Prague is a popular stop on the EPT circuit, with hectic tournament action and a wide variety of cash games, complemented by a beautiful city packed with bars and restaurants that never break the bank. Here is the complete guide to the event including everything you need to know at or away from the tables.
The European Poker Tour first visited Prague in 2007 and was an immediate hit. It has been a fixture on the circuit ever since. Prague’s charms in the run-up to Christmas made it the perfect fit for the winter months, while its geographical location at the centre of Europe put it in striking distance for players from all over the world. It invariably attracts the most diverse field on the tour, with no one country dominating the attendance statistics. From 13 Main Events, winners have come from nine different countries, including local boy Jan Skampa in 2009.
After starting with around 600 runners, the Main Event now usually has around 1,000 entries and a prize pool of more than €5 million. Stephen Graner, the only American Main Event winner to date, won the biggest ever first prize: €969,000 in 2014.
A €50,000 Super High Roller event was added to the schedule in 2014, complementing a full schedule of side events. Players and staff alike anticipate their annual trip to Prague more eagerly than any other stop on the schedule. Christmas hasn’t properly begun until you’ve sampled the crisp winter air of the Czech Republic.
2019 KEY DATES
This year’s EPT festival, originally scheduled for December 2021, now runs from March 5-16, 2022, with 57 tournaments, including satellites. Here are some of the highlights:
EPT National: March 6-10 – €1,100
EPT Cup: March 8-9 – €330
EPT National High Roller: March 9-10 – €2,200
EPT Super High Roller: March 9-11 – €50,000
EPT Prague Main Event: March 10-16 – €5,300
EPT Prague High Roller: March 14-16 – €10,300
FULL EPT PRAGUE TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Pity anybody who has booked a room at Hilton Prague and knows nothing about poker. The European Poker Tour essentially takes over the entire hotel, with the main tournament room in the vast Congress Hall (12,677 square feet; 1,178 square metres), an overspill tournament room in the “Chez Louis Salon”, and cash games taking place in the Grand Ballroom. Both the latter two are on the mezzanine floor.
The hotel itself is on the banks of the Vltava River, in an area of Prague known as Karlin. It is not quite in the Old Town, but only about a 10-minute walk to the east of the old Jewish Quarter and not much further from the iconic Old Town Square.
Prague is best explored on foot, and it is an absolute chocolate-box delight. (This goes double in the run-up to Christmas, where the city’s narrow streets are decked with lights and its city squares come alive with Christmas markets. None are more popular or more charming than the main market in the Old Town Square, where stalls selling delicious traditional foodstuffs — Prague ham, sweet Trdelník cake and hot wine — are lined beneath the soaring tower of the Old Town Hall.)
Prague’s mediaeval architecture is second to nowhere in the world, with the Town Hall among its most famous monuments. The pedestrian-only 14th century Charles Bridge (Karlův most), lined with stone statues, links this side of the city to further beauties in the area known as Malá Strana, or “Lesser Town”. That’s a matter of opinion, because the staggering castle complex here includes some of the finest buildings in the continent, chief among them the peerless St. Vitus Cathedral. The western facade, in particular, is breathtaking.
There are countless cafes, restaurants and bars tucked in tiny nooks and crannies among the labyrinthine streets, and one can spend hours in aimless, directionless wanderings, without ever needing to know where one really is.
Wenceslas Square is more modern and not intrinsically attractive, but it is worth a visit as one of the most significant locations in the region’s history. Thousands of people poured into Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution of 1989, marking the collapse of communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. The enormous Czech National Museum sits at the top of the square, packed with artefacts from all eras of the region’s history.
If you’re in the mood for sightseeing slightly further afield, the extraordinary fortress of Vyšehrad is well worth a visit. It has a remarkable village-within-the-city feel to it, and has its own beautiful church with fascinating graveyard. Its permanent residents are drawn exclusively from the world of politics, science, culture and the arts, and include the composer Antonín Dvořák. The area has panoramic views across Prague.
GETTING THEREPeople come from across the world to play at EPT Prague, and though there are rail and road options to get to the landlocked Czech Republic from mainland Europe, most people are going to be flying in to Vaclav Havel international airport. Direct flights come from almost all major European hubs, plus JFK and Newark in New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal, Seoul, Chengdu, Doha and Beirut. (Some of those routes are seasonal.) It’s usually easiest for visitors from North America to transfer through London, Frankfurt or Amsterdam.
From the airport, it’s a comfortable 30-minute taxi ride to the Hilton and PokerStars travel can arrange a transfer for €28. Alternatively, you can get a taxi from the rank outside the airport, from where a cab to the centre of the city is usually around 650-700 CZK (about $26-$30).
Public transport: It is also cheap and easy to get pubic transportation to and from the airport, though it requires both a bus and a subway ride. During daytime, take the 119 bus from outside either of the two terminal buildings to Veleslavín train station, where you can change on to the Metro Line A. (Alternatively, you can take the 100 bus and change on to Metro Line B at Zličín.) At night, the 910 bus route runs into the city centre (between the hours of midnight and 4am only). See the official airport website for full details.
EPT Prague takes place in the conference facilities of Hilton Prague (Pobrenzni 1, Prague, 186 00, Czech Republic. Tel: +420-2-2484-1111). It is a well-appointed, high end business hotel with several restaurants and bars on site as well as a spa, gym, swimming pool and two squash courts. It is among the most expensive hotels in the city, but you know what you’re getting with Hilton, and you get what you pay for. (Note: there are actually two Hilton Hotels in Prague. Hilton Prague Old Town is only a short walk away, but these are not the same premises.)
