Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Monte Carlo: Pre-Game In Paradise

About the time poker godfather Doyle Brunson was winning his first World Series, my dad drove a Monte Carlo. Only a lonely dark night in Southwest Missouri, a driver cut Dad off and the Monte Carlo ended up crumpled in a ditch. Dad was okay but the car couldn't further serve as a conduit for childhood memories. That crumpled black mess was about all I really remembered of the Monte Carlo. And though I've been around a bit, I had not yet seen...this. This is Monte Carlo.

Now, I'll offer the possibility that my senses were a bit needy. I'd just spent a week in Vienna, which is quite a nice city, but it was cold and snowy. A week in a cardroom had left me with a bit of sensory deprivation.

The flight from Vienna to Zurich swept us over the Swiss Alps, a sight so intense, my thoughts somehow reverted to desserts. The snowy mountains climbed so high in the air, they slid into the clouds. It looked like a giant field of meringue. Though I wanted to sleep, I couldn't help but find myself stuck the window. Maybe I was hungry.

After a short wait with player Justin Bonomo, Steve the Dealer, and half of the four-man dealing team known as The Hobbits, we were back in the air. When I touched down in Nice, France, palm trees greeted me with a south France, "Howdy."

A helicopter was waiting on its helipad and climbed into the sunset. Having spent an inordinate amount of time in choppers, I didn't prepare myself for the sight.

Arriving by chopper

Monte Carlo sunset from the air

The coast from above

Within minutes, I touched down in the Principality of Monaco. At just two square miles, it is the second smallest country in the world, just a little bigger than Vatican City. Home to the Grand Prix motor race, Monte Carlo is one of the four districts in this small country that's been ruled for 700 years by the same family. The current ruler, Prince Ranier, was once married to American film great Grace Kelly.

Though motorcyles, Mercedes, and Porsches zip through the streets, the best way to see this place is on foot. So, I set out in the late afternoon. There was no doubt, the EPT and PokerStars were in town.

Dealer Neil and French Open champion Brandon Schaefer chat outside the Hotel Hermitage

A giant PokerStars.com banner hangs from the outside wall of the local cinema

Just a hundred yards from the Hotel Hermitage, yachts that could buy my home hundreds of times over line the harbor. Seagulls and all varietys of flora and fauna make it difficult to remember, it's still winter.

The Monte Carlo Harbor

Impossibly blue water

I've been looked up by many a poker player, but never a bird

A stroll through town is awash with Cartier, Piaget, Dior, et al. And while the stores are very nice, nearly 200 people here are more concerned with one thing. Tomorrow, the richest poker tournament in European history will begin. The prize pool has eclipsed €1.75 million. Some of the best poker players from around the world are gathering now in prepartion for the four-day event.

The Monte Carlo Casino

If this is your first time to PokerStars EPT blog, feel free to browse the past entries to get a feel for the full coverage you can expect here. In the meantime, I'm out in search of players and stories. I suspect I won't have to look far.