If it weren't for Tournament Director Ivonne Montealegre, the Battle of Malta wouldn't exist.
The native Costa Rican walked in to the PokerListings offices in 2012 to pitch the ‘crazy’ idea of a poker tournament in Malta in November and walked out with a directive to make it happen.
She did. After some impossibly long hours and a litany of hurdles overcome, 349 players put up the buy-in for the first BoM main event in 2012 and sowed the seeds for the 6-day, 9-event poker festival you’ll see this year.
Now six editions in, Montealegre is still the backbone of the Battle of Malta. And the work of more women behind and in front of the cameras is likewise.
Down to Every Detail
Over the last decade since the peak of the American poker boom, there's been a slow tick upwards in the amount of women playing the game of poker. Estimates of 20-30% of online poker players being female might even be too conservative.
In live poker, though, it’s still another story. A generous average for female players in any given tournament field might be 5-7%.
At the highest buy-ins the figures are even smaller. Just 272 female players played the $10,000 WSOP Main Event in 2017 to make up 3.8% of the field.
At the Battle of Malta, we’re working hard to change those percentages. And that means in all aspects of poker tournament production as well.
"It hasn't necessarily been on purpose," says Montealegre, "but Battle of Malta relies a lot on the hard work on women. Mothers, daughters, colleagues and wives ... all amazing dedicated workers.
"From the Swedish House Hostesses to the Portomaso dealers to our floor managers to our sponsors and ambassadors, women are indispensable in making BoM happen.
"Every detail at BOM has been carefully designed and has a female touch. We work very hard for something we care about. The commitment we get from our female staff members is just overwhelming."
From Kara Scott to Maria Ho to Gaelle Garcia Diaz
Host Kara Scott was the most prominent female player/personality at the first BoM but, much like that first event, the groundbreaking Scott set a precedent for BoMs to come.
As the prestige of the tourney increased (it won Event of the Year Under 2k buy-in at the 2015 European Poker Awards), so did its female leads.
Maria Ho took over from Scott as host in year 3 while prominent poker players like Fatima Moreira de Melo, Leo Margets, Sofia Lovgren, Claire Renaut, Sabina Hiatullah, Charlie Godwin, Silje Nilsen, Jackie “Poker Mama” Cachia and Gaelle Garcia Diaz have all taken seats among the field.
Celebs like Norwegian actor Tone Damli and Finnish DJ Amanda Harkimo have also jumped in to BoM to get their poker feet wet.
Finland’s Anne Meri became our first female final-tablist in 2015; last year we had more women in the field than ever before with Norway's Anne Mette Standal, Spain's Marina Ribas, Poland's Anita Kmiciewicz and American Sally Stephens (on a poker "bucket list" tour no less) all putting on impressive showings.
Nilsen, Cachia and last year's Last Woman Standing Standal have all confirmed they'll return for 2017. And keeping with our tradition of having a strong female host who plays great poker, Garcia Diaz will take over hosting duties.
New Ladies Event in 2017
Alongside Diaz comes our first-ever Ladies Event set to go this year.
With a €100 buy-in the stakes may be relatively small but with a growing contingent of female players led by Malta local Cachia, Standal and Nilsen, it’ll be one of the most spirited and social events of the series.
It’s also fitting that on the year we introduce our first Ladies event that none other than Liv Boeree – who we also hope to see at the 2017 BoM to receive her award in person – ran away with the votes for our 2017 Most Inspiring Player Award.
Friendliest Poker Festival in Europe
Beyond our high-value, 'big tour' feel, BoM is renowned for its friendly atmosphere and that starts with our popular group of hostesses, affectionately dubbed the ‘Swedish House Hostesses.’
Pernilla Sakert, Mimmi Bengtsson, Linda Vesterby, Carolin Kumlin and Anna Lindegren spend each tournament day circulating through the Hilton and Grandmaster Suite helping people find their tables, answering questions, listening to bad beat stories and making people feel as welcome and comfortable as possible.
When it comes to the nitty gritty details of the poker itself, women are front and center as well.
BoM floor manager Mikol Taifu has the daunting task of coordinating all of the dealers and staff for the events while Betsson VIP Manager Claudia Lama takes care of a massive group of Scandinavian players.
When it comes to our huge cohort of Italian players, ambassador/journalist Romina D’Agostino has carried the torch across the Mediterranean to extol BoMs virtues and will be on hand in November to ensure our Italian contingent is celebrated and looked after during the festival.
"When You Get the Opportunity, Go!"
Ariela Rojas Gonzales, who took care of the photography for last year's Main Event, returns this year all the way from Costa Rica fresh from snapping pics at the Punta Cana Poker Open.
"When you get opportunities you can't really believe," says Gonzales, "what else can you do but go!
"It's an amazing tournament that should interest any poker player. I'm excited to come back and work with the incredible PokerListings team and amazing BoM TD Ivonne Montealegre."
Our in-tournament massage therapists, REVIVE TOUCH, will be all over the tourney floor again keeping everybody relaxed and in the mood for poker but it’s a decidedly collective effort from all that makes the BoM so special.
It couldn’t happen without the leadership and talent of our female staff.
"In my personal case," adds Montealegre, "BOM has become a substantial part of my life.
"And now that my life has to do with being a mother, my level of commitment is even more focused. The fact that I can’t be wasting time is a great motivator!"