The Festival Series – Malta 2023: Trip Report Part 1
Each stop of The Festival Series offers a huge range of gambling opportunities, and the mixed games poker fan is rewarded with both a packed tournament schedule and amazing cash game action. I decided to play four poker tournaments and cram in as much time at the cash tables as I could.
The tournaments I decided to play were:
|3||Sviten Special||€225+€25 buy-in|
|34||Open Face Chinese||€225+€25|
I had only booked to stay in the area from Monday 15 to Friday 19 May. Although I do live in the Maltese nation, my home is on Gozo, Malta’s second island. If I attend a festival at one of Malta’s casinos I must stay somewhere locally because the commute via ferry would become pretty tiring: as readers might know, festivals can be pretty tiring already without adding in a heavy travel factor!
Day 1: Sviten Special, Two Entries, and Cash Action
Martin “Franke” Von Zweigbergke, the owner of The Festival Series, approached me before the tournament. Sviten Special is gaining popularity, particularly as a tournament game, but dealers and floor staff are still new to the game. Franke asked me to play a part as a support to floor staff if there were any disputes, albeit limited to those taking place at tables other than mine. He asked this because he is aware that I have written a book on the game and can be called upon as an authority.
For those who don’t know, Sviten Special (also known as Drawmaha) is a split pot game, half the pot being awarded to the best five-card Omaha hand, and the other half to the best five-card draw hand. Players get one opportunity to change cards, this comes directly after the flop betting action, and it is possible to change any number of cards, from zero to all five. If a player takes only one card, the dealer will offer one face open, visible to all players, and the player can choose to accept the card, pick it up and add it to the cards in hand, or decline the card. If declined, the dealer pulls the card into the muck and gives the player the next card from the deck, this time face down. Of course, here at PokerListings, we have an article giving you a comprehensive guide on how to play.
During this event I was largely a spectator, enduring a frustrating run of cards but enjoying the chat with my table mates. There were a few players from Sweden, the home of Sviten Special, plus a German friend of mine and fellow Maltese resident Marco Mein, and English, Gibraltar-based Twitch streamer Scott “Pokerbrahs” Kenyon.
Finally dealt a playable hand, I opened with two pair, aces up, but facing a three and four bet decided to let the hand go. Sure enough, I had run into both a pat flush and a pat straight, the two players ending up chopping the pot. Good fold on my part!
After another long wait during which I paid a few blinds and saw the blind levels increase somewhat, I look down at AJ333 and put in a raise. This was called by Marco in the big blind and an under-the-gun limper. When the dealer turned over the 754 rainbow, Marco led for about 60% pot: under the gun folded, and I thought for a short while. Marco clearly has 86, probably 8866x being a big part of his range, and my As3s gave me a back door nut flush draw. Having started the hand with about 15 big blinds, I decided to get the money in now while I believe my draw hand is ahead and with a little bit of Omaha equity. Or so I thought… Marco called and then stood pat! I never improved in my draw hand, Marco turned over a 10 high straight in his hand that had flopped the nuts and an off-suit queen on the turn sealed the pot in his favour. I shook Marco’s hand, gave him a hug and went off to the cashier to reload.
My second bullet put me on another table, with more Swedish players, another Maltese resident, Italian cash game pro Renato Messina, and Festival Series regular Barrie Dear, an Englishman who now lives in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland.
It was while I was at this table that Franke paused the tournament clock and took some time out to pay a moving tribute to the great Doyle Brunson, who had passed away earlier in the day. The whole room, with two poker tournaments in full swing, observed an impeccable, respectful minute of silence. Doyle was still playing in the big game, a mixed games cash game, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, in the weeks before he passed away. A true giant of the game, always in the discussion when people talk about the game’s greatest-ever players and to still be competitive at the highest level at 89 years old is something I’m not sure anyone else will ever achieve.
When the late registration period ended, it was confirmed that the Sviten Special tournament had attracted a new Festival Series record for the event of 79 entries. Even though this was Day 1 of the festival and not everyone had flown in yet.
Although my second entry saw me play more hands, win a few pots and even bust a player, I could never make any real move towards cash and I departed in something like 28th place, well short of the 11th place minimum pay-out. The eventual winner was Swedish player Thomas “Totti” Lind, who lived in Malta for several years and so is well known to the locals.
After busting I jumped into a “Super Dealers Choice” cash game. The leading “Super” means we will play any game if the players and dealer can understand the rules when explained by the person choosing the game. And it wasn’t strictly dealers’ choice – we played an orbit of each game, the next player choosing a game every time the dealer button reached seat one.
There were players from different parts of Europe, including France, Italy and England. Barrie Dear joined, having busted the Sviten Special tournament around the same time I did. This session didn’t go too well for me, I ended the night with a small loss of €150. A hand of Pot Limit Superstud did the most damage. Learn how to play the game by listening to me and my co-host in episode 28 of the Poker: All the Games podcast. With a 7 low on 6th street that could not be beaten at that point given the open cards I could see, I shoved my remaining €280 euros at the time all in over the top of a bet from a player with two open pairs showing. Barrie Dear called behind me, as did another player! Only Barrie had any outs to beat my low, he needed a 7, 6 or a 4. As we were multi-way and there were not enough cards left in the deck to give us all individual cards we were dealt a community card for seventh street, and a 7 gave the low to Barrie. Reload!
Day 1 was not profitable but nevertheless enjoyable. The staff at Portomaso Casino, their numbers boosted by the travelling team from the excellent Ludus Academy, were superb, and the players all played in the best spirit.
Day 2: No Tournament at The Festival Series so I Played SCOOP! A Couple of Bad News Items
I woke up on Day 2 and decided to stay where I was staying and play online rather than make the trip to the casino to play cash there. The fact that the PokerStars SCOOP festival was in full swing played a big part in my making that decision, and I entered low buy-in events of Deuce to Seven Triple Draw and Short Deck Hold ‘Em. I made a minimum of cash in the Deuce event. At the same time, I played a small number of tournaments on Party Poker and managed to take down a $22 buy-in “Daily Legends” Pot Limit Omaha Hilo Eight or Better tournament.
During the day I found out that the Pokio app, which is where I have been playing Pot Limit Sviten Special cash games online for about four and a half years now, would be closing in early June 2023. This is sad news, it being the only place online to play that great poker game for real money. Or so I thought… a week or so later I discovered the game had been added to the options at the Bitcoin poker site SWC Poker.
Further bad news arrived for me personally: my mother and father-in-law arrived in Malta to stay with us at our home in Gozo for a month, and on her first day my mother-in-law was taken ill and admitted to the local hospital. Worrying times: Writing this just less than one week later, she is now thankfully out of the hospital and doing well. While playing The Festival Series I was never sure how bad she was, and this played a huge part in what would be a rollercoaster of extreme emotions throughout the week.
More about my week at The Festival Series, Malta, May 2023, in Part 2 of this trip report.