Poker Writer Confessions: The Aviation Club de France

TAGs: Antonio Esfandiari, Aviation Club de France, Ben Pollak, European Poker Tour, Lee Davy, Maksim Kolosov, Matthew Pitt, Natalya Nikitina, partypoker, Poker Writer Confessions, Sam Trickett, Tatjana Pasalic, World Poker Tour

poker-writer-confessions-aviation-club-de-franceAfter my successful trial at the European Poker Tour (EPT) London, back in 2011, I was told that I had done a great job, was welcomed to the team and told to pack my bags ready for the next trip to Vienna.

I was so excited. The nervousness that a lack of steady income can bring suddenly abating.

I remember printing off the EPT Season roster and showing all my friends and family all the exotic places that I would be visiting. I was especially excited about covering the PCA in the Bahamas.

After Vienna came Barcelona and then I wasn’t asked to go to Prague. Instead someone else went in my place. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. As a new team member, I felt my position was never fully explained to me properly. There were more freelance writers than stops. We had to share the workload. The nervousness had returned.

Fortunately, the Barcelona trip turned out to contain two wonderful surprises when I met two people who would have an incredible effect on my career in poker: CalvinAyre hostess Tatjana Pasalic and UK PokerNews Editor Matthew Pitt.

It was during the Barcelona trip that Pitt confided in me that he was overloaded with work and asked if I would take a small contract off his hands. It was work for a company called Independent Content Services (ICS), and the job Pitt had handed me was to write 80 300-word poker articles.

When I returned from Barcelona I received a Skype message from Pasalic asking me to contact a man who worked for PartyPoker called Marko Saric. He was looking for someone to do some blogging on World Poker Tour (WPT) events, and she had recommended me. Pasalic would also later be instrumental in helping me secure my writing position at CalvinAyre, and I will always be indebted to her for the influence she has had on my career.

This is how things work in the poker industry. You work hard, you get noticed, and start building the right relationships and suddenly you become the guy who won’t let you down. Backs are scratched and cash flows trickles.

Saric asked if I could cover back-to-back events in Venice and Paris with no rest in between. I would finish the final table at WPT Venice, get some rest, fly to Paris and start working immediately. I nearly bit his hand off.

After finishing the Venetian trip Marko and I landed in Paris both suffering from the flu. Marko had it in a bad way and never materialised from his hotel room for the whole week, and I remember chanting to myself loudly in my hotel room, “You are not sick…you are not sick…you are not sick.”

I chanted for hours before I finally fell to sleep. In my previous role on the railway, if I was ill then I just didn’t go into work. In Paris there was no reserve blogger. They were relying on me to get my shit together, and the chanting seemed to work. I believe the reason I still work with PartyPoker and the WPT today is because of my durability during this trip. They needed me and I pulled through and they respected that.

The ACF is a peculiar venue. In one respect it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s situated on the Champs Elysee, one of the most expensive strips of real estate found anywhere in the world. At one end you have the Arc de Triomphe and the other The Louvre. Perfect for tourism, but not so perfect if you want to find feed yourself without digging too deep into those shallow earnings.

When it comes to the memories of venues around the world players and members of the media remember the same sorts of things. Live reporters do not get paid anywhere near what they are worth, and with some rare exceptions never see their pay do anything other than stagnate or fall. Cheap food and drinks is one of the first things a poker writer looks for, and players are no different, despite their high-end restaurant bluff and bluster.

Comfort is also important, as is ease of getting from your accommodation to the venue. Finally, and most importantly, for both player and media member it’s the quality of the Internet. Give me free food, a venue that is in the same hotel as my bed and quality Internet and I love life. Take any of those things away from me and I hate life.

My first experience of the ACF wasn’t a very good one. I had been told that the media room was tiny and so it was advantageous to get there first. There was a huge bouncer on the door and then after walking up the spiral staircase surrounded by opulence there was a further meaty bouncer protecting a set of security doors at the top.

After I got through I had to check in and scan my fingerprints. This had to be done each time I came in and left. I remember thinking that you would have to be nuts to try and rob this place, only to learn that the security was so tight because they had been robbed.

