With EPT London on the horizon and after a huge 100th milestone in Barcelona, Julian Rogers talks to EPT President Edgar Stuchly about its successes and plans for the future…
PokerPlayer: Season 11 of the European Poker Tour (EPT) kicked off in Barcelona last month and attracted record numbers. What does it mean to you and the EPT team to reach a century of events and its 10-year anniversary?
Edgar Stuchly: It means a lot to us and was a historic milestone in the history of PokerStars live events. The 100th event has been in the planning for some time and we were certainly expecting big numbers. But it turned out that an extraordinary number of players turned up to compete. There were over 18,000 tournament entries in total and more than €25.6m awarded in prizes. The main event was the biggest ever held on European soil with 1,496 players from 71 countries. The Estrellas Poker Tour event was the largest ever live PokerStars freezeout [2,560 players], there was record 77 entries in the $50k Super High Roller and the $10k High Roller went crazy with 295 unique players and 98 re-entries. We smashed record after record and had giant fields in many of the festival’s 44 tournaments, making it one of the spectacular poker events ever held. If fact, it was hard to keep track of all the records we broke.
Why do you think it attracted so many big fields?
It was the kick-off for the new season, EPT 100 had some appeal and Barcelona was already a must-play event for players around the globe. There were tournaments for any kind of bankroll. For instance, the inaugural €300 Barcelona Cup had 2,095 players, so it’s the perfect poker offering with big fields. It’s also a great destination and people look forward to the sea, great food and good weather.
With the €10k high roller attracting 295 unique entries and 98 rebuys, it prompted some debate about raising the buy-in of the €5k main event? Do you have any thoughts on this and will you be considering it?
It’s fantastic that the High Roller is so popular, but I don’t see why we should raise the main event. EPT 100 was extremely popular and looking at the overall numbers we can easily host 1,800 or 1,900 players. I think the €5k buy-in is just about the right amount and just because an event is successful I think it would be wrong to immediately consider raising the buy-in. It’s a buy-in that creates a massive prize pool and allows a big number of qualifiers online. €5k is still a lot of money and we also have consistency across the EPTs with buy-ins. The Grand Final is €10k, so I think it’s perfect as it is.
When you arrived in 2012 your target was 1,000 players for each stop’s main event. Was this a little over ambitious for some events?
Yes, the target was ambitious but that’s how targets and dreams should be. When I took over there were sometimes 200 or 300 players at events so it was definitely an ambitious target. Barcelona and Prague have already passed the 1,000-player mark and Vienna came close last season with over 900 players. Other stops are on their way to reaching 1,000 players but we clearly want to go venues where we can deliver a great experience.
London is up next in October. However, this stop could only muster 604 players and 647 the previous season. Why does a major capital like London not achieve the same numbers as Barcelona or Prague?
There are several reasons. It was a little bit more expensive at £5,000 [reduced this year to £4,000 to approximately match the €5,000 main events elsewhere on the tour]. London is also a very expensive city and to some extent London doesn’t seem to be so popular with the Central European players. In Barcelona you have the weather, the beach and activities that you can do away from the poker table, but London is a bit limited. It’s definitely a challenge but this year I’m pretty sure that that main event numbers will go up.
Season 10’s stop in Sanremo only attracted 556 players for the main event. There has been a rumour circulating that you’ll ditch it this season. Is this true?
The final decision has not been made yet about Sanremo or other destinations because we are still in discussions. Sanremo has been a great destination, although last year it was a little bit weak. I can tell you that we will have one or two additional stops in between Deauville and the Grand Final. These will be announced in the next few weeks.
Do you have plans to expand the EPT or are you happy with the tour stops that you have today?
I am happy with the number of stops, around seven or eight. This gives enough time between events for the players to recover and for the qualification process. But we are always looking for new options and if something really spectacular pops up then we are open to going to a new destination. However, we have to look at accessibility, travel, hotels and location. The EPT is also at size now where we can’t just go wherever we want and we are very limited in terms of available venues.
What about Russia? Or would many players requiring visas and the escalating crisis in Ukraine stymie Russia’s inclusion?
We don’t have any plans for Russia in Season 11. But it is one of our key markets and if we think the situation is suitable and we have the right venue then I would definitely look to run an EPT in Russia at some time.
What’s been key to the EPT become the most prestigious and richest poker tour in the world?
First and foremost, it is definitely the great team of people who have worked on the tour from the beginning. They have always listened to players and they like to serve the players in a way that you won’t find anywhere else. They are very committed to the brand. The goal is always to grow and innovate and get the feedback from our customers. At the end of the day, it is a tour built on what players wanted to see and the team took the right decisions and the right steps. The second key element is between online and live. The online satellites are very important and it suits all bankrolls – you can even qualify by freerolls and by using FPPs. Then there’s also €2,000 buy-in satellites online. The PokerStars’ live experience starts online.