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Luca Pagano: It's Time to Bring Entertainment, Fun Back Into Poker
Most career EPT Main Event cashes (20). Most career EPT Top 10 finishes (7).
Maybe most notably: #1 on the all-time EPT Leaderboard with 5,550 points - almost 1,000 clear of second-place Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier.
When it comes to understanding great poker tournaments - and how to play/run them - there's virtually no one on the planet as qualified as Italy's Luca Pagano.
A true European poker pioneer Pagano has been plying his trade across Europe and the World for well over 15 years. After a short break from playing EPTs last year Pagano is back and in fine form for the 100th edition of the EPT in Barcelona this week.
PokerListings Germany's Christian Henkel caught with him on a variety of topics including his legendary EPT records, why he missed the EPT for almost a year and why he thinks the Battle of Malta is exactly what poker needs right now.
Luca Pagano, Mister EPT
“I think there are only few players, if any, who have played that many EPT main events like I did.
"I was there at the very first EPT event here in Barcelona and I reached the final table.
"I don’t know the exact number, but I would say I played at least 75 percent of the Main Events since then – which basically means 75 events.”
On the Importance of "Most EPT Final Tables" and "Most EPT Cashes"
“I do care about this. But it is mostly because it gives me confidence for my own game.
"Most of the players, even the really good ones, get nervous after suffering a longer period of being unsuccesful.
"Then they are changing their game. Mostly not for the best. So, I tell myself: okay Luca, you have to adjust your game, but looking back, you did pretty well.
"So, it is not necessary to completely change everything.”
Two Reasons for His Recent EPT Absence
“I missed 4 or 5 EPTs last season because I was really busy with two projects.
"First, I was really occupied by organizing the Italian Poker Tour tournaments. Honestly, the business is distracting me from the game itself.
"I am a Co-leader of the IPT. The other one is my father, and the whole Pagano-Event business goes more and more on my side.
"And I do like the media. PokerStars sent me for about six weeks to Morocco. It was the Italian version of the French show La Maison du Bluff. They did four editions and it was a big success in France and Italy. But my role was different than ElkY's was in the French version.
"He was there as a player and a star and he was only there for one week. But I was the host and had to stay for six weeks. Six weeks in Morocco, far away from Agadir or Marakesh or any city can be tough.
"I am vegetarian and I lost 6 kg without even planning that. It was tough, but it was also a great experience at the same time.
What Was the Show About?
It is a mixture of Big Brother, Survivor and poker. Twelve poker players who want to become professionals live in this house in Morocco and have to do daily challenges.
Not all of them are directly connected to poker, but to things related to it. For example: observation. It is important for poker and for life in general.
So if you are good at observing that’s gonna be good for your game, too. Our task was to bring real life into poker and show the potential of occasional players.
Another challenge was to adapt the show to the Italian culture. As you would assume, that’s not exactly easy, but it worked. The show was a big success on Italian TV.
Battle of Malta 2014 – Back to the Roots
"I am going to play the Battle of Malta for the first time this year. Both me and my father are coming to Malta.
"It was not only the number of players that impressed me but the feedback of our Italian players from last year. It was amazing! The mid-level buy-in and the extraordinary large player field makes it one of the most interesting tournaments in Europe.
"It is exactly what Pagano Events is looking for: poker and entertainment. Players like a big prize but they also come to have fun. It is a way back to the roots. A way to bring recreational players back to the tables.
"You know that most of the players will go back from any tournament with less money in their pockets than when they arrived. So it is very important that they leave with a great experience and good memories.
"That’s exactly what made the poker industry boom ten years ago. You can’t just have one happy winner and a lot of frustrated players. They won’t come back."
BOM - a New Experience for Professionals, Too
"The Battle of Malta stands for a completely new segment of live poker. It is amazing if you think back a couple of months ago when Joe Hachem declared poker to be dead.
"I know what he means, and he has a point, but I still have to disagree. Shrinking numbers of players, less fun, the general atmosphere of a real decline, it is all there.
"But then you have something like the IPT or the Battle of Malta, an event that literally exploded within two years.
"This is a sign: Tournaments like the Battle of Malta are bringing back the fun into poker. And that affects professional poker players. They are used to playing major tournaments and used to playing professional players there.
"Joe Hachem and me belong to a generation that can now be considered as pioneers. We started playing poker 15 years ago and we were always looking for a good mix of money and a new experience. But something got lost in the last couple of years.
"If I look around in a major tournament all I see is serious, tense, and nervous faces. If you look at players in a tournament like the Battle of Malta, they are mostly smiling.
"And that is exactly the difference. So it is time to bring back that entertainment, that fun factor back into poker.
Malta – A Second Home
"I know Malta very well, it’s one of my favorite places.
PokerStars has an office in Malta and I have a lot of friends there.
"So, it is like a second home. And Malta plays a big role in our future plans.
"We want to bring back the IPT to Casino Portomaso and then let’s see, I’m trying to convince PokerStars for ages now to bring something VERY important to Malta… (smiles)."