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Britain’s Tournament Scene
European Poker
by Nic Szeremeta

Poker tournaments in Britain used to be the best value on the planet thanks to the country’s ancient gaming regulations, which prevented card rooms from charging entry fees. All the buy-in money went into the pools. But there was a downside.

If casinos couldn’t make any money out of tournaments there was little point in running them. Many did, as a come-on for the accompanying cash games, but often there were no dealers except for the final tables. The regulations also made satellites unworkable as the winners had the option of taking the cash instead of a seat and casinos could not underwrite prize money to guarantee pools big enough to attract players. All that just went out of the window.

A detailed report on gaming—the Budd Report—has resulted in a whole-scale loosening of the system. Now card rooms can charge entry fees of up to 10 per cent of the buy-in up to a maximum of £25. Some players who have played for free until now are not overjoyed, but others who take a somewhat longer-term view believe that this will lead to improved conditions, more action, bigger prize money and lots of new players. After all, if the card room is charging £10 a head for a competition. the least they can do is provide competent dealers.

One of the first operators to take the plunge and do something big is the Grosvenor Casino Walsall. The midlands town has only been running poker for about 18 months but in that short time has established itself as one of the more popular venues. Where it gains is that it has space. This means that not only can it accommodate 150 or so participants and generate reasonable size pools, but there is also room for the waitresses to get near enough to the tables to look after the players.

The first move by the go-ahead management was to launch an ambitious no limit hold’em event with guaranteed prize money of £250,000. By UK standards this is a monster. But the buy-in is also massive in local terms. The £2,500 being asked for is second highest ever in Britain, exceeded only by the £6,000 needed for a seat in the Poker Million. In view of the relatively short time scale (the tournament is scheduled as part of the Midland Masters week from November 19th) the poker team is working flat out to make sure the event fills up. If the 100 player target required to raise the £250,000 is not met Grosvenor could be left holding a rather expensive baby.

Early indications suggest that their courage will be rewarded. Satellites and super satellites are being held not only during the tournament week but also in the run-up to it. Thanks to the easing of regulations this strategy has a fighting chance of working. Winners will now be obliged to take their seats. There is also a strong possibility that many poker predators from mainland Europe will see the cash on offer as too much to pass up. With a couple of airports and many hotels nearby, an international entry is on the cards.

The tournament scene in Europe is becoming increasingly busy. Hardly a week will go by next year without an event somewhere. This is causing the operators something of a headache as they try to keep their tournaments from clashing with each other.

Although poker in Europe is healthy there is still a relatively small core of itinerant high rollers who can afford to wander the continent in search of the best action. And even they have a finite amount of money. The latest estimate is that there are about 150 to 200 poker rooms in Europe ranging from two and three table operations to a handful of big operators with a dozen or more. England and Austria are the most pokerised countries this side of the Atlantic and while the increased competition between card rooms is not helping operators’ bank balances, it is certainly growing a larger player base.

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