By Samantha Rea
The European Poker Tour, the series of high stakes poker tournaments that attract the jet-setting elite of international poker professionals is here in Monaco from April 26 to May 6. Prizes of over one million euros attract professional poker players who descend on destinations such as Barcelona, Malta and Prague, competing to be crowned the winner of events such as the “Super High Roller.” And the most prestigious of all the EPT tournaments is the grand final, which is held in Monaco.
Monaco Life spoke to four professional players from Europe and the US, to find out what brings them to the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final
Craig McCorkell is a British poker pro and winner of a prestigious World Series of Poker [WSOP] bracelet. He won 100,000 euros in the acclaimed Main Event in Monaco.
“My win in Monaco was early in my poker tournament career, so it was really important to me. I was lucky to even get there because it was 2010, so the volcanic ash cloud meant there were no flights. I made it to Paris by Eurostar – then I was faced with a train strike in France!
The first place prize money for the EPT Grand Final in Monaco is always massive – it’s double all the other EPTs. It’s changed this year – the prize won’t be as much, but I’ll always come back to Monaco – it’s such a beautiful, historic city.
I stay at the Monte Carlo Bay, Le Meridien or the Fairmont. I like the pool at the Monte Carlo Bay and the views from the room are amazing. When I’m not playing poker, I like walking along the seafront and round the garden of the Monte Carlo Casino - it’s picturesque and the weather’s amazing at that time of year.
I look forward to the restaurants the most – I love Nobu at the Fairmont hotel, and Maya Bay for fresh sushi. I’ve had quite a few nights out in Monaco - my favourite bars have to be Jimmy’z, and the Irish bar, McCarthy’s.”
Melanie Weisner is an American poker pro whose career highlights include winning first place in the Women’s Event at the EPT grand final in Monaco.
“Winning the Women’s Event in Monaco was fun as there were a lot of players – and that same trip, I finished second in another tournament. The grand final in Monaco is the summit of the EPT, so achieving those wins in that calibre of event was particularly satisfying!
Poker players, especially Americans, often associate gambling with Las Vegas, but I think Monte Carlo is the world’s most iconic gambling spot. It’s much more elegant than the glitz of Las Vegas, and it’s not like any other stop in Europe - it’s the crowning glory of the EPT.
I always stay at the Monte Carlo Bay. The Alain Ducasse restaurant, Le Louis XV is the most luxurious environment I’ve ever been in. It’s magnificent - it’s like something out of Cindarella.
The whole area is full of beautiful excursions. I’ve been on scenic drives to Nice, San Remo and Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, where I had one of the best meals of my life at La Reserve. I’ve been jet skiing and sailing, and one year I was there when the Grand Prix was on – that was super cool.
Monte Carlo is special – everyone should experience it. It’s ritzy, high class and everything is beautifully designed. It’s the pinnacle of wealth – luxury is in the air.”
Igor Kurganov is a Russian poker pro with over $10 million in poker earnings. He’s amassed more in winnings at the EPT in Monte Carlo, than any other poker player.
“I play well in Monaco - the buy-ins are bigger than other places, which increases my focus! My first win there was the best – I was a new kid on the poker scene and I beat [six-time WSOP winner] Daniel Negreanu, for over a million euros. He didn’t expect to lose to me, but I felt like I could take anyone on! Of course that wasn’t true, but luckily the cards fell in my favour!
Monaco is the EPT people look forward to the most, because it’s the biggest one of the year - it attracts players from the US who never come to Europe. Everyone has a good time because the place is gorgeous and the weather is great - whenever I think of Monaco, I picture it being sunny!
I stay at the Monte Carlo Bay - when you stand outside, the view of the ocean makes you feel like you’re on a yacht! I enjoy the pool, and the walk from the hotel to the tournament area. I eat at Maya Bay, which does great Thai and Japanese food, and I go to Buddha-Bar – it’s loungey, and there’s a huge Buddha inside! I like the Eastern décor.
I order food from a vegan place called Loving Hut, that’s just outside Monaco. I place huge orders and they deliver it directly to the tournament room - everyone crowds round to eat with me! This year a friend is coming by to do some Formula 1 racing so maybe I’ll manage to hop on!”
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
French poker pro ElkY is a WSOP bracelet winner, a World Poker Tour Champion and a Team PokerStars sponsored pro. This will be his tenth year in Monaco for the EPT.
“I love to play in Monaco - the salle des etoiles, is one of the most beautiful tournament rooms. When the curtains are drawn back, the view is spectacular. It’s fitting for the grand final to be held there - it’s one of the most prestigious places to play poker. The France Poker Series starts the festival, which is great because I’m French, so I get to play with all the French people!
I love the Monte Carlo Bay. It’s a beautiful hotel, right by the beach, and next to the tournament area. It’s easier to play a tournament when you don’t have to travel to get to there!
There are so many great places in Monaco – the Palace, the aquarium, the Oceanographic Museum, the Joel Robuchon restaurant. My goal, with my girlfriend, is to go to every Robuchon in the world, but it’s difficult as he keeps opening new ones!
One of my favourite places to go is Eze - it’s a village on top of a cliff. It’s a 15 minute drive from Monaco and the view is gorgeous – if the sky is clear, you can see as far as Corsica. I like to have half a day there, so I can visit the botanical garden.
The win I’m most proud of in Monaco, is reaching the final table of the Super High Roller. I was up against players like Daniel Negreanu, and [European Poker Tour Champion] Patrik Antonius - I finished in 3rd place for 621,000 euros!”