The latest European Poker Tour €25K High Roller final table is hurtling towards a finish here in the Portomaso Casino, Malta, as the remaining two players battle it out to win one of the most coveted titles on the tour.
High Rollers, be it 25K, 50K or 100K, seem the norm now on the EPT. It’s taken for granted that the world’s best players will turn up and play whenever one is scheduled into a stop. That wasn’t always the case though.
Throughout the first four seasons of the EPT, the biggest buy-in event was the €10,000 Grand Final held in Monaco at the end of every season. The common thinking back in those days was that side event buy-ins had to be smaller than the Main Event.
“The buy in for side events has to be smaller, we can’t take the shine off the Main Event,” was probably whispered within the walls of the PokerStars office. That all changed in Season 5 though as the tour gave birth to its first-ever High Roller Event. It was dubbed the "EPT £1 Million Pound Showdown." Many thought PokerStars was crazy to guarantee such a large prize pool for an untried format, but the timing proved perfect. A new dawn had arrived.
For a three-year period London became the center of the poker world for one month a year. The inaugural World Series of Poker Europe was held in 2007, and was deemed a great success after attracting many big-name North American pros who had rarely ventured away from their continent. EPT London was cleverly scheduled to take place just after the WSOP Europe so many stayed on to play. They must have liked what they saw.
Fast forward one year and even more made the long journey across the pond to play the back-to-back of the WSOP Europe and EPT London. It was also the first year the WSOP delayed their final table, creating the November Nine, and many of those players made the trip to London to gain the extra practice. Team PokerStars Pro Ivan Demidov ended up making the final table of the WSOP Europe, falling in third place, before going on to finish runner-up to Peter Eastgate in the WSOP Main Event a few weeks later.
The Season 4 EPT London Main Event attracted 392 players, and that number jumped up to 596 in Season 5. The risky £1-million Pound guaranteed prize pool? Smashed as 86 players created a whopping £1.72 million to play for. The numbers may not seem that impressive today, but back in 2008 it was a very big deal.
Around that time, Jason Mercier had announced himself on the poker scene by taking down EPT4 San Remo for $1,372,893, and proved he was no flash-in-the-pan success by defeating John Juanda heads-up for $944,847 along with the accolade of being the first ever High Roller Champion on a tour that was fast gaining a reputation as the world’s best.
As for Juanda, he was delighted the tournament was just taking place because he had missed the EPT Main Event due to the 22 hours it'd taken him to dismantle the WSOP Europe final table days earlier. By making his own history, Mercier had denied Juanda the chance of historic double titles in London.
Dennis Phillips – another November Niner who would go onto finish third the following month – bubbled the tournament, leaving a stacked final table to play out for the title. Along with Mercier and Juanda, the final table was comprised of such names as Isaac Haxton (6th), Peter Jetten (4th), and Mike Watson (3rd), all of who are still successful players on the tour today.
Their success was no doubt one of the key factors why High Roller events have stuck around and become a huge success. Every season, Main Event numbers were growing and schedules had to be lengthened to stop the days being ridiculously long. It was great that top prizes swelled, but it also made it a lot harder to get there. High Rollers, played over two to three days, offered the top players a chance to achieve similar rewards with less time investment and less players to get through. It proved to be a winning combination. This also appealed to rich businessmen amateurs — whose time was precious — and a perfect poker melting pot was created that continues to this day.
This season on the EPT has (or will feature) two 100k High Rollers, two 50Ks, three 25Ks and a bunch of 10Ks, one of which will feature next week at the back end of the Malta festival. We'd call that a success story!