Back to the Future Part 1: Live Poker Events Restart


by - Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021 10:48

“Hey Doc, we gotta wear masks if we go to the WSOP?”
“I don’t know Marty, even a time machine can’t help answer that one!”

Sci-fi space travel movies love to put their human passengers into hibernation for long voyages into the unknown. Live poker events have recently experienced something similar to this, but several have now awoken from their artificially-induced comas.

Over the last couple of months live poker events have begun to re-appear. In the US, the World Poker Tour (WPT) restarted and has several live stops announced until the end of 2021. The World Series of Poker (WSOP) has also scheduled for later this year, first in Las Vegas and then in the Czech Republic.

When Vegas reopened for business in May, pretty much all restrictions had been removed. No masks, no Plexiglas, no capacity restrictions. However, following the latest spikes of the Delta variant, masks have (at least temporarily) become compulsory again in Vegas.

In Europe the first events to return were mostly small local events, with restrictions still in place in most locations. But as the situation and restrictions eased, some larger ones also returned. In late July, events in London and Tallinn got off to record breaking restarts.

UK Tour Brexits Own Record

The Grosvenor UK Poker Tour (GUKPT) was one of the first significant national tours to get underway again, taking place at The Vic in London. Doing so in a Britain that had just lifted all covid restrictions, meaning no requirement to wear masks at the poker tables. It ended up as a record breaker, with the biggest numbers ever seen for a ±1k event in the 15-year-old tour’s history.

Nevertheless, the organizers may have been taken by surprise by the 804 entries they got for the £1,250 main event, given that there was only a £200k guarantee on the tournament. At GUKPT London there were three differently priced “main events”, with the £560 buy-in “midi main event” and £340 buy-in “mini main event” comprising an attractive schedule for players gasping to get back to the felt. The mini event coincidentally also attracted 804 entries, while the midi comfortably doubled its £100k guarantee. Grosvenor has packed the calendar for the remainder of the year, with seven further legs of the tour set to take place.

GUKPT Schedule 2021

Leg Date Venue Buy-in
1 July 15-25 The Poker Room London £1,350
2 August 5-15 BNR Manchester £1,350
3 August 29 – September 5 Coventry £750
4 September 16-26 Leeds £750
5 September 30 – October 3 Edinburgh £750
6 October 7-17 Luton £1,350
7 October 28 – November 7 Blackpool £1,350
Grand Final November 21 – December 5 The Poker Room London £2,000

All-In in Tallinn

The Tallinn Summer Showdown in the Estonian capital also smashed its own records, with 286 entries for the €1,100 main event, having never previously achieved over 200 players. The annual festival featured a 23-event tournament schedule and 24-hour cash games. As per the event in London, players were not required to wear masks at the table. Tournament director Teresa Nousiainen explains:

“Restrictions were lifted in Estonia on public mask wearing so the event went ahead without a requirement for players to cover their faces. We made sure we had plenty space between tables. There were hand sanitisers, regular cleaning of cards/chips and safe ways of providing food and water. Staff members had all received vaccinations and had negative covid tests. It was interesting to see that players did not wanna be in masks. I think I saw only 2-3 players wearing masks the whole event!”

Tournament Director Teresa Nousiainen and colleague with Tallinn Showdown winner Kristian Zitting, who scooped the €56,500 first prize.

Tapis* in Paris

Meanwhile at the Circus Club in Paris, the Unibet Deepstack Open also had great (but not quite record breaking) numbers, with 696 entries for its €550 buy-in main event. Deepstack Open founder Alex Henry outlined the measures they took to help players take part:

“In France, players need to have sanitary pass to enter casino/club premises; this means either a vaccine or a test done in the last 72 hours. The Circus Club in Paris has a deal with the local pharmacy to do antigen tests for players who don’t have one”

Henry also confirmed that rules recently changed in France meaning that players with the sanitary pass are not required to wear masks. Despite this and in contrast with the Tallinn Summer Showdown, up to 40% of players at the Paris event were reported to be choosing to wear them.