There are numerous other hotels close to the tournament venue to suit all budgets including:
The three-star B&B Hotel Prague is as good as next door, with the added benefit of being closest to the Hilton entrance that takes you straight into the tournament room. Similarly, Botanique Hotel Prague is a very short walk away, most of it through an indoor, heated shopping mall.
Only slightly further afield are the four-star Hotel Opera and its three-star neighbour Hotel Merkur, which are in older buildings with a more traditional feel. Hotel Embassy Prague is also in the same area, no more than a five-minute walk to the Hilton, and is a very comfortable place to stay.
PokerStars Travel can arrange stays in all of the hotels listed above, as well as dozens more across the city.
Food in Prague ticks all the boxes of all but the most pernickety traveller: it is plentiful, wholesome, delicious and so very, very cheap. In contrast with many other locations in Central and Eastern Europe it is also wide-ranging and restaurants here usually have vegetarian and vegan options. (Gone are the days when “vegetarian” food just meant the soups with only a bit of bacon in them.)
That said, let’s start with some options for the carnivores:
Meat: The Hilton has a very good steak restaurant, The Able Butcher, on site, just opposite from the check-in desk. It’s quite pricy, especially for this city, but it’s good. You might also like Beefhouse, about a 10-minute walk away, just past the Hotel Embassy. The best schnitzel found by the PokerStars Blog crew through a decade coming to Prague is to be had at Pivovarsky Klub, on Křižíkova 17, again about a 10-minute walk from the Hilton. Come for the schnitzel, stay for the 100+ beers on offer (or the other way around). If it’s purely quantity you’re after, and some pretty good quality traditional fare too, then try any one of at least six Kolkovna restaurants. But be hungry. Be very hungry. (And expect meat sweats.)
Local: A restaurant called The Gate always does very well during EPT time. It’s only a five minute walk from the tournament room and has a huge menu, so is worth checking out in a dinner break. (Word of warning: it’s not always the quickest service, so be careful if you’re a short stack and can’t afford to miss a blind or two.) Only a few metres further down the same street, Sokolovská, you’ll find cheap and very quick curry and pho restaurants, which can get you back in time for the first orbit after the break. The Hilton is also only five minutes from a McDonalds, if you must. It’s under the overpass by Florenc metro station.
Vegetarian: There’s an excellent vegetarian snack bar/restaurant just across the parking lot from the Hilton Prague tournament room. It’s called Veggie Garden and does delicious hot and cold food. The only drawback is that it’s not open for dinner. There are, however, numerous Indian restaurants in Prague that are really good for vegetarians, and also places like Vegan City, on Husitská, or the brilliant Vegan’s Prague, which are a little further afield. If you know what to expect, MyRaw Cafe is also terrific. It is devoted to raw vegan food “where all ingredients are processed only up to temperature of 42°C and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Snacks: There’s really no excuse for being hungry during the tournaments at EPT Prague, regardless of your budget. Just across the parking lot is a small shopping mall in which you’ll find a Costa Coffee, a couple of very good snack bars (selling sandwiches, salads, etc.) and Albert supermarket. If you walk all the way through it and out the other end, there’s a Billa supermarket. You’ve all been in a supermarket before, so no need for an explanation. There’s all kinds of food in there, and it’s cheap. (Heads up: take a bag if you can otherwise you’ll need to buy one.)
High end: Prague has literally hundreds of restaurants, some of which rank among the best in Europe. La Degustation and Field have Michelin stars, while both Eska and Sansho are very close to the Hilton and earn regular rave reviews. This being Prague, you won’t need to win the Main Event to afford it. Maybe just skip one side event, and you’re in.
NEED TO KNOW
The Czech Republic is in the European Union, but it is not in the Eurozone, which means it retains its own currency. The Czech koruna (CZK) is the only currency accepted across most of the smaller shops and restaurants. Some of the bigger places will allow you to pay in Euros, and the EPT tournament buy-ins and cash games use Euros as the base currency. But make sure you have a stock of koruna too, particularly coins if you’re going to be using the metro.
Here are two tips that should make your stay at EPT Prague much more comfortable and enjoyable.
The first is that the shopping mall across from the Hilton (through the parking lot opposite the tournament room entrance) has pretty much everything you need to survive: a pharmacy, a supermarket and a decent coffee shop. You might want to visit at least once a day.
Secondly: Prague has a really good metro system that is very easy to use, and Florenc station is a very short walk from the Hilton. Once you’ve got to grips with this, you can explore so much more of this huge and richly rewarding place. There are three lines: the green A line, the yellow B line and the red C line. Florenc is one of stations that is an interchange, meaning you can access both B and C lines from there, while the A line is only two stops away.
A single ticket, good for any journey taking less than 90 minutes, is 32 CZK (about $1.40). (If your trip is even shorter, ie., less than 30 minutes, it’s 24 CZK, which is about $1.) You can also buy a full day pass for less than $5. The ticket vending machines in the station concourses have instructions in English — but take loose change, and it’s so much easier. One other crucial piece of information: you need to validate your ticket before getting on the train, which means sticking it into the yellow box at the top of the escalators. That should keep you on the right side of the law.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are five professional football (soccer) clubs in Prague: Sparta, Slavia, Bohemians 1905, FK Dukla Praha and FK Victoria Zizkov. At time of writing, the first three are in the Premier Division. Tickets are usually available, so get along to a match if you have the chance.
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