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European Poker
by Nic Szeremeta

Poker in Europe has been on the increase now for the past decade and the growth shows no signs of stopping. At the beginning of the 90s it was a poker desert with a few oases - the "Vic" in London, the Rainbow in Birmingham, the Jackpot in Dublin - but precious little else. Now, however, there are almost 150 poker rooms in casinos and private card clubs in a dozen countries. Their "style", the games on offer, stakes and limits and the clientele, seem to reflect the characters of the countries, which are part of the continent.

In France, for example, a country noted for the excellence of its cuisine, everything stops for dinner. In the main Paris card room, the Aviation Club de France, there may be $100,000 at stake in one of the regular tournaments but when the dinner gong rings at 10.30pm it is off to the restaurant for a serious four-course supper washed down with a bottle of Mouton Cadet or two. It is not that the ACF players, wealthy businessmen, film and TV producers and B list celebrities, do not take the game seriously - just that when it comes to food they have different priorities.

Situated as it is on the world's most expensive street, the Avenue des Champs Elysees it is not surprising that the stakes are high and the action - almost exclusively pot limit dealer's choice - is fast. The place is a magnet for high rollers and high roller hunters, the prey and the predators. During this year's Euro Finals of Poker tournament series the average "sit-down"in the cash games was 5,000 French francs - around $800 - and wins and losses were measured in thousands.

On the other side of the continent in Vienna limit poker is order of the day.

The Austrian capital can legitimately lay claim to the title of "Poker Capital of Europe" with two major 24/7-card rooms, the Concord Card Casino and Poker World, and a poker room in the city centre's Casino Austria. There are also numerous three to five table poker clubs which open and close at the drop of a hat depending on who has gone broke and the fickleness of the local players. Games on offer are mainly hold'em and stud at all limits from 30-60 to 200-400 Austrian schillings, ($2-4 to $30-60). Low-level pot limit omaha is also on the poker menu.

In Vienna the players don't go to dinner - dinner comes to them. As is common in limit poker when the players are "stuck" they end up glued to their seats and the last thing on their minds are supper, breakfast or lunch -or whatever time it is.

The Concord is the closest players will come to the American experience. It was modelled on the California card rooms and although it is somewhat smaller has a main room with up to 30 tables and a dedicated air-conditioned tournament room for major events.

Best value tournaments in Europe - and the rest of the planet for that matter - are in the UK. Due to the archaic gaming laws, which date back to 1968, casinos are not allowed to charge players to take part. This means all buy-in money is paid out as prizes. This, along with the fact that the game has been receiving wide publicity in the media on the back of the long-running TV Series "Late Night Poker"(made-for-TV no limit hold'em tournaments), has resulted in hundreds of new players turning up at the casino door and saying: "Teach me to play." Tournament specialists have a big overlay as the large numbers of beginners in the fields contribute a stack of dead money. The downside is that some card rooms become uncomfortably crowded and some events are "D-I-Y" (deal-it-yourself).

Jon Shoreman webmaster of www.european-poker.com carried out a recent analysis of poker tournament growth on this side of the pond. He found that between 1998 and 2000 the number of tournament series had increased from 19 in 1998 to 25 the following year and 43 in the year 2000. The total prize pools during the same period went; 4.3 million Euro (98), Euro 6 million (99), Euro 11.8m (2000), and the average prize money per individual event more than doubled from 37,000 Euro three years ago to 86,000 Euro last year.

I will be wheeling out some inside info on the poker rooms in other countries next issue and marking your card on who's who on the European scene.

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