For seven years and 70 events, Thomas Kremser served as tournament director for the European Poker Tour.
There from the very beginning, Kremser played an essential role in building founder John Duthie's vision of a "WPT for Europe" into a reality.
From the terrfiying armed robbery at EPT Berlin to the blackout in Kiev to high times in Barcelona and Ivan Freitez's infamous angle-shooting Grand Final in Monaco, Kremser had a front row seat for dozens of the EPT's most iconic moments.
On the brink of EPT100 in Barclona beginning later this week PokerListings Germany's Dirk Oetzmann corralled Kremser for a look back at some of his most memorable experiences bringing a poker mainstay to life.
How the European Poker Tour Began
Thomas Kremser: As much as I know I was one of the first who John Duthie spoke with. His basic idea was to rebuild the WPT for Europe.
Seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I had just left the Concord Casino where I had worked for 10 years and I was looking for a new challenge.
Kremser key in bringing John Duthie's vision to life.
So we both started to talk to as many people as possible.
We had long discussions with the potential sponsors PokerStars and PartyPoker – where the first showed more interest – and about the choice of suited locations.
Of course we had no idea if this was going to work. In the beginning the majority of the people involved were rather sceptical.
The First EPTs
TK: I had already worked with Casino Barcelona. I had done coaching for dealers and I had organised a couple of tournaments.
And Barcelona gave me a good feeling as a starting option. We scheduled three or four further stops and we were going to see what was going to happen.
London, the second stop, was already a success and the third tournament in Vienna really put us on the map.
Interestingly, Barcelona didn’t really have a player base at the time. So, for the tournament, the same guys showed up that you would find anywhere else in Europe.
The only thing that was really new for everyone was the TV coverage. Several players were not happy with being filmed at first but Duthie, PokerStars and I insisted.
The Most Difficult Situation
TK: EPT Berlin, after the raid, for sure. We had five tournaments and 60 tables running simultaneously.
"Pure chaos" after EPT Berlin robbery.
There was pure chaos. In the side events people had pushed over the tables and some of them had tried to take advantage of the situation.
In the main event, where the winning prize money was €1 million, we had three tables left and all the chips had been totally messed up.
Put it this way: If seven years of EPT were my studies, that day was my PhD exam.
I am still very proud of how we handled the situation. And, I daresay, I was spearheading the situation and getting it under control.
TK: I don’t regret much. From the start this had been a very ambitious project and I was lucky to be there.
If there is anything I regret it is that I tried to do too much myself instead of delegate it to others.
I always wanted to give 100%. But that cost me a lot of energy and that caused a lack of productivity sometimes.
"I never really lost my poise until my very last EPT event."
TK: Actually it’s kind of amazing that I never really lost my poise until my very last EPT event.
It was the EPT Grand Final in Madrid and Ivan Freitez just wouldn’t stop angle-shooting.
Generally I am very composed, and the only thing that had made angry beforehand was when people in the audience kept stepping inside the rails.
But with Freitez it was a new level of unfairness and he kept repeating the same dirty moves. My irritated response was the result of my emotional state.
TK: Looking back there was one player who will always be a positive note for me: Christer Johansson, a player who used to come to almost every single EPT event for a while.
He was friendly, affable and sociable. He was smart but he was also fair at the table and he was successful.
Whenever I see myself as a player, I want to be like him.
Esfandiari always a favorite.
Another player I liked a lot was Antonio Esfandiari. He’s a great player and he makes sure everybody at the table has a lot of fun.
With Antonio telling his stories and anecdotes there was always a special atmosphere around him.
TK: Barcelona, indeed. Such a wonderful city and I associate beaches, nice weather and my first steps in live poker with it.
In second place I’d say Prague. I could get there by car and everything was in one place, the Hilton.
Best Players Party
TK: Honestly I haven’t been to a single players party in seven years. I was always working.
TK: One of the strangest things happened in Kiev. We had to play the EPT there because Moscow had cancelled it on very short notice.
"From the start this had been a very ambitious project and I was lucky to be there."
And there we were in an old Olympic hall in Kiev. Suddenly there was an electricity blackout in the whole district.
The whole main event went pitch black. But then the poker community demonstrated what solidarity means.
Camera teams used their lamps to provide light for the players and there were countless mobile phones with torch apps to help overcome the situation.
Another extraordinary thing happened in Barcelona in 2006. There were so many players that we had to squeeze seven pairs of players in a heads-up event onto one table.
But nobody was bothered. The players still paid the €5,000 buy-in, although they were packed like sardines in a tin can.