The European Poker Tour (EPT) heads to Prague this month for its annual pre-Christmas shindig in the Czech Republic. As always, the field will be boosted by a number of players who have won online satellites and who will be joining the Main Event field for a fraction of the advertised buy-in.
Here, we meet some of the EPT Prague qualifiers, including a Brit playing the biggest tournament of his career, and two Eastern European pros with solid online results ready to make a name for themselves in the live arena.
Lee Neate, 32 – Ashford, Middlesex, UK
After learning the game from his family, and playing freerolls on PokerStars in his earliest poker-playing days, Lee Neate then really found an affinity for poker at university in Bristol.
“I used to regularly play a 25/50p cash game at the local casino with little experience and knowledge, but managed to earn a little extra money,” Neate says.
The experience stood him in good stead when he hit the backpacker trail after graduation, and he returned to the cash tables while in Sydney, Australia, building a bank-roll of around $1,500. “That was a lot at the time for a traveler,” he says, adding, “Carrying around most of my net worth in cash isn’t ideal!”
On returning to the UK, a friend at work re-introduced him to poker and got him thinking about the game again. “That night I logged back onto PokerStars not knowing the software and entered a $5 satellite thinking it was a $5 tournament. I won the seat into a $700 comp and min cashed it for $1400. Great story for my friend the next day.”
The pair continued to develop their skills together. “Through speaking to him he opened my eyes to poker terminology, ranges, variance etc and I was on my journey to learn more,” Neate says. “Since then I’ve been playing more and more and increasing my knowledge via YouTube, some poker courses and 1 coaching session. This year is the first year I have been tracking my progress and trying to play regularly and profiting.”
A hobby so far, but who knows…
Poker remains a hobby while Neate continues his career in the logistics team of a major beer importer. But he is committed still to learning more about poker, studying GTO approaches (if only to find deviations), and switching between bounty and regular tournaments, as well as satellites to enter larger events.
His skills have earned him a fourth-place finish in the mini Sunday Million for around $4,000, plus a couple of $2K pick-ups in local poker rooms. He says that playing poker full time would be a dream “if financially viable”, but enjoys his day job too and is happy to progress with that.
“Variance in general is tough when nothing goes your way and the bankroll dwindles however dropping in stakes and playing in accordance to the bankroll proves you have the right mindset to be a winning player,” he says.
Away from the tables, Neate both plays and watches football, and plays fantasy football to add another dimension to the game. He has been married for four years.
As for his expectations in Prague? “This would be the biggest event I have ever played amongst great professionals, it will be an awesome experience and would love to come back with profit,” he says. “Anything better than a min cash would be awesome and would be super happy with. Would love to make my first ever day three.”
Tamas Kabatnic, 32, Romania
A poker pro for the past 10 years, Tamas Kabatnic was nonetheless thrilled when he managed to win the online satellite that has sent him to his first EPT event in Prague.
“It was one of the happiest moments of my poker career,” he says.
Kabatnic decided back in October to have a stab at qualifying for EPT Prague, and remembers every step of the journey.
“I played a €22 satellite in which I invested €66 (one rebuy and one add on) and I managed to win it and qualify for the €530 direct satellite,” he says. “Then out of 60 players I managed to finish top three and won the package. I was so happy I can’t even tell…Winning this EPT package was a true fairytale.”
Kabatnic’s journey through the poker ranks begins with 1c/2c cash games and progresses all the way to 100-200 NL Zoom, having also played 500 NL Zoom when it was still available at PokerStars. Predominantly still a cash game player, he also landed a $77K tournament payday during WCOOP in 2019, which kept him somewhat interested in tournaments too.
Finding inspiration among the Red Spades
He is also a big fan of the Team PokerStars Ambassador Lex Veldhuis, detecting a kindred spirit in the Dutchman. “i think our mentality and approach to poker is pretty similar,” Kabatnic says. “We are both super passionate about it and I also like him as a person.”
Away from poker, Kabatnic is obsessed by two other interests: sports and finance. “I like to study the stock market and crypto and I like to invest my money into assets that can make me money in the future,” he says. “My ambition in life is to make as much money in poker as I can and to invest that money into assets that can make me money and passive income in the future.”
Perhaps that can start in Prague, where Kabatnic says, “A good result at EPT Prague would be to reach the money, and anything beyond that would be fantastic.”
Aurelijus Sipavicius, 31, Vilnius, Lithuania
Lithuania’s Aurelijus Sipavicius received a major boost in his poker career way before it even started. He was a childhood friend of Matas Cimbolas, who would go on to become one of Lithuania’s best known poker players.
Cimbolas latterly staked and coached Sipavicius, allowing him to join the game’s top echelons too. “He is an inspiration for me as we started at a similar point and I can only be proud of his achievements,” Sipavicius says of Cimbolas — a player who has been to the final table of both Main Event and High Roller at EPT Prague.
Sipavicius learned poker aged 18 but says he had no intention at that time of playing the game professionally.
However, his skills and bankroll gradually developed, boosted by some staking from Cimbolas, and eventually Sipavicius was playing off his own dime in MTTs. He is now a regular satellite player too, with a string of notable results.
“My best achievement was victory in a WCOOP Sunday Million, which was worth around $186K,” he says.
Sipavicius says that his poker development continues, even if he is now a full-time pro. He is also on what he describes as a spiritual journey, attempting to improve mindfulness and his emotional health. His plays padel several times per week to remain fit of body too.
“My main goal is to achieve financial freedom,” he says, adding that he also wishes to visit “the majority of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Prague would seem to be a pretty good start to that, with success at the EPT tables a possible bonus. “A good result for me would be to achieve a final table and of course my desire and a fantastic result would be to become a champion of EPT,” he says.