Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The European Poker Tour French Open ... Pregame--UPDATED

Editor's note: While I hadn't planned to post any more today, a star-studded super drew me out of the shadows. See the end of this introductory post for a few snapshots of some familiar faces

Strangers on a train

The train to Deauville quickly escapes Paris’ clogged, arterial cobblestone streets and finds respite in impossibly green hills, where little cottages let loose small plumes of chimney smoke. At 80 miles per hour, it’s like quickly flipping through the pages of a child’s story book. These little villages don’t have men on mopeds zipping in between lanes of traffic and four lanes of traffic squeezed into three. They have grazing sheep and deciduous trees that ache for printemps.

There is nothing particularly extraordinary about international flights other than inherently remarkable ability to haul hundreds of people through freezing skies, over dark seas, and land them safely in places as foreign as, say, Idaho...or Mars.

And, so, as the Noon train to Deauville, France pulls away from Paris’ St. Lazare Station at the very second the clock ticks from AM to PM, it’s worth noting that as unremarkable as international flying can be, it takes a hearty soul to venture internationally and compete on the European Poker Tour.

As is habit for me on these trips, I find myself catching the eye of my fellow travelers and sizing them up in one of two ways. They either are or are not poker players. If my tired eyes aren’t failing me, this car has two or three players on it. And at least one of them wants a game. Now.

If I didn’t already have work to do, I’d be curious as to whether he might be interested in a heads-up match. We have two hours before we pull into the station up north. That’s enough time to soothe an omnipresent jones. Alas, the car is shaking against the tracks as it takes its own brand of flight along the rails and out of this old city. The chips would slide off the little plastic tables, anyway.

Meeting James Bond

When the locomotive reached its terminus, I realized I had underestimated the number of players on the train. I found many familiar faces, all scrunched up against the cold, and biting the inside of their cheek waiting for the taxi line to shrink. I had little doubt we were all going to the same place, and, as such, offered the nearest person in line a seat in my taxi.

As we made our way thorough the Deauville streets, where shoppers strolled and squinted against the occasional spitting rain, the man sitting next to me remarked, “I bet this is a nice place in the summer.”

I couldn’t help but agree, especially when he picked up my cab fare.

Once at the registration desk, we gave our names, he offering “James Bond” to the registration clerk. She looked at him incredulously. As she turned away, he fiddled with his cell phone and forthwith came the 007 theme song.

With a chuckle, Devilfish grabbed his cell phone, checked in and headed off to the tournament room.

Can a hotel be a delicacy?

The Hotel Normandy and the adjoining Deauville Casino are playing host to the European Poker Tour this week. It’s a place where gargoyle monkeys guard one’s room so that no one steals the bath salts, fluffy robes, and heated towel racks.

The Hotel Normandy

The view from the Hotel Normandy

My guard monkey

The host casino

It’s a welcoming place, especially for a traveler who felt lucky to make it to Deauville in one piece.

To wit...

Touching down in Paris itself was more perilous than one might imagine. As we crossed of the English Channel and made our way through the snow-spitting skies, we settled into a smooth, routine landing. Just moments before touchdown, the jet engines wound back up like a giant cat in search of a mate. The nose of the plane pulled violently upward and we were again skyward.

The pilot popped onto the intercom to explain. “Folks, we were cleared to land, but another plane didn’t make it off the runway in time. That happens sometimes.”

And so we circled back around and ultimately landed safely. Apparently that happens sometimes, too.

On the ground and in search of a train, I found a long line of people looking generally bored, but somewhat ill-at-ease. Heavily armed men and women in fatigues had cordoned off the walkway to the train station and were giving the stink-eye to anyone who had the audacity to creep in too close. A lesser-armed and smiling officer told me someone had found a suspicious bag on the way to the TGV. So, I set down my bags and watched as what appeared to be a French bomb squad wound a long cord to the bag. It sat about 150 yards from where I stood.

To pass the time, I listened to the iPod, Etta James and her desire for a Sunday kind of love, and watched a police officer flirt with two American girls who had taken up a perch on their bags. A few minutes later, an officer blew a whistle and I grabbed for my bags.

I mean, that was the “all-clear” whistle, right?

Before I had a chance to fully comprehend why all the police officers were sticking their fingers in their ears, an explosion ripped through the terminal.

Ah. That was the “we’re about to asplode somethin’” whistle.

Fortunately for my ever-aging heart, my recently-departed former life gave me some experience with bomb squads and it didn’t take me long to deduce that the officers had just blown up their suspicious bag as a precaution.

On cue, the Beatles “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” came on the iPod.

And life goes on.

Deauville in the afternoon

Like some of the other stops on the EPT, this tournament is brining poker to its host city. High security is greeting the players, as poker in this form is not normally legal in the casino. As such, the tournament room has been set up just outside the casino in a posh ballroom. The room rivals any of I’ve seen so far in its nice-ness.

The poker room, pregame

Since the main event doesn’t begin until Wednesday, I took some time to walk around Deauville. While I fancy myself a writer, there’s no real way to describe this old city without seeming trite. Its Old World architecture pushes in on the streets, and the streets push out to the beach where tourists brave the cold for a walk along the boardwalk. The sloops in the harbor sit unused, waiting for the first Spring wind to take them out on the water. All the while, the mansions on the hill look down on the little city, its old hotels, and its modern casino.

The Deauville beach

The Deauville harbor

The boardwalk

The houses on the hill

Indeed, I’m sure it is a nice place in the summer.

And, frankly, it’s an impressive place in the dead of winter, too.

The main event tournament action begins tomorrow and I’ll be here with updates throughout the day. In the meantime, rest up. More than 100 people have qualified online through PokerStars.com and the field is looking so big that it may require two flights.

Until the cards get in the air, bonjour, folks.


For a little bit of fun on tournament eve, the players are having some fun in a 100 Euro rebuy super-sat. Here are a few shots to get us rolling into Wednesday.

French pro, David Benyamine

Copenhagan final table player, and PokerStars.com online qualifier, Eirik Kolaas

U.K. standout Julian Thew in the middle of a rebuy

Justin Bonomo, PokerStars.com online qualifier for the Caribbean Adventure, Scandinavian Open, and French Open

This is not Kirsten Dunst, but I watched "Wimbledon" on the flight over and I haven't slept in a couple of days

You ever see a guy with such a sour face after turning kings full of threes? In fact, he was quite happy about it.