocket-sized Italian named Dario Minieri arrived on the scene, performing polished verõnica against disorientated opponents who, tired of charging him, found themselves clearing a space for him at the final.

Cheeky, chirpy, chipped up and visibly capable, Minieri set about re-writing the book. Suddenly here was someone three and four-betting in ways never seen before, adding a flash of art and some table talk in broken English that was polite yet terrifying for opponents forced to decide whether he was "at it" or not.

For Minieri it was the start of a career that would quickly bloom, and an experience he'll never forget.

"I was full of adrenaline," said Minieri, looking back. "I couldn't believe I'd made a final table in an EPT and it was incredible. When you start to play poker everything is bigger and bigger inside of you. It was amazing. I remember I was so excited.

Dario Minieri

That day ended with Minieri in third, departing with polite handshakes and leaving an impression on those on and off the table who secretly knew that the best man had not won. Minieri though was one of a kind.

Others came close to taking a first title - Cristiano Blanco was second in Dortmund that year, Gino Alacqua was second in Prague a year later while Minieri finished third in San Remo and in Warsaw.

Then Bonanvena, skipping Minieri's subtlety in place of straight forward ABC poker, won the day, beating another Italian, Massimo Di Cicco to the title. Cue waves of joyous Italians, most of whom made it into the winner's photo.

Since then, nothing.

Andrea Benelli, whom we wrote about earlier, reached fourth place in Deauville in season five while three others, Alfio Battisti, Francesco De Vivo and Emiliano Bono would runner-up events, falling one short of Bonavena's achievement. There was also Pagano, plugging away at final table number five, six and then seven. But the quest for that second title continues.

Stephen Bartley
@StephenBartley in Campione