Poker on Screen: The European Poker Tour (2004-)

Poker chips

It’s hard to talk about poker on television without mentioning the European Poker Tour is some form of another. It wasn’t the first show ever broadcast on television, yet of all the shows on the schedules of countries around the world, it is perhaps the poker series that would be missed the most if it wasn’t there. What makes the EPT so special? Let’s delve a little deeper into its history and find out.

First coming to our screens in 2004 after its invention by John Duthie, the European Poker Tour’s first-ever Main Event featured a lot of players that right now you won’t have heard of. Set in Barcelona, the event was won by Alexander Stevic for just €80,000.

The first final table was given a great commentary makeover just this year when, during lockdown, Joe ‘Stapes’ Stapleton and James Hartigan put a whole new soundtrack on the action, with pretty hilarious results: 

The original commentary was from Colin Murray, now one of the faces of Eurosport, also presenting EFL football action on UK satellite channel Quest and John Duthie himself, but it’s completely fine to say with fondness for those tow that the programme improved hugely when Stapes and Hartigan came along.

For a long time, the EPT had an increasing number of stops to each year’s tour, with seven in Series 1 and 2 followed by eight the next year, then 11 a couple of times, then 13. You get the idea.

By the time the Grand Final rolled around in Monaco, it was almost a cause for celebration that the team were going to be there for another year, because the EPT Grand Final was unmissable poker television around the world but especially in Europe, where Channel 4 broadcast to a big audience. The coverage got bigger and better, but stayed true to the in-jokes and rib-tickling content brought to us by Stapes and Hartigan.

When the EPT was rebranded in 2017 to the PokerStars Championship, it was a very odd thing. This reporter was in Barcelona as it was announced to an incredulous collection of poker players. Huge TV screen around the venue depicted the grandiose change, promising that not only would it be right to rename a tour that had never had the PokerStars brand attached to it, but that the tour would be ‘going global’ rather than simply sticking to Europe.

While the PokerStars Championship did have seven stops in 2017, and its first three stops were The Bahamas (travelled to as part of the EPT Every year anyway), Panama and Macau, thereafter, it followed the fairly well-established route of heading to Monte Carlo, Sochi, Barcelona and Prague.

The buyout of PokerStars by Amaya reduced the offerings to five stops in 2018 and just four in 2019, seriously setting PokerStars back in terms of their major live tour, especially when compared to the partypoker MILLIONS tour, which had bigger guarantees and travelled further afield more often in both those years.

In 2019, the European Poker Tour, shorn of much of its content too, travelled to Paradise Island, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Prague. The global lockdown of 2020 forced it to be postponed, of course. But when live poker returns, the hope is that PokerStars have a rethink.

The European Poker Tour made its name travelling to European cities such as Deauville, Vienna, London, Dublin and Copenhagen as well as the larger stops like Barcelona, Prague and The Bahamas. There’s no reason it couldn’t increase the number of stops to eight a season and rotate other European cities to bring the EPT back to the people in a way it hasn’t for years.

Above all, we hope that the EPT continues to stream live, and be centred around the genuinely brilliant team of Stapes and Hartigan. After all these years, they are the biggest reason fans still want to watch the action play out. Are there bigger tours out there, even online? Yes. Are there bigger guarantees for players to fight for? Certainly. But the European Poker Tour should be preserved, because just as Grand Slam tennis wouldn’t be the same without Wimbledon and football wouldn’t mean a thing without the F.A. Cup, the EPT is a title everyone should still want to win, or at the very least watch.

If Amaya ever do cease the European Poker Tour, then we can imagine a call coming to Stapes and Hartigan from the partypoker President, a certain John Duthie.

“Hey guys, how do you feel about the colour orange?”