EPT London 2013

EPT London 2013

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Stephen Bartley rounds up the action from the Vic.

In these days of Leveson I think it best I admit to having previously lied in the pages of Bluff Europe. I wish to come clean over some of the things I’ve said, notably about the quality of some players on the European Poker Tour. It’s not that I said bad things about them; rather, I said good things about them, a technique I use to pretend everything is perfect. It’s time for this practice to stop.

Not everyone who wins a poker tournament is a good player. Some are dreadful. Some may even be pretty good but still surprise you when they lift the winner’s trophy. I’ve also lied about the general quality of a final table, which, if you’re lucky, features a single player you’ve heard of before, not the eight superlative players who have “demonstrated X, Y and Z throughout the week”. Rarely, if ever, do they equal the neighbouring high rollers who are usually a group of rich players comfortable in their own brilliance. So it’s tempting to make things up.

So, it’s with relief that I can say, plain and simple, that the final table of the EPT London was one of the best the tour has ever staged, even when compared to the high rollers. It had four seriously good players and four who would at least provide something to talk about.

Before the final, however, the main spectacle was the venue itself. For the first time in three years EPT London returned to The Vic , the spiritual home of British poker (it is, isn’t it?) And yet, spiritual or not, it wasn’t exactly met with reverence by the congregation. The Vic has its place but somehow EPT London has outgrown its uniform functionality. These days, players prefer comfort and convenience to hallowed halls, a short distance away on foot. The poker players’ transport of choice is an elevator.

And yet, despite talk, The Vic was well prepared and welcoming, and no longer the exclusive retreat for those mysterious people who have nothing better to do than play roulette at 12.15pm, weekday afternoons. The second-floor poker room, and maybe a corner of the gaming area downstairs, proved cosy enough; a make-do-and-mend environment in these days of austerity.

It harked back to earlier seasons when play seemed to take place shoe-horned into any floor space. These were the cramped conditions of a tour in bloom. So what if your elbow was picking numbers on a video roulette machine as you moved chips into the pot? Sure, it increased your overheads, but there was money to be won.

Back then it was all polo shirts and egg sandwiches, and a minimum dress code – a collar and no hat – which the gentlemen at the time did all they could to scrape over, marks which can still be seen on the seats of regular’s trousers to this day, many of whom still plug away at making a living in the toughest of welcoming environments.

Vicky Coren remains their golden girl. The scenes following her win in season three were genuinely moving, the daughter of the Vic winning half a million quid in front of adoring old friends who she’d paid for her education.

Her appearance this year, however, was mixed with acrimony and delight. First there was her much talked about departure from the main event prior to the bubble, Coren busting with some controversy, as she described on her personal blog. But then days later she recovered, putting whatever had happened behind her to make a hundred grand, finishing sixth in the High Roller.

All that took place offstage. The main stage itself posed the biggest draw for the dozen or so railbirds content to drink lager at 12.05pm on a Saturday afternoon, picking a winner from Steve O’Dwyer, Ruben Visser, Theo Jorgensen or Chris Moorman.

The final hinged on one of them proving successful. Moorman was out quickly. Hamstrung by a short stack, he never found the much needed double-up. Another Brit, Tamer Kamel, soon followed, before Christopher Frank, a cocky 18-year-old German left in sixth. You will see the gifted, hooded and sullen Frank again before too long.

A season ago O’Dwyer had proudly proclaimed “I’m out of make-up!” as he took second in this event behind the ambivalent Benny Spindler. This year O’Dwyer led coming into the final, but early on found himself on the wrong end of a race against Swede Olof Haglund. Shortly after O’Dwyer was out in fifth, traditionally a place reserved for players like Haglund (he would finish third), and that was that.

O’Dwyer was sanguine looking back. Certainly one of the more amiable players on the tour, the American gave the right answer (“that’s poker”). But, despite keeping to this code of acceptance, he must have expected more. Perhaps white lies, used to flatten the effects of chance, extend to poker players as well as to reporters.

Between O’Dwyer and Haglund was Theo Jorgensen. Jorgensen was quite literally back from the brink – after time away from the tour following his run in with an armed robber in his home. For a man who had been shot and terrorised, he seemed remarkably at ease, although admitted to thinking a lot about his family back in Denmark.

Theo Jorgensen

So, for the sentimentalists in the crowd, not to mention purists (he was on for a Triple Crown), Jorgensen was the pick. However, there were no sentimentalists or purists in the crowd. It was mainly Vic regulars, a couple of friends of Haglund, and Ruben Visser’s girlfriend Miranda, and when she arrived most stopped watching the poker altogether. So no Triple Crown for Jorgensen.

Prior to his appearance in London, Visockis had been unfamiliar, just a stock Lithuanian player – competent and convincing – but nothing extraordinary. Now he’ll likely pay for future appearances from the money he earned for second place.

Wearing a green and yellow bowtie, with a brown sleeveless shirt – one hopes a comedy choice both inside, and outside, the borders of Lithuania – he looked every part the unknown winner. But Ruben Visser was on hand to ensure familiarity prevailed.

Visser was convincing, always virtuous and lucky, winning his share of flips (as it seemed everyone did at some point), to take the first major title of his career with a respectful handshake for Visockis at the close. The Dutchman joins what seems like a string of model champions stretching back a season: Visser, Danchev, Jelassi, Lacay, Charania, Kitai, Petersen, Finger, Zimyard, Pateychuk and Spindler.

Let’s not mention the others, for fear of deploying old-school politeness rather than truth. Then again, I’m not sure how long such a policy will last. Regardless, Visser was a welcome champion in what was a welcome return to an old haunt. The EPT now heads to Germany for the penultimate leg. We can hope the main event matches this for its line-up. If not, there’s a useful technique I know for making it sound like it did.

Ruben Visser

Tags: EPT London, Ruben Visser, Theo Jorgensen