When I imagined all the ways my poker weekend in Berlin could go, there was one possibility I did not really think about…
During the second hour of today’s play in the EPT and all its many side events, there was a loud commotion just outside the room. The nature of a poker player dictates that everybody stopped for half a second, thought little of it, and carried on, nothing more than a little perturbed to have had their game interrupted. However, half a minute later, that commotion repeated itself a whole lot more intensely, and it started to become apparent that it involved more than just a cruel bad beat.
No one really knew what was going on at the time, but as soon as someone shouted “Waffen!” (guns), a worried atmosphere turned into a panicked one. Everybody scrambled, and started diving under tables. Chips flew all over the place; I whacked my head, and a few people came off pretty badly from the crush, though ultimately nobody was too badly hurt.
For a while, most people cowered under the tables, with little idea what was going on, and absolutely no idea what they should do next. Most of my rational brain was telling me “this is fine, they have no reason to hurt anyone,” but in the kind of situation you never expect to be in, I don’t mind admitting I was pretty scared, and still feeling shaken up a little while after.
After a minute, people started crawling for the exits, and I was massively relieved to stumble upon a fire exit, and get outside to safety. No one really knew for a long time what had happened, but the story is emerging that the robbers had initially made off with a bounty of 800,000 Euros, but were intercepted for most of that by a heroic (maybe over heroic?) hotel doorman.
I really hope that this is a day that makes alot of people involved in poker have a really clear think. On a few occasions in the past, when I’ve been in a line of people all handing over big amounts of cash, which then just gets piled up on one side, I’ve had a little wonder. I’ve thought, “Is this not a massively vulnerable situation?” I know that I’m not alone in having thought this, and probably also not in being guilty of reasoning “it’s fine, the people in the know must have it under control.” Today made us realise that the situation was indeed just as vulnerable as it had seemed. This is especially the case when a tournament is held in a hotel, which does not have the security level of a casino, and especially at the EPT, where it has always seemed ludicrously difficult to buy-in in any other way other than with cash at the venue.
Berlin will have seemed even more tempting for the robbers, if they knew of a bizarre law, which meant that buy-ins were allowed only an hour before the start of the tournament. This meant that such a massive amount had come into the organisers’ hands within just a couple of hours. The fact that the robbers’ timing was pinpointed right at the end of the registraion period is worrying in suggesting that they knew this detail, and maybe a whole lot more.
There cannot be another walk of life where these huge amounts of money are being held without a really tight security. It was maybe only because the non-poker public did not know about our bizarre little world until recently, that this kind of easy heist hasn’t happened until now. After a few years of gradually being accepted into the mainstream, it will remain to be seen whether this does any damage to poker’s credibility.
It’s definitely a worry that the news of this event might alert other criminals to the fact that a poker tournament is an equally lucrative, but far easier, target than a bank or jeweller’s store. It is these latter levels of security that will now have to be matched, and I will be eager to hear something very strong from the EPT before feeling completely safe playing live poker any time soon.
Unfortunately, every poker organiser will now have to see things in a different light. I would even feel uneasy about something like the Irish Open, simply as it is the next big tournament held in a similarly vulnerable location. However, it is the EPT who should feel obliged to become the flag-bearers for security. This must start from the bottom, and this must involve them confronting smaller issues, like their annual turning of a blind eye towards the numerous muggings outside Barcelona casino.
I remember that at the first poker tournament I ever went to, on Italy’s Amalfi coast in 2006, there was a raiding by the police, and the tournament was swiftly cancelled. I naively thought that the new world I had just entered was a dark one after all. The last three and a bit years have definitely proved that wrong, but I feel that today has turned that wealth of feeling on its head. It’s not just a security worry that leaves me uneager to turn up at any more tournaments soon, but the feeling of the whole thing.
Some people who know nothing of poker would quite happily bracket it in the same category as gambling, back-rooms, and maybe even guns. We of course know very differently, that poker is a worthy and hugely friendly environement, but today makes me feel that it would be difficult to argue against those people.
Nobody wants to be involved in a job which could have them diving under tables in fear of guns. However, in a bank, something like this would be a slight fear of a worthy job, whereas it’s difficult to say the same for poker. If this kind of crime is about men’s greed for easy money, could you even draw an (admittedly very tenuous) link with poker?
Poker players don’t often have an experience of all clubing together, but this rare occasion was definitely the only upside of a sad day. There was definitely a feeling that the game must go on, and it did so in a very sporting fashion in the Main Event. There, chip stacks had flown about even more in the panic, giving the most potenital for a poker disaster. However, there were a couple of incredibly sporting gestures, as players gave up chips they would have lost in the most confusing scenarios of a hand being in progess, and each table got a round of applause as they fairly sorted their chip stacks.
So, the game must go on. Hopefully, EPT Berlin 2010 will go down in poker history both as a bizarre one-off, but also as a big warning signal.
You can find out more about Stuart Rutter at his Blog.