French players will always make the trip to Deauville when the European Poker Tour wings its way along the Normandy coast to Casino Barrière. It’s usually freezing cold, with chilled north westerly winds sweeping along the coast with no distinguishing features to divert the gales other than the outline of a few beach huts. But nobody seems to mind the wintry conditions, or if they do they confine their complaints to twitter. Deauville buzzes with the sound of poker players.
In the past half dozen years the popularity of poker has exploded in France online, even surviving changes to the legal landscape to flourish once more. It leaves the live game, flush with these new players, in even stronger shape.
Tables in play at EPT Deauville
Poker has always been popular in France, with events in the pre-EPT era filling the cramped hallways of places like the Aviation Club de Paris on the Champs Elysees, an elegant first floor establishment where one minute you’re Lancey Howard and the next Fantine in Les Miserables, out on the cobbles, singing conspicuously about dreams and stuff.
But that won’t stop hundreds of players making the trip here every year with expectations of such dreams coming true. Most though will leave empty handed. In fact, of the six incarnations of EPT Deauville only one has been won by a Frenchman. That’s not exactly home field advantage.
The reality has been a series of near-misses, starting in the first two seasons when Brandon Schaeffer and then Mats Iremark won seasons one and two without a Frenchman even reaching the final table.
It would be another three years before all that changed. Season 5 marked the tour’s return to the French coast after a two year hiatus. It was not a story of French success. No fewer than five Frenchmen reached the final that year, including Bruno Launais and Tristan Clemencon. But it was German player Moritz Kranich who hushed the French crowds, toppling them all.
A year later two Frenchmen sought to raise an EPT trophy on home soil. But the excitable Michael Fratty and Stephane Albertini would bust in seventh and sixth place. The crowds went silent for another year as this time Jake Cody, playing his first EPT, showed the locals how it was done amid scenes of dejected silence.
A year later, and the waiting would be over.
Lucien Cohen, an exterminator from Paris (he owned a pest control company), was one of three Frenchman to reach the final table, and would quickly become the most successful local to play the event.
Cohen’s etiquette could hardly be described as Victorian, his verbal antics, that included the use of a stuffed toy rat, were perhaps not worth the subtitles. But he united a raucous French crowd who were desperate to celebrate something. Since then Cohen, to his credit, has played every table like it’s a final one. But then it usually is.
In Season 8 it was back to the old ways. No fewer than five Frenchmen had the title in sight with six players left. They busted in sixth, fifth, fourth, third and second place, leaving Vadzim Kursevich, with impressive sang-froid, to take a first title for Belarus. C’est la vie.
This year the usual crowds are back with the same expectation that a local hero will emerge. The chances of that are always high, given the proportion of the field playing on home soil. But history is most certainly against them.
Follow all the action from Deauville on our live coverage page.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter