Before I came to Malta, I tried to explain to people how much of a big deal this trip was for me. For my friends who didn’t understand a thing about poker, they understood that I was playing a couple of events and doing some journalism work while I was there. For those who knew a bit about poker, they knew that it was the EPT. And for me, it was huge.
Not only was this trip about playing and working at the European Poker Tour, it also coincided with the inaugural Global Poker Masters, the European Poker Conference and the 14th European Poker Awards. A triple-whammy for poker-lovers like myself.
I flew into Malta last Thursday, and that night played in Day 1B of the Malta Cup. After negotiating some issues with buying in I sat down at my table where, over the next few hours, I proceeded to not win a single pot. At €330 it was the highest buy-in event I’ve ever played, and for this to happen it was immensely disappointing.
I could go on about how the best hand I had all night was pocket sixes, and how I got it in on a Queen high flop with QT vs QJ, and how I don’t think anyone could have played the hands I got dealt any differently, but I won’t. As I went to sleep last night I reflected on how anti-climactic it was, and was dreading even being around poker for the next week or so.
The next day along with my colleague and close friend Alec we walked around the coast to Sliema. Walked is perhaps the wrong term; we were blown around the island. The wind is outrageous and at least the sun was out on the majority of days I was here. Malta is a lovely island, and it’s a pity I didn’t have enough time to explore it properly.
This was the first day Alec and I actually got to do some work for Backdoor Quads, and we threw ourselves into it. It may have just been six photos in a gallery about the IPT Main Event bubble, but to me it was everything. It was live reporting on a big stage and it was rubbing shoulders with the world’s best.
That night at the Global Poker Masters was the first time I’ve ever felt like a proper poker journalist. Gone were the days of blogging about old ladies down the local casino, or writing about my dream 6-max table. I was up close and personal with the likes of Liv Boeree, George Danzer, Jonathan Duhamel, Sam Trickett and so many more top players. The list goes on, seriously, because it was such a star-studded affair. If the trip had ended then, after having the opportunity to write about and speak with all these players, I would have been perfectly happy.
But it didn’t end. Oh no. Just the small matter of the World Cup of poker. The Global Poker Masters were the one thing I was looking forward to above all else during this trip. I had planned to write a few articles on it, about the winners and the format etc, but by the time the competition had concluded, we had published 13 articles about the competition. Articles which included interviews, photographs, statistics, permutations, personal opinions and so much more. Each of them was a joy to write and I hope that people see how much enthusiasm and energy both myself and Alec put into them. There are too many to link but if I had to pick one, then here is one about eventual winners Team Italy.
If I could pick two memories to savour from the Global Poker Masters, I would probably choose the moment the anthems of both Russia and Italy were played before the final. It really made the World Cup atmosphere so real in the eyes of not only the competitors but the assembled media and tournament staff. The second memory was during the playoffs, as all of the players faced off in five 8-max matches. As I stood there with notepad in hand, Pokernews reporter Remko Rinkema approached me. “Hi, I’m Remko, I don’t think we’ve met” he said, extending his hand, “Who are you working for?” I was reminded of that scene from Only Fools and Horses – Play it cool Will. Nice and cool. “I’m writing for Backdoor Quads” I replied. He nodded and said “Oh cool!” and went back to work. And that was that. Someone had recognised me as part of the furniture in the tournament floor.
And that was why I was there. I kept telling people that this trip was about getting my face and unusual surname recognised. Getting a foot or even a toe in the door. The Global Poker Masters was just a small aspect of that as the EPT Main Event started.
Day 1a and Day 1b were both blurs. I didn’t get to cover Day 1a as much as I would have liked due to the fact I was playing in the Junior Event at the time, and then went to cover the GPM final. Day 1b was also partly a write-off as I wasn’t feeling too great. But by the time Day 2 came about I threw myself into it. This multi-day tournament atmosphere was what I lived for. I started off writing a small article about a pot involving Team UK’s Jack Salter. But I soon switched and by the end of the day I had been updating a ‘Live Updates’ post on the site which got quite a lot of traffic.
Which brought us to yesterday. The European Poker Conference during the day was certainly an experience. I kept my notepad and pen in my bag and just sat there absorbing the content. Whether it was Andrew West from Unibet, Hermance Blum from WPT Europe, or professional poker player Anatoly Filatov I was enthralled by what was being said. Here I was, a student from the south of England attending a conference with people who have worked in the industry for longer than I have been on this planet.
I’d also like to point out that when I posed a question to Edgar Stuchly, EPT President, I said “Will Shillibier, from Backdoor Quads” and then asked my question. Afterwards, during the break I stood up and noticed that the person behind, on their notepad had written at the very top ‘Backdoor Quads?’ That was a proud moment. This website was no longer just a portfolio of work or a pipedream. It had become real.
To top the week off there was the European Poker Awards. Again, no journalism, just absorbing the atmosphere. And what an atmosphere it was. When I spoke to Liv Boeree at the GPM Launch Party, she had said that the American version of the awards “put the Oscars to shame.” And it was the same here in Malta.
I didn’t care that I was sat on a table right at the back with the Swedish poker media, I was having the best night. I’m still trying to work out why on earth I was there! Speaking with pro poker players Jonathan Little and Shannon Shorr who were heading off to Vegas for the World Series of Poker this summer. What do I have to contribute in that conversation? Well I passed out and smashed my face open whilst drunk this one time. That seemed to do the trick.
And if things couldn’t get more surreal, after the ceremony and dinner finished I headed to a bar with some of the guys from the awards. When we got there I got a drink and then played pool. Jonathan and Shannon were naturally on a team together, so who was my team-mate? Only the CEO of Pokernews, Jon Squires.
So here I am, an aspiring poker journalist with hopes of breaking into the industry, and I’m playing pool alongside quite possibly the perfect person. It’s like an aspiring football commentator having a pint with John Motson. All I needed to do is not mess this up. The situation was this. Jon and I had 3 balls left to pot, plus the blak, whilst Jonathan and Shannon just had 1 ball left. Shannon fouls and I ha
ve the ball. First shot is a double off the cushion and I nailed it. 2 balls left. The second was a tap-in into the corner pocket. 1 ball left. I attempt another double off the cushion into the middle pocket and it goes in. Black ball – this for the game. I’m on a roll now, so of course I attempt another ambitious double off the cushion and of course it goes in. We had won. In front of two professional poker players with over $12m in lifetime earnings, and the CEO of the biggest poker news content website in the world I had cleared the table. How’s that for playing it cool?
There are some other people I haven’t mentioned in this blog post. Jan Heitmann was a true delight to speak to yet again. Alex Dreyfus is going to continue running poker for years to come, and is going to do a very good job at it too. Marc Convey won a European Poker Award and is still a true professional and inspiration for me. Chad Holloway for only managing to mention his bracelet once. Stephen Bartley and Howard Swains from the Pokerstars Blog were as welcoming as usual. Sam Hayes for genuinely being the most lovely human being at both the GPM and the European Poker Awards. And Tatjana Pasalic who refused to be my date to the European Poker Awards because she “had to organise the food for her wedding.”