Tallinn puts on a poker face

  • 2006-05-10
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - For the spectator, poker rarely ranks as thrilling viewing material. There's furrowed brows, suggestive twitches, and occasionally, a tell-all blink that could give the game away. Perhaps a player might slam his cards down in victory or defeat, storm away from the table, or break down in tears at the thought of his or her loss.

How could this seemingly tame card game be considered a top-rated spectator sport? Through the magic of television, of course. Last year poker enjoyed a popular resurgence thanks to the cable TV show World Series of Poker. Broadcast around the world via sports networks, it quickly gained a cult following. Its players - most of them overweight middle-aged men - became unlikely celebrities who have gone on to write books and host coaching seminars. The Baltics has not been immune to this renewed poker craze. Casinos are regularly swamped by players from Scandinavia and surrounding regions - card-game tourists who prefer deck shuffling more than sightseeing. And this week the poker season reaches its peak as the Baltic Open Championship enjoys its final showdown at Tallinn's Reval Park Olympic Casino.

Over 120 of the best poker players from across the world have registered for the game, and there's an even longer waiting list of players eager to snap up any table spots that become vacant. The major prize pool of 120,000 euros has attracted punters from as far away as Australia and Ireland, as well as Scandinavia and the Baltics. According to Valerie Em, Reval Park Olympic Casino's poker manager, the game attracts a different kind of gambler - one with talent, not just luck. "In this game, players play against each other, not the casino," Em said. "It's not important if you are lucky, it's important that you have skills as a player. You can count, you can think, you can watch other players. You have to be as professional as a poker player."

The Baltic Open kicked off last night with a full house of players challenging each other in bouts of Texas Hold'em. There are eight types of poker that are vastly different from the stock-standard five-card draw usually portrayed in films. In Texas Hold'em, players are dealt two cards each, while up to five "community cards" are placed face-up on the table for all players to use. It's this variant that will feature in four rounds of the Baltic Open, including Sunday night's final competition. A similar game 's Omaha - will feature in tonight's round. The competition will take place on 12 tables, each sitting 10 players. During the course of each evening, players will be knocked out of the game until one winner remains. The tournament has already toured through Latvia and Lithuania and is one of the biggest events on the casino calendar each year.

The vast majority of registered players come from Norway and Finland, with others traveling from Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Ireland. Two players will come from as far as Australia as part of a European poker tour that will also take them to casinos in Russia. Surprisingly, Estonian competitors are in the minority. While the poker tables at Estonian casinos are always full, it seems locals have yet to be bitten by the poker bug. Olympic's Em is at a loss to explain why. ``Each year it is more popular, and it is very popular with Scandinavian players. I am not sure why there are so few Estonians. Maybe they have not seen this game enough or do not know how to play it,'' Em said.

Baltic Open Championship
Reval Park Olympic Casino
May 10 's 14
More info: +372 630 5537