Unibet Deepstack Open Winner Fabrice Bigot, claiming the €63,250 first prize. Photo by Tofi Pons

Unfortunately, soon after the conclusion of the Paris event it was revealed that the Unibet Deepstack Open Gujan-Mestras event, which was due to take place August 23-29 has had to be cancelled, as local authorities have capped the number of players per table at four.

*Tapis (fr): All-in (en)

Behind the Mask

Not every location is able to offer its customers mask free poker. 888 Poker’s 888 Live has an event scheduled in Bucharest for 16-22 August and conditions for that event are currently expected to be that players will have to mask up. Alex Cretu, co-founder and TD of PokerFest (who runs the event on behalf of 888 Live) outlines the more restrictive procedures still in place in Romania:

“Masks will be required at the tables, (which will be) 9-handed; chips and cards will be sanitised daily. We will test players with rapid tests.”

Check before you Reise**

As Covid restrictions ease (often despite rising infection rates), more poker events are resurfacing. However, players should take care to check rules and restrictions at each location and be aware that they could change rapidly. The early July optimism that poker might be back may well be short-lived, as less than a month later, a round of cancellations has begun. The Unibet Deepstack Open event in Gujan-Mestras in not the only event in France to fall victim to rising infection rates, as TexaPoker has just cancelled an event in Aix-en-Provence. Meanwhile in the US, the WPT has postponed its upcoming event in Jacksonville. Whether the WSOP is actually able to take place in Las Vegas later this year remains to be seen. It could be a race against time vs the infection rate, to see who wins the button.

Some of the events that are scheduled in Europe for the forthcoming months also look vulnerable. The Poker One, which is due to take place in Malta in October falls into this category, as it is dependent on the travel situation between Malta and Italy. Additionally, there is currently a legal maximum of 5 players per table for poker in Malta and no certainty that this will be relaxed by October. Players may not yet be able or willing to travel far to play poker, but when they are, there’s a lot to look forward to…in theory.

**Reisen (de): to travel (en)

Upcoming European Live Poker Events

Event (info and schedules) Dates Venue Online Satellites Covid Info
World Series of Poker Circuit Aug 12- Sep 4 King Casino, Rozvadov, Czechia WSOP & GG  Czech Ministry of Information
888 Live Bucharest Aug 16-22 Intercontinental Hotel, Bucharest, Romania 888  Romania Tourism
Super High Roller Bowl Aug 23- 31 Merit Royal Casino, Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus N/A  Northern Cyprus Government
Italian Poker Open Sep 1-7 Grand Casino, Liechtenstein N/A  Liechtenstein Tourism
Party Poker Millions Sep 16-27 Merit Royal Casino, Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus Party Poker Northern Cyprus Government
The Festival Bratislava Sep 20-26 Banco Casino, Bratislava, Slovakia Coolbet, Pokio, Paf, GUTS  Slovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
EPT Sochi Oct 2-11 Sochi Casino & Resort, Sochi, Russia PokerStars  Russian Government
The Poker One Oct 14-17 Portomaso Casino, St Julians, Malta Stanleybet (.it only)  Maltese Government
Coolbet Open Nov 10-14 Olympic Park Casino,Tallinn, Estonia Coolbet  Estonian Government
World Series of Poker Europe Nov 19-Dec 8 King Casino, Rozvadov, Czechia WSOP & GG  Czech Ministry of Information

Back to the Future Part 2 coming soon…

Jonathan Raab

Jonathan began his career in 1998 as one of the first employees of start-up betting site Blue Square. Having developed the first ever affiliate marketing program for a UK online bookmaker, Jonathan switched his attentions to poker, developing live events and tours, first for Grosvenor Casinos and then for PokerStars. Tours created include Grosvenor UK Poker Tour and Eureka Poker Tour. Staff Person of the Year 2008, European Poker Awards. During the poker boom of 2005-2010 he wrote for many poker publications, including Poker Europa magazine and Poker Player Newspaper