I found the media table and despite asking several people could not find a password for the Internet. 90-minutes passed before a French journalist arrived and politely gave me the access I had craved. Then more French journalists arrived…then some more…and some more. It was the first time I had experienced the 15-people sharing a table for 6 scenario, although it wouldn’t be my last.

I was covering the Euro Finals of Poker €5,000 WPT Diamond Championships. An oddity of sorts because it wasn’t classed as a WPT Main Event (in terms of branding) and the National/Regional series had not yet been devised. It also carried a $332,624 first prize and was being filmed for TV.

Natalya Nikitina won the event and I still view her as a WPT Champion in the same ilk as The Grinder, Negreanu et al. It was the first time I had the experience of trying to interview someone who spoke barely any English. It didn’t go down too well. It was only her second ever live tournament cash, after making second in the €300 NLHE Ladies event at WPT Vienna the year prior.

I learned that she was an online cash game player who was in a relationship with Maksim Kolosov. The highly talented Russian who would go on to finish second at WPT Vienna for $342,907 just a few weeks later. I guess they had no problem paying the electricity bill that month.

The final table was a stark reminder of the strange concoctions that poker can churn out of its petri dish. If there ever was a table of poker players you could point too and say, “See I told you anybody can play this game,” then this was it.

There were three Frenchman at the final table. Alexandre Brivot would finish as the runner up and then follow that up with an 11th place finish at the WPT Grand Prix de Paris later that year. He has slipped off the radar ever since.

Jean-Louis Tepper looked like a chemistry teacher. I kept thinking he was going to whip a Bunsen burner out of his bag and start setting fire to things. He was most certainly one of those guys who just tried his luck, for a laugh, and somehow found his way to the final table.

Ben Pollak was a guy I liked the look of and one of my tips to win the event. He would finish fourth and would go on to great success in the later years, barely missing out on WPT success on two occasions.

There were two German players: Tobias Wagner and Ingo Paulus. As I was working for PartyPoker and Paulus was a PartyPoker qualifier I was instructed to cover his action quite frequently. This is a part of the job I don’t like as it takes you away from the story – which is the tournament itself. Neither player has done anything of note since.

Then there was the warm and cuddly Nicolo Calia. The first man that ever greeted me with that strange cheek-to-cheek kiss that if you tried it in Britain it would be followed up with a forehead to the nose and shouts of pink underpants and Morris dancing as you lay in a pool of your own blood.

Calia was well known on the circuit at the time because he had cashed in 11 EPT events. He would finish eighth and would disappear from the circuit shortly after. I miss him and I hope he is fit, healthy and enjoying retirement on a beach somewhere.

Last, but certainly not least, was Sam Trickett. He was fresh off a double seven figure haul at the Aussie Millions and would go on to earn more live tournament poker money than anybody else on the planet, with the exception of Antonio Esfandiari.

It was the first time I had met him and thought he was approachable and always had time to speak to you. It was also the second time that I had really seen an intense media focus on one particular player (the first being Tom Dwan in Vienna earlier that year). I was sure he would lock it up, but he would finish up a disappointed sixth place, but for him it was another final table – something he would get all too familiar with.

Over the years the ACF has become a much better venue for the press thanks to the sterling work of the owner Bruno Fitoussi, and the man that holds everything together, the Tournament Director Nicolas Fraioli. It is compact and bijou, but that’s the character of the place, and despite my occasional Britishness coming out of me with the moaning and the groaning I wouldn’t want the Grand Prix de Paris held anywhere else.

There is enough seating for everyone, the Internet is tip-top, and I even book my own apartment just walking distance so I can keep the food prices down by cooking my own daily meals.

My one abiding memory?

It was during my winners interview with Nikitina. I asked her what she was going to buy with her winnings and she said, “A BMW Six Series.” I would later screw the copy up and write that she was going to buy a “BMX”…perhaps she even did…I couldn’t understand a word she was saying?

The World Poker Tour returns to the Aviation Club de France Oct 25-30 for the WPT Grand Prix de Paris.


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