Snake-charmers, painted ladies, burlesque artists cavorting in champagne glasses. To the long list of entertainers who have dazzled us with their skills at PokerStars welcome parties, last night’s curtain raiser for EPT San Remo added a few more. First up, there were walking, talking, dancing playing cards, who eventually sat themselves down and performed something like a cross between a poker-themed rock-opera and a ballet.
Then, after a quick costume change, they returned for a high-octane, high-tempo, glide and jerk through strobe lighting on dance platforms.
And then they morphed into Luca Pagano.
“I am very pleased to tell you that this tournament in San Remo is going to be the most popular tournament in European poker history!” declared the Team PokerStars Pro, kitted out in a black suit and tie, as though he was the long-lost Italian Blues Brother.
And when pushed for details, it seems Pagano’s excitement was 100 percent justified. The tournament, which begins today, is already over-sold, with more than 1,100 players adding their name to the list of entrants, hoping to add it to prestigious role call of EPT champions. That will be decided over the coming six days; it’s going to be quite a ride.
This is the second time the European Poker Tour has trundled into Italy, but it’s already safe to say that this is one of the most hotly-anticipated stops. San Remo is a bewitching town, secreted in a narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, in the most north-westerly region of Italy. For the westward-bound traveller, it’s the last place to stop before the Italian Riviera gives way to the French; for anyone heading in the opposite direction, it is the gateway to the craggy, sun-kissed wonders of Liguria.
Either way, it is worth dragging your heels a while. The beach and sea provides the familiar contrast between primary yellow and dazzling blue, the type best depicted in two sweeps of a felt-tip pen in a child’s drawing. Seafood restaurants are dotted along the front, over which peer a strip of opulent hotels with vast patios and terraces. The old town behind is a warren of narrow passageways and alleys, sharply inclining, twisting, switching this way and that, through criss-crossing laundry lines, children’s football games, and the idle chatter of locals propped precipitously on wobbling stools.
It all meets at a central town square, where tourists seeking trattorias mingle with the street vendors and the parishioners heading towards any of the numerous ancient stone churches central to much of the milieu. All of this beneath the imposing mountain range that separates this part of the world from all the rest. No one can tell what is going on over the other side, and no one much cares.
Our focus, though, must now sharpen. The first flight of players arrive today to the grand Municipal Casino for the opening eight levels of the 2009 San Remo EPT event. It’s a €5,300 tournament, following all the established patterns that these things take. That means a host of star players — Pagano, Minieri, Raymer, Thorson, Eastgate, Boeken, McEvoy, Horecki, Mercier, Chen, Lodden, Kravchenko, Demidov, Thater to name but a small handful — and it means another super-tough six days of competition before we name a winner on Friday.
As ever, PokerStars blog will bring all the latest news from on and around the tournament floor. We will provide our usual mix of hand reporting, feature stories, player interviews, video blogs and exceptional photography. We will also have the most accurate and up-to-date news of eliminations, major pots and chip counts, updated increasingly rapidly as the tournament progresses from its early stages towards the business end. We might feel as though we’re in our own private paradise here on the Italian Riviera, but we’ll do our very best to bring you closer to it. Stay with us.