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BOM Goes the Dynamite: A Brief History of the Battle of Malta
In the span of just two years the PokerListings Battle of Malta has become one of the largest poker tournaments in Europe.
Last year, with almost 900 entries, it even set the record for biggest poker tournament ever held on the island of Malta.
How and why did it get so popular so fast?
We sat down with the co-creator of the Battle of Malta, Ivonne Montealegre, to explain how the idea came to be and the driving forces that brought it to the level it’s reached today.
A New Challenge in Malta
Born and raised in Costa Rica Montealegre got her start in the poker industry more or less by accident in 1996.
As the Marketing Manager of an online gaming company, one of the duties that fell on her plate included organizing a major poker tournament.
It wasn’t until much later, though, that Montealegre took her past experience (and new certification) in tournament direction and organized the 2011 Punta Cana Poker Classic in the Dominican Republic.
It was a great success, leaving Montealegre driven and motivated to find even more opportunity in the poker world. She was drawn to sunny Malta:
"I was looking for a new challenge," she says.
When Montealegre arrived on the island she had a vision of a poker tournament that connected poker, a vacation in the sun and a lot of shared fun with the other participants. The concept for the Battle of Malta was born.
To realize that vision she needed a strong partner, which she found in PokerListings.
"I had the idea to organize a large low-buy-in tournament in Malta and knew and appreciated the work of PokerListings. So I went and presented my idea.
“They were very impressed and have made it possible to realize this project through their strong brand and great relationships."
"I Wanted to Offer Players as Much as Possible"
The name for the tournament, the "Battle of Malta," was picked based on the history of the island and the real-life battle which defines a large part of it.
The perfect location for it was the world-class Portomaso Casino, located in the 5-Star luxury Hilton Malta in the picturesque St. Julian's district.
An agreement was reached quickly and so, for the debut tournament in 2012, nothing stood in the way. For the first edition of the event, held in late November, the buy-in was set at €500 - a number picked very deliberately.
"I wanted to create a tournament where fun is in the foreground,” Montealegre says, “and create a tournament that everyone could afford.
"I also wanted to offer players as much as possible for their money."
At the time a prize pool of €150,000 was guaranteed, which was exceeded when 349 players came to Portomaso to play.
"The first year is always something very special,” Montealegre reminisces. “We had no expectations, and that has also made the whole thing so enjoyable.
"If I had to describe the first Battle of Malta in one sentence I would say it was ‘small but nice.’"
The “small” in that sentence refers primarily to the fact that the Battle of Malta at that time consisted only of two tournaments – the main event and a second-chance event. Still, it was actually already one of the largest tournaments ever held in Malta and had more runners than the WPTs held there.
The heads-up was an all Italian affair between Giulio Astarita and Nicodemo Piccolo. The latter won out in the end and took €35,000 in prize money back to Italy.
Big Money, Unexpected Challenges
After such a promising start a second Battle of Malta was quickly planned and the guarantee increased to €200,000.
The dates were moved up slightly in the year to Sept. 26-29 to take advantage of the European summer and organizers were confident going in that the guarantee would be passed.
What happened next exceeded even the wildest of expectations.
"We had expected a slightly larger field of participants than in the first year,” Montealegre says, “but then almost 900 players poured into the casino."
Since no one had expected that kind of turnout the casino itself had reached its logistical limits and there were delays in player registration.
"The second Battle of Malta was blood, sweat and tears,” she adds. “We apologize to all the players who had to wait and rest assured it won’t happen this year."
German Louis Cartarius and all of the players who cashes were the beneficiaries of the massive attendance, however. Cartarius took home €80,000 for first place while the rest of the cashers divvied up over €430,000.
Battle of Malta 2013: A True Eye-Opener
On the other hand, despite the logistical struggles, organizers recognized the huge potential for more casual, mid-buy-in poker events.
"It has opened our eyes to what is possible,” Montealegre says. “After BOM 2013 the CEO of PokerListings made the decision to more than double the guarantee but keep the same buy-in.
“Doing the simple math that means that you need at least 1,000 players just to reach the guarantee! We also moved the dates to early November, which caused some doubts as to whether you can bring that many players to Malta at that time.
"The fact that we need at least 1,000 players to meet the guarantee makes me sleep restlessly sometimes,” Montealegre admitted, “but this decision was taken jointly with analysts and according to the forecast we will exceed the guaranteed amount."
Sirp de Wit, Managing Director of PokerListings, is also confident.
“We at PokerListings are very proud to offer a unique tournament series with small buy-ins and great value. It gives an extra offline dimension to the PokerListings brand and complements our mission to be an “All-In” poker guide.”
“The third edition of the Battle of Malta is coming up fast and we want it to be a very memorable experience for all participants. In Malta the anticipation has already started to build and BOM 2014 will be bigger and better than ever."
Biggest Poker Tournament in All of Europe?
No longer just a main and second-chance event the Battle of Malta has grown into a full-fledged tournament series. Five events are on the schedule this year along with the ongoing cash games and satellites
2014 will see the first-ever €4,180 High Roller event along with a brand new €165 Pot-Limit Omaha event. A €300 No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack Turbo has also been added and the Second Chance Siege of Malta returns with a €200 buy-in.
Variety is guaranteed and that makes the young tournament series even more interesting. Visiting players should also note that the beginning of November, when the cold season has already started in Central Europe, is still quite warm in Malta.
Working behind the scenes there’s an entire company committed to making the Battle of Malta a success.
“We work very hard to provide participants with a great experience,” Montealegre says, “and support in the community for the Battle of Malta has been terrific.
"There are numerous volunteers who work for free in their spare time and on weekends to cope with the huge rush and to allow guests to have as beautiful a time as possible.
“For us this is not just a job like any other, but something that we love."
When asked what participants can expect for the Battle of Malta 2015 and beyond, Montealegre says the sky’s the limit.
"I think the Battle of Malta will become the biggest poker tournament not only in Malta but throughout Europe.
“Our goal is to make the BOM the tournament with the smallest buy-in and biggest guaranteed prize pool and we’ll do everything possible to make it happen."
For all the information on dates, times, structures and side events - and to secure your seat in this year's Main Event - visit our Battle of Malta page.