The name may already be familiar to you –a hamlet in Suffolk County, New York; a town in New South Wales, Australia; a former Las Vegas hotel or even as a fictional Caribbean Island in the TV series Airwolf – but this here is the real San Remo, the seaside town at the tip of north western Italy which, for this week only see’s something different altogether put its name in the headlines – the European Poker Tour has found its way onto Italian soil for the first time.
Players have been arriving all day for what is tournament eve, off the freeway that runs parallel to the horizon in the sky, down through the hair pin turns that bottle neck around houses and into San Remo itself.
It’s a town not unused to large sporting events. San Remo stages a motor rally and also marks the finish line for the prestigious Milan-San Remo classic cycling race. Away from sport San Remo has hosted film festivals and is home to the Italian Song Contest, used to select Italy’s entry into the Eurovision song contest.
That’s the third time this season the Eurovision Song Contest has had a mention on the blog – check out EPT Dublin, where the Royal Dublin Society was a former venue for the show, and EPT Warsaw where singer Michel Wisniewski formerly represented Poland. This San Remo reference should be the last of the season.
First stop for most in San Remo, including Team PokerStars Pros and PokerStars qualifiers is the Royal Hotel which harks back to the last century – with gilt statuettes, ornamental interiors and those real room keys rather than swipe cards. Even the rotating door at the entrance is manually operated rather than automatic, for a glimpse of how things used to be. Also the windows open all the way, even on the fifth floor – a small courtesy from our hosts that assumes you didn’t come here to jump.
From here, from anywhere, the view is the same. Large beautiful houses – the type you’d expect Hemingway or the governor of American Samoa to call home, are stacked up on the hillside, each with shutters on the windows, palm trees in the garden, a walled fence and ornate gates keeping the Vespas at bay.
The main route through the town is a rat-run of urgent traffic, lined each side by palm trees and others of varieties a northern European is never likely to know. There’s also one of the most welcoming April climates in Europe, with light cloud and t-shirt weather forecasted.
The only thing to disturb this idyll is the rough burp of old motor-scooters and the toned hum of new ones, motoring up narrow roads – about the width of a Ferrari – towards suburbs built into the side of 80 degree cliffs; the terracotta, pink and yellow painted buildings being home to the courageous locals who must abseil to work each morning.
That’s an exaggeration of course, but at least the other direction – the way down – conveniently leads towards the Victory Morgana Bay club on the beach front, across from large yachts bobbing expensively up and down in the harbour. The club hosted tonight’s EPT San Remo welcome party– a wall-to-wall night spot packed with this many of this week’s players – half of which could be found at the circular bar at any one time.
Team PokerStars Pro Luca Pagano welcomed players and press to San Remo
Team PokerStars pro Luca Pagano, who has played an integral part in organising EPT San Remo, addressed the crowds, thanking them for making their way to the Riviera on the eve of the biggest poker tournament Italy has likely ever seen.
Meanwhile, with success at the bar, there was chance to dig in at the buffet, mingle with old friends and new, chat a while with one of the Team PokerStars Pros playing this week, and then watch the circus act.
Three hoops suspended from the ceiling had been visible all evening, raising a few heads and eyebrows. I’d been tipped off, but to anyone else the arrival of three girls about to bend in adventurous ways – as well as a big bare-chested guy with a pitch-fork ablaze and wearing a devil costume – this was the last thing they expected to see from their side of the pasta salad.
Fifteen feet above our heads the girls twirled and twisted whilst we watched, trusting in their evident expertise and us doubting our chances of catching them should they fall. The former prevailed though with a nervy crescendo of manoeuvres in the rafters before the show wound down, giving way to the thumping beats of youth which automatically shimmy people towards the dance floor.
A bar, buffet, acrobats and pyrotechnics – not a bad way to welcome an EPT.
But we’ll leave that for tomorrow when the field, bursting at the seams, will sit down for what many predict will be a long day at the Casino San Remo. As usual we’ll be bringing you updates from play on the PokerStars blog, as well as photos, chip counts and video blogs as play goes on.
Team PokerStars Pros Daniel Negreanu, Tom McEvoy, Vanessa Rousso, Raymond Rahme, Lee Nelson, Dario Minieri, Luca Pagano and Katja Thater will make up just part of the field. At 3pm tomorrow afternoon we’ll find out who else has come to find success in the sun.