The sea breaks over the rocks on the beach, the palm trees lean towards the morning sunshine, dedicated fitness fanatics play tennis outside and coffee as thick as syrup doesn’t jolt you awake as much as give you a gentle nudge, welcoming you into your day. Or is this just what the Riviera does to your soul?
If you wanted a trial run of the EPT Grand Final this would be the place to run it, after all San Remo is just a fly ball away from the streets of Monaco. But instead this town of around 50,000 residents welcomes its own stop on the PokerStars.com European Poker Tour this week and looks likely to set a few standards, with a list of runners bursting at the seams and a prize pool likely to follow suit.
The 3pm start (9am ET) means a leisurely morning, chance to sample local cuisine, try the ice cream ($5 of the delicious stuff is served to you on a cone and slapped on until it’s about the size of a baby’s head) or take a walk along the sea front. San Remo is a mixture of old and new, sophisticated and old fashioned side by side on a landscape that reaches up towards the San Pietro mountains. The Russian Orthodox Church stands next to modern office buildings whilst the Ferrari parked in the hotel forecourt could easily find itself alongside a 1970s Fiat 500.
I spoke to someone from Turin at the welcome party last night who said the temperature here and in Turin just 200km away can vary by seven degrees simply by virtue of the mountain. I’m sure Turin is just as nice, but I’d say that puts us on the good side.
Nevertheless there is a poker tournament to start and that sends us back inside, indoors at the Casino San Remo. There are worse places to be. In contrast to the 21st century ‘modern look’ this casino still holds dear the decor generations that came before bestowed on it, and leaves this European 19th century charm at the heart of its appeal.
Whilst nearly everything in San Remo involves climbing stairs or at least heading uphill, the poker room is evidently one of the nicest on the tour. On one side rows of neatly pressed poker tables, on the other side exactly the same. Around the room are French windows opening onto the streets below, whilst along the ceiling hang elaborate chandeliers creating a warm glow to match the 21 degree heat. Wood floors, even wood ceilings make a nice echo as tournament officials made last minute touches.
Outside San Remoans (that might be what they call themselves) sip coffee on pavement cafes whilst in the distance is the Mediterranean, serving as a constant reminder that by boat you could be in Africa, France, southern Italy and even Corsica in a matter of hours – should you feel the need to escape.
Not to say those here today will feel that way…
Dario Minieri – Italy – Team PokerStars Pro
One of two Italian Team PokerStars Pros aiming to take his home title. The Frequent Player Point demon is looking to kick start his season four EPT form.
Luca Pagano – Italy – Team PokerStars Pro
Luca has played a big part in bringing the EPT to San Remo, his job now is to win it – a little harder to organise. He does have eight EPT cashes to his name though and this would be a nice destination to extend that record.
Patrick Antonius – Finland
Had a standout year in 2005 with success in the EPT and then WPT before establishing himself as one of the best players in the game. A regular high stakes player he now plays out of Las Vegas, but makes a welcome return to Europe.
Chad Brown – United States
Known in some circles as fiancé to Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso (who plays tomorrow) in other circles he is known as an established pro with over $2 million in prize money to his name. Chad final tabled in the EPT London and formerly presented a poker show in the United States. Aside from that he has 19 WSOP cashes and six WPT cashes.
Tom McEvoy – United States – Team PokerStars Pro
Another of a host of Team PokerStars Pros here this week, Tom won the WSOP main event back in 1983 and is a true legend of the game with 35 WSOP cashes, including four bracelets, five WPT cashes (including a second) and countless other titles, with prize money close to $3 million.
Dustin Mele – United States – PokerStars Passport Winner
The PokerStars Passport winner playing in his third event of a ten stop tour, enjoying the warmer European climes after trips to Dortmund and Copenhagen.
Tommy Pavlicek – Canada – PokerStars qualifier
From Canada but on the back end of a winter spent skiing in the Alps Tommy may not have had far to travel to San Remo, albeit he had to scale a few thousand feet. He cashed in Prague and Copenhagen and will be looking for his third cash in Italy.
Ryan Daut – United States – PokerStars qualifier
Ryan won the PCA in 2007 and since then has cashed twice in WPT and WSOP events. Still looking for his first big win on the European Poker Tour.
Raymond Rahme – South Africa – Team PokerStars qualifier
Raymond makes his first EPT appearance as the highest finishing African in the WSOP following his third place finish in the main event last year. Raymond took home over $3 million from that, possibly explaining the relaxed expression on his face, and also finished third in the All Africa Poker Tournament in Swaziland two months ago.
Brandon Schaeffer – United States – PokerStars qualifier
Season one almost belonged solely to Brandon who won in Deauville and narrowly missed out in Monte Carlo that year where he finished second to Rob Hollink. Since then cashes in the WSOP and EPT have followed.
Katja Thater – Germany – Team PokerStars Pro
A bracelet winner and EPT final tablist in Warsaw last year. Katja was eliminated in the first few levels in Warsaw last month so will be looking to turn that around this week. Over $300k in tournament winnings to date.
Alberto Tomba – Italy – PokerStars Sponsored Player‘Tomba La Bomba’ as he was known during his career as an alpine skier where he won three gold and two silver medals in slalom and giant slalom. Now he turns his attention to poker as a friend of PokerStars.
Lex Veldhuis – Netherlands
One of the online world’s best players Lex is making the transition to live poker. He has cashes in EPT, WPT and WSOP events but is still in pursuit of his first final table.
Gino Alacqua – Italy
Playing on home soil Gino, who came second at EPT Prague last December, will be one of many Italians looking to claim the title.
Tony Cascarino – Ireland
The former footballer turned poker player and journalist cashed for the first time on the EPT in London this season and has over $100,000 in tournament winnings to his name. He writes regularly for The Times newspaper in London.
Woody Deck – Lithuania
A resident of Lithuania Woody has made his name as a player online and live. His EPT record lacks a first cash though which would go well with a WSOP final table and various cash finishes around the world.
Mel Judah – Australia
A poker pro from the golden era of poker Mel has played against all the greats for over 20 years. He has two WSOP bracelets, a WPT title and over $3million in tournament winnings. In Warsaw he made his first day two in eight EPT attempts but is still in the hunt for his first EPT.
Thor Hansen – Norway
The Norwegian of legendary status started out in Vegas over 30 years ago. He is truly one of the games’ most popular players and always has the neutrals on his side.
Rolf Slotboom – Netherlands
A former press man and author of books on Omaha, Rolf is also an established hold’em player. A regular target for the video blog team he finished on the final table of the Master Classics in Holland in 2006 and cashed earlier this season at the EPT Copenhagen.
Christian Oman – Sweden
Finalist in Warsaw two weeks ago Christian is easy to spot in big red framed sunglasses. The list of players who can make two final tables in a row is a short one but that will remain the goal for Christian.
Pascal Perrault – France
A season one winner having taken honours in Vienna Pascal remains one of the most respected players in France as well as on the European poker scene.
Julian Thew – England
Julian won the EPT Baden earlier this season, won a GUKPT event shortly before that and sits second on the EPT Tournament Leader board behind Team PokerStars Pro and PCA winner ‘ElkY’ Grospellier. Here with his family on the rail that record could change with another good performance here.
Dan Carter – England
Dan is quickly gaining a reputation in the UK as a successful player having finished twelfth in Dortmund. He also finished second last year at the World Heads-up Poker Championship and busted out fourth in the Walsall leg of the GUKPT.