Saturday, January 29, 2005

Pre-Game, Scandinavian Style

Poker comes to the Casino Copehangen ballroom

Given, it's Saturday. So, the regular working world is likely sleeping a little later anyway. Nevertheless, there is something physically and emotionally satisfying about a workday that begins in the PM. You can see it in the faces of the players who woke late, had a bite to eat, then began making their way to the ballroom where the poker tournament is scheduled to begin at 3pm. This is their workday and they are fresh.

The casino doors were locked, so I ambled through the ballroom's side door, pretending best I could that I belonged there. And while I DO, in fact, belong there, no one there knew it yet, so it made the mission ever-so-slightly risky. Note to the children (and some adults): Don't try this at your home casino. I should know. I had no sooner whipped my camera up to my eye before I was cornered by the Danish casino security officer.

My badge? Well, that's something I need to talk to you about.

But as I mentioned in previous posts, the Danish are friendly folk and quickly provided me with my access badge. There is something quite fine, I think, about having access to some of the finest poker play in the world.

With my badge securely affixed to my new sport jacket (purchased courtesy of SAS airlines, who eventually found my baggage, but not in time to stop me from a brief shopping spree), I finally had permission to show you what the poker ballroom looks like.

The tournament was capped at 150 players, so 15 tables sit around the room, lit by row after row of track lighting. In the back, the European Poker Tour TV crew is already setting up for tomorrow' final table action. The tournament director and his staff busied themselves with counting out the chips (measured in the Dannish Kroner) for the players. Just a moment ago, I heard an ambitious person proclaim, "We are starting on time."


Chip-counting before the tournament begins

More chips for more players

The EPT television crew discusses the lightinng

This tournament has been sold out for some time. Limited to only 150 people, some players have been turned away. Fifty-one people qualified for the tournament online. twenty-one of those players are Scandinavian. The remainder came from the U.S., U.K., or other countries.

As I wandered around the hotel today, I saw many familiar faces. Paul Magriel (aka X-22) was in the elevator singing a poker players' lament. He'd missed signing up before the tournament filled up. If you don't recognize the name, Magriel is a one-time math teacher and professional backgammon player who came to some fame in the States when he was featured on the World Poker Tour and announced "quack-quack" when he entered a pot. (Note to self: Don't refer to X-22 as the "Quack-Quack Guy" next time you see him).

I've seen other familiar faces around the hotel as well. Isabelle Mercier, David "Devilfish" Ulliot, Marcel Luske, and Greg Raymer all came to greet the online qualifiers at an afternoon luncheon.

Isabelle Mercier, sporting her ubiquitious off-table smile, chats with her fellow poker players

Greg Raymer laughs with an online qualifier

Not surprisingly, the two European final table players from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Mikael Westerlund and John Gale, have made their way to Denmark for the Scandinavian Open. Gale, you'll recall, is from a small town outside London and took first place in the PCA. Mikael "The Salesman" Westerlund is from Gothenberg, Sweden. He took third in the Bahamas and reports he's planning on remaining on the tournament circuit. He says we can expect to see him in Los Angeles for the LA Classic, in Monte Carlo for the EPT Grand Final, and hopefully at the WPT Championship in Las Vegas this Spring.

John Gale mugs for the camera

Mikael Westurlund in between a bite of food

Few things are left to do now but get the tournament underway. That means I need to be away from the computer for a bit.

Back with some of the action later today.