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The idea of a multi-tour and city-sponsored poker festival is an interesting one. Offering players the opportunity to be immersed by competition for weeks at one destination is truly a smart decision on the constantly-changing poker landscape. Too often there are players who are consistently burned out from traveling from event to event. Think about the mental strain it would take on you if you booked a plane ticket, a multi-hundred dollar hotel room, traveled to the $5,000 buy-in (or whatever it may be), bust in three hours and then need move on to the next stop and do it all again as it's your job. I don't care if you have mindset coach Sam Chauhan on your side, it's a pretty brutal concept to comprehend day in and day out, but that's the life of professional poker players these days. The next stop is always on the radar and getting from here to there isn't cheap.
The idea of a poker festival is anything but a new one. Obviously there are these small events known as the WSOP and PCA that have already become the premier festivals of the year, but the Prague poker festival is a different beast. Running from November 29-Dec 12, the festival offers three major tournaments on three tours (WPT, EPT, GSOP) and for two weeks, Prague has become the hottest poker destination in the world. Yes, even with WPT's Five Diamond stealing some attention domestically.
When I was asked about this event on Twitter a few weeks ago, my main concern was the festival getting the necessary buy-in from the players. No, not the cash, but the idea that this could be successful. After all, a festival with three main events wouldn't be applauded if only 200 players showed up. However, the players have bought in, and in a big way. The timing of this festival was perfect as it also benefited from Martin Staszko's recent WSOP main event finish. There's now a true Czech poker star and his accomplishments have brought great awareness to the game in the region. Everything is going right in Prague and if organizers haven't already started to look at 2012, they probably will be soon.
Event 1: WPT
The World Poker Tour kicked off the festival's action with one of their biggest events in Europe. After a 10-hour final table, 22-year-old Andrey Pateychuk captured his second major title in the past three months by defeating the field of 568 in the 3,500 euro event. He earned 450,000 euros for the victory, the third six-figure score for the Russian star who earned a victory at EPT San Remo and a 15th-place finish at the WSOP main event in 2011.
|Andrey Pateychuk has earned more than $2 million on the tournament felt in 2011.|
His career earnings prior to 2011 totaled $42,780 and the student has come a long way in a short period of time. Pateychuk's $2 million in tournament earnings this year have earned him a spot in the top 20 of the year's money list. He is also the leading Russian on that list, edging out bracelet winner Max Lykov for that honor.
After the victory Pateychuk was serenaded by his friends on the rail, including WSOP main event runner-up Ivan Demidov, and smiled in front of the cameras and the cash.
"It was a very tough final table, with a lot of really good players," said Pateychuk to the World Poker Tour.
Pateychuk's sights are now on something even bigger than the prize money - the possibility of being the next player to win poker's the triple crown. " I already have an EPT title, and now a WPT title. I hope that in the next two years I can win the WSOP bracelet Nobody [from Russia] has the triple crown. It's really important to me [to get there]."
The second main event in Prague is the European Poker Tour's event. Just like the WPT, the EPT saw a turnout that surprised many in a very positive way. At 722 players, the 5,300 euro buy-in EPT Prague main event has become the largest major poker tournament in the country's history. Players from 50 countries created a prize pool of 3.5 million euros and the one that emerges out of the pack will win 775,000 euros.
After the completion of the two starting days, Andrey Saenko leads the remaining 407 players who will return for Day 2 action on Wednesday. Others advancing include Staszko, Liv Boeree, Ville Wahlbeck, Melanie Weisner, Gus Hansen and Eoghan O'Dea. A champion will be determined on December 10.
Although the third event (the Grand Series of Poker main event, will be a 1,650 buy-in) hasn't started, it's clear that this venture was a success. That said, continual festival success in the industry relies upon a few major items.
• The tours need to work together. Each of them want their piece of the pie and that's understandable, but the bigger the event, the more players that will show and in return, make everyone more money. Pardon the business phrase and completely incorrect math, but 1+1+1 in this case equals much more than three (the result of everyone working together is far greater than all of their efforts if they were working individually). In Prague's case, each of these tours benefit, but the GSOP at Prague is most likely going to benefit greater than the other two by gaining additional exposure and recognition. Tours always aren't going to work together, but for the benefit of these festivals, and perhaps changing the tour landscape, they should be inclined to be amicable in these situations. The cooperation between the three tours at this stop should be commended.
• Scheduling. Certain times of the year are already carved out for major events. Nobody is going to touch the months of June and July (except for other Vegas properties looking to capitalize on the WSOP). All the players are in Vegas for the WSOP and no other major event is going to come close or could potentially compete. January is locked up by PCA and the Aussie Millions, London has September, Cannes has October and Prague now has December. Finding a good spot in the schedule -- in a location that makes players want to travel to -- is important for these to work. I think a nice February stop in Florida could be a great idea for the WPT, WSOP Circuit and Heartland Poker Tour to attract a great crowd. Barcelona, Spain in April could also work out perfectly on the European side.
• Marketing. Making the festival appear like something incredibly huge that everyone wants to be a part of is important. Let's face it, poker players don't often review schedules themselves. They talk to friends, see where they are going and then make their decisions. If a festival makes its efforts known, players will be intrigued and show up. They'll want a full schedule with lots of events and of course, cash games running as well. Prove that your festival will have those requirements and players will be checking Orbitz for their flights.
• Online satellites. Sorry U.S. players, you're out of luck again. The best way to make these festivals even more prominent is to have more players. The best way to get more players - the online game. Winning prize packages is a thrill and usually a way for amateurs to get in the game. Anytime you see amateurs involve, you'll see more pros looking to take advantage and bigger fields.
I think that what Prague has done is set the bar, but I think that bar will be surpassed time and time again in the coming years. Let's see which tours step up to the plate and make this a reality
Small blinds: The country represented most at EPT Prague? Russia. While the home country could only attain four percent of the field, Russians offered up approximately 10 percent of the 722 players. Six percent of the field came from the United States.
Bluff released its Reader's Choice awards. ESPN Inside Deal is nominated for "Best Web-based poker show" and we greatly appreciate the thought and nomination. Vote for all of the 13 categories here.
Although the WSOP announced on Monday that 22 players committed to the $1 million buy-in bracelet event in 2012, many more players, including Sam Trickett, Justin Smith and James Bord have expressed their desire to play on Twitter. Expect that if the WSOP reaches its cap of 48 players to re-think that limit. I would if I were them.
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FairPlayUSA came out with a study on Tuesday stating that legalizing online poker will not hurt state lotteries.