It’s probably a fair bet that poker in one form or another is played in every European country and there has been a steady growth in the number of nations where public poker is permissible. Not surprisingly the games in some of these places have their own local quirks. Take Spain where poker was recently legalised in the Catalan region. It was almost inevitable that the authorities eventually relented and gave the go ahead for the game in casinos. Carlos Mortenson who won the World Series of Poker $10,000 no-limit Hold’em, was hailed in the media as a world champ, one of the country’s few. Naturally many of the populace asked: “Where can we play?” Not very many places yet: the Gran Casino in Barcelona for one and 100 miles north at the Castell de Peralada Casino.
Poker purists may be in for a surprise or two. The authorities insist that poker as we know it—Hold’em and Omaha—is played in a similar fashion to the native hybrid version known as “Synthetic,” where the UFA deal and action moves counter-clockwise. Instead of dealing from left to right with action moving in the same direction, the whole shebang runs the other way round! And another thing; the small blind is on the button, which really doesn’t matter as the button always has to act first. It only takes a few hands to become acclimatised, and with the abundance of loose action associated with new poker room openings, who cares anyway? The games available include Euro 10–20 Hold’em and Omaha, plus a weekly session of no-limit at both games.
In Switzerland, home to vast amounts of money, it is no surprise that the action is high at the recently opened card room in the Grand Casino, Baden. At this Baden, not to be confused with the Badens in Austria and Baden-Baden, Germany, the smallest game on offer is 30–60 Swiss Franc 7-Stud affair. This equates to $20–40 and at the time of writing there was a game every night with two on the weekends.
The games in Malmo, Sweden at the Casino Cosmopol are half the size Euro 10–20, practically equal to the US dollar. Both Hold’em and Stud are on offer with tournaments on the agenda. Also on the agenda is the opening of another poker room at Gothenberg this summer. Although public legal poker in Sweden is an innovation this year, the capital Stockholm has had a private poker room, the Kortoxen Club, for years. Nobody seemed to know if it was legal or not, the authorities turned a blind eye but the locals at least took the precaution of flying down to play their national championship in Marbella, Spain. This was conducted in private in a variety of hotels, which may also have been technically illegal.
The fourth nation to join the European poker circuit this year is the Ukraine where the Mirald Casino has opened a card room. Situated in the capital Kiev, the signs are that it’s going to be a pretty standard style operation. The management has been on fact-finding missions around the more progressive poker rooms in Europe and are aiming to replicate them. They are throwing open the doors to the international “have bankroll, will travel” brigade this autumn when a launch tournament is staged. They’ve wisely taken the precaution of appointing an outside tournament director, Stasko Stibilj, poker boss of the Park Casino, Slovenia.