Thursday, 23rd May 2024 16:07
Home / Poker / Ice Stock makes successful debut on EPT activities calendar

It can’t be easy recovering from a stone bubble finish in the EPT Main Event. But less than 24 hours since finding himself on the EPT Prague rail in the most unfortunate position, Belgium’s Sebastien Matrige could be found clutching a tiny silver trophy above a head shrouded in a bright orange beanie hat, whooping in delight.

That’s because Matrige’s team, appropriately named “The Bubble Boys”, became the most recent champions of the unofficial PokerStars “Ice Stock” Championship, held as an activity alongside the EPT Prague festival.

Sebastien Matrige makes his way out of the Main Event on the bubble

Missing out on the chance to win €1 million is going to sting, of course. But competition in this Ice Stock championship was fierce. And while there are more than 100 people with EPT titles, this visit to Prague was the first time poker players have been heading to the Ice Stock rink. So in many ways, victory here was even sweeter. (Ahem.)

Although you already know how this one finishes, it’s probably worth rewinding to explain how we got there — more specifically, how around 40 poker players and their guests wearing brightly-coloured knitwear ended up tumbling awkwardly across an ice rink in the outskirts of Prague, chasing some sliding stones.

The EPT this year made a renewed commitment to providing visitors to its events not only the best on-felt experience, but also plenty of options for entertainment away from the tournament arena. In Prague, there were parties, river cruises and bus rides, as well as this rare opportunity to fling stones across ice aimed at something like a hockey puck.

Redemption for the bubble boys

A NEW GAME

The first group went out last Saturday, where players included the PokerStars Ambassadors Papo Lococo, Nick Walsh, Sebastian Huber, Irene “Frogy” Albarrán and French commentators Benny & Yu. This time, it was a group mainly of players who had been knocked out of the Main Event, alongside players’ plus-ones — a group who particularly welcome the itinerary of events offered on the tour.

Ice Stock is essentially a game of crown-green bowls, or petanque/bocce, on ice. The activities brochure originally advertised the game as the Olympic sport curling, but this one dispensed with the kitchen broom and instead simply asked competitors to slide their stones closest to a target. In this instance, the target resembled a hockey puck. If you hit it, it moved.

The stones are ready…

There were four members on each team, each of whom threw one stone per game. The four stones closest to the jack each scored points: four for the nearest, three for the second closest, then two and one points, before the farthest four scored nothing.

With everyone basically terrible at it, it made for a brilliantly fun afternoon.

Our friend Egidio Salandi, leading a multinational team of hopefuls, set the tone early on. He took a practice shot and essentially followed it down the ice, tumbling onto his side then his back wearing an enormous grin.

Like the rest of us, Salandi hadn’t been listening when the rules were read out, and missed the bit about remaining on the carpet while throwing to avoid such an embarrassing spill. Nonetheless, Salandi’s team soon unveiled its secret weapon: a dead-eyed fellow Italian veteran who belied his age to land stone after stone within millimetres of its target.

THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE OF ICE STOCK

The first victims became the team comprising PokerStars contractors Roberto Cruz and Adrian Delgado, PokerStars online qualifier Grzegorz Kopacz, and yours truly. We talked a very good game, but that was about it.

Elias Gutierrez led a strong Spanish contingent. There were also representatives from the Netherlands, Germany, Thailand and Greece on the ice. Each team received a complimentary PokerStars-branded bomber jacket plus knitted hat, with further warmth coming from a bottomless barrel of hot wine, fried chicken and wraps.

On the neighbouring rink, a class of ice dancers was being put through its graceful paces, while a hockey goaltender sat in the lobby and sweated out the vigour of a long session on the ice.

Success in the earlier match for Papo MC and team

It was a world away from the wine-drenched Bambis clattering boulders into one another’s knees next door, but far less fun.

Eventually, after four matches of three ends apiece, it was time to tot up the scores and confirm what most of us knew already: the players under the orange hats would be the winners. They had been the most capable among the flock of amateurs and deserved it.

Matrige and co took their medals and their trophies and began a victorious pogo around the ice. That Main Event bubble seemed a long way away.

The Ice Stock brought the curtain down on an incredible year of activities around the European Poker Tour. We’ve sampled wine and cheese, painted pictures, visited vineyards and been on safari, among many other events.

There are five EPT festivals to look forward to again next year, so come along and join the fun.

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