Thursday, 23rd May 2024 15:16
Home / Poker / Grzegorz Kopacz and the decades-old Dublin pub league that led him to EPT Prague

Like most online qualifiers playing their first European Poker Tour Main Events, Grzegorz Kopacz has a lot of people rooting for him back home. But his cheering section might be more zealous than most.

That’s because Kopacz – an Irish resident originally from Poland – is skipping the final week of his pub poker league to be here at EPT Prague, essentially forfeiting his shot at hometown glory.

“Tomorrow is the final day to play,” the 44-year-old senior engineer and construction site manager tells me on break from the €5,300 buy-in EPT Prague Main Event. “They were more than happy to see I was going away as I’m giving up the league!

“But they’re all supporting me and if I end up on the final table they’re going to jump on the plane and be here.”

Kopacz won a full package for this event on PokerStars for just €55 (€55 > €530 > package) – on his very first bullet. This was quite a result, especially considering he tried hard to win one for Barcelona and Cyprus earlier this year with no success. 

“When I set my sights on Prague I said, “It’s not going to happen, Greg.” Then the satellite tournament went very quickly. Now here I am.”

But his journey to Prague truly began on a boozy night out in Krakow more than two decades ago…

THE PUB POKER LEAGUE

Fresh out of university, Kopacz was enjoying a “great night out” with his friends in Krakow. “We’d had quite a few of those,” he says, pointing to a bottle of lager.

Ireland came up in conversation for whatever reason and Kopacz confessed that he would love to visit while on a gap year. “They all started laughing and saying I wouldn’t,” he remembers, but this only added fuel to his fire. “That encouraged me and when one of my friends said he would come with me, we went the next week without any preparation.”

Today, Kopacz speaks with a voice that’s slap-bang between the Krakow accent he grew up with and a strong Dublin twang. That’s because once he saw Ireland up close, he knew he didn’t want to leave.

“I thought I’d only have a few years there,” he says. “But I started working and a few years turned into two decades. I now have a family and kids and they’re Irish.”

Grzegorz Kopacz in action of Day 1A of EPT Prague

It was in Dublin – or more accurately Ashbourne, 20km north – that Kopacz discovered poker in a local pub. 

“I walked in and some guys were playing there, it was a pub poker league,” he says. “They’re been playing it for around 40 years. These old guys keep so close – three generations [of players] – and now there are 22 of us. It’s a very friendly place. 

“We’re not playing to take money off each other. We’re playing to break the routine of the day and have fun.”

SOAKING IN THE ATMOSPHERE

With an often gruelling work schedule, especially at this time of year (“Everyone wants their projects finished before Christmas!”), Grzegorz Kopacz uses poker as an escape. He’s played big events in Ireland and even qualified for the UKIPT London festival earlier this year.

But as he looks around the enormous poker room at EPT Prague, the enormity of this event sinks in.

“I feel the atmosphere and I enjoy it,” he says. “I know the craic from London, but this… I can’t complain. I’ve come here with no expectations. I didn’t pay for this. Still, my hands are sweating! Everyone wants to win a million or something, but it’s still great to just get to play.”

By winning a package to Prague, Kopacz not only won his Main Event buy-in but also a hotel room at the Prague Hilton for the duration of the tournament. His wife is flying out to join him on Friday, so even if the poker doesn’t go his way, he’s guaranteed to enjoy the city.

“Christmas markets!” he beams. “She loves Prague for its Christmas markets.”

MORE FROM EPT PRAGUE

COVERAGE HUB
RESULTS
OFFICIAL SITE

Study Poker with Pokerstars Learn, practice with the PokerStars app