Ross Jarvis witnesses a French invasion at the Winamax Poker Open

I’ve been to Dublin many times for poker tournaments and I usually find myself nodding in confused agreement as an enthusiastic local chats away at me in what sounds like a different language. Well, this time out in the Emerald Isle, they really are talking a different language. French, to be exact.

I’m here for the fourth Winamax Poker Open (WPO), a €550 six-max tournament that has drawn over 1,000 players to the regency Hotel on the outskirts of Dublin city centre. Around three quarters of them are from France, most qualifying for cheap on Winamax. The others, a mix of Irish pros and local punters, blend into the background amid the French takeover. One of the French players even pays homage to the location by wearing an oversized novelty leprechaun hat – and looks just as stupid as the thousands of irishmen who have paved the way for him. 

Keep it in the country

Hat hijinks aside, the tournament room is rocking and it’s one of the most fun events of the year. Since its inception in 2010 the Winamax Poker Open has always been a six-handed tournament. Unique curved tables are everywhere in the expansive tournament room, and the players seem to love the action that six-handed poker brings. It’s one of the main reasons why the event has more than tripled in size from an initial 300-strong field in 2010 to the 1,086 entries this year. 

Winamax Team pros Davidi Kitai and Sylvain Loosli, a November niner, get off to flying starts and are the men to watch as the field shortens. Kitai, described by Irish pro Daragh Davey as ‘the most bat sh*t mental player I have ever seen’, eventually takes his madness one step too far and crashes out in 17th.

Despite the affordable €550 entry the prizes on offer at the six-handed final table are huge. Over 1,000 entries have created a €530k prizepool, with €80k carved out for the winner (later flattened after a heads-up deal). The final table is a continental affair, with four Frenchmen, including Loosli, one Belgian (2011 WPO runner-up Michael Gathy) and solitary Irishman Marc MacDonnell. Known as ‘Sluglife’ online MacDonnell has been bashing the door down for a major score for a while. After a rollercoaster tournament he has to settle for fourth place after his shove with J5 is called by Loosli with A-Q. A Queen on the river seals it for Loosli, and ensures one of three Frenchmen will be taking a novelty, oversized cheque through French customs. 

Viva la France

Frenchman Berlou was next to fall in third place, leaving a David and Goliath match-up between the November Nine’s Loosli and French amateur Jerome Guermeur for the title. Starting the heads-up with only 15BBs Loosli still manages to hang on for three hours before eventually losing a coinflip to crown Guermeur champion. The €60,000 for runner-up is a pittance compared to the potential $8.35m Loosli could win in November but it’s a great confidence boost for the online cash game pro. As the French stream out of Dublin the next morning it’s clear that Winamax know how to put on one hell of a party, and that they are a major new player in the online poker world. 

Winamax Poker Open 2013 results:

1. Jerome Guermeur – €75,000
2. Sylvain Loosli – €60,000
3. Pierre Berlou – €40,000
4. Marc MacDonnell – €30,000
5. Guillaurme Mauriaucourt – €24,000
6. Michael Gathy – €19,000

Who are Winamax?

Head of Communications Benjo Dimeo speaks to PokerPlayer about the French firm’s entry into the UK market…

PokerPlayer: How big are Winamax in France?
Benjo Dimeo: According to [a site which tracks online poker traffic] we have more cash game players than anyone and only just trail in tournaments. We have the number one position in the market.

Winamax are now making inroads into the UK market with promotions such as the PokerPlayer Grand prix. Why now? 

For years nobody knew about us outside of France but we decided to be aggressive towards the UK market and it has been working. Being regulated by the French government means we have to have higher rake but we try to compensate by having better service, better software and tournaments with bigger guarantees. Our last tournament series guaranteed €4 million! We want to have lots of foreign customers but we don’t want all of them just to be pros too. 

Creating a friendly community seems to be a big priority? 

It’s very important and we’ve pushed it since the beginning. Winamax is not just about poker, it’s about bringing people together. We have had the same people come to the Winamax Poker Open in Dublin for the last four years – they tell their friends and it gets bigger the next year. 

Why is the Winamax Poker Open in Dublin and not France? 

If you want to host a tournament for real money in France it must be held in a casino or in a Paris card room. But those places have their own interests and don’t necessarily want to work with us. We wanted a place outside France that is accessible to the players, regulated and fun – Dublin is an easy choice! 

You can find more great features like this in PokerPlayer magazine, available online here.

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