EPT9 London High Roller: How the Million Pound Showdown started the High Roller craze

When James Hartigan and Rick Dacey went down to the tournament floor about an hour ago, to film a segment for EPT Live, they ran into a bit of resistance from some railbirds. "This isn't Hollywood," grumbled a particularly narked Vic regular, peeved that he had been asked to move a few feet to his left temporarily to allow poker's Andy Gray and Richard Keys to share their wisdom for the cameras.

Our spectator was hoping to catch glimpse of the High Roller final table, which is taking place in a far corner of the card room. He's right, in a way. It is pretty far away from the Hollywood glitz at the Vic and the High Roller final table could easily pass for a £1-£2 game.

But it hasn't always been like this.

During EPT season four, the same deeply carpeted area played host to the Million Pound Showdown, which was, at the time, the highest buy in tournament on British shores. It cost £20,000 to play and the guaranteed prize pool was £1m--the crowd was thick on the rail and the action was being filmed for TV.

It's charming, really, that a million pound guarantee was considered a major selling point. Almost all EPT prize pools soar past that these days and nobody even blinks.

The marketing worked, however, because the tournament attracted 86 players, smashing the guarantee, and just take a look at the final table we finished with:


The final table of the Million Pound Showdown, in October 2008

In case you don't recognise them, that's (from left to right): Mike Watson, Jason Mercier, Isabelle Mercier, David Benyamine, Petter Jetten, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Masa Kagawa and the bassist out of Aerosmith.

This was the era of Jason Mercier. He had recently won his first EPT main event, back when Sanremo was called San Remo. And then he had made his first WSOP final table in Vegas shortly after. He returned to the EPT after that and of course he won the Million Pound Showdown. It was worth £516,000, and gave Mercier another leg up in what was already an outstanding young career.

Mercier was signed as a Team PokerStars Pro soon after, has won two WSOP bracelets, two NAPT Bounty Shootouts and who knows what else since then. Hooray for Hollywood.


Remember this kid's face. He'll go far

(For further context, Dennis Phillips bubbled the Million Pound Showdown. He was about to go back to Vegas to contest the World Series Main Event final table, where he was chip leader. The EPT, by the way, was about to head off to Budapest for the first and only time.)

Take a look back on the full details of the Million Pound Showdown and revisit a slightly different era. It wasn't that different, but it's yet another marker of how far the poker world has come that High Roller events don't feel anything like as exciting as that any more.

To a degree, we're complacent. We see these dizzying sums all the time. And in many ways, that event in London kick-started the High Roller fashion in European tournaments. It was a success, and organisers tend to try to repeat success. It brings us to today, and that quiet corner, where they're playing for a first prize very similar in size.

We have scaled up and scaled down at the same time.

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Howard Swains
@howardswains in High Roller