“What?! Online poker tournaments where thousands of players participate both online and live in huge sports stadiums around the world? Are you crazy?” That had to be the response from at least a few proposed sponsors and venture capitalists approached by French businessman, politician, actor, singer, and TV host Bernard Tapie. He founded the International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT) with Group Bernard Tapie Managing Director Laurent Tapie and founder of the first French TV series about poker, French entrepreneur Prosper Masquelier. After investing their own money and garnering enough support, it appears that the first edition of the ISPT will be held in the famous Wembley Stadium in London May 31 through June 6 of 2013. One of the largest stadiums in the world and the biggest in England, Wembley has a seating capacity of 90,000.
The idea for the ISPT is unique. Somewhere between an online and live tournament, the more than 30,000 players will begin play on their laptops or other wireless devices while seated in Wembley Stadium where spectators generally sit and view the action on the field. Once play has been trimmed to 3,000 participants, those finalists move to the stadium field where they play on traditional poker tables with professional dealers. The ISPT has been gaining steam this second part of 2012, and in that vein recently added poker pro and fellow Frenchman David Benyamine as an ambassador for the tour. Pros Patrik Atonius, Liz Lieu and Sam Trickett have already been signed on as ISPT ambassadors. Current plans hold for one single huge tournament held in a major stadium each year, but ISPT spokesmen said they are open to talks of multiple tournaments each year as well.
In the press release announcing Benyamine’s ambassadorship, ISPT stated that they are ecstatic to have a player of his caliber on board. Currently the estimated prize pool stands at €20 million ($25.8 million), and 30,000 players are anticipated, but with such a large stadium that number could grow. Bernard and Laurent Tapie attempted to buy out beleaguered Full Tilt Poker earlier this year, but that deal fell through and PokerStars scooped up the Full Tilt franchise. As online poker legislation moves forward in the United States and other countries around the world, such a massive online/live tournament could certainly draw the attention of cash hungry states and municipalities with large stadiums.
With such a huge prize pool and a storied venue like Wembley Stadium, the ISPT has only strengthened their hand by adding such respected professionals as ambassadors. And in case you would like to plan a trip to London for the tournament, all players are welcome. The buy-in is €600 ($774) and both professionals and amateurs are invited to play. Wembley Stadium has a retractable roof, and the schedule currently provides for open air play. However, in the case of inclement weather, 12,000 square meters of indoor rooms have already been reserved in the stadium. The online game at the beginning of the tournament will begin with 20 minute levels. All players will start out the Texas Hold ‘Em event with €5,000 ($6,454) in poker chips with the blinds beginning at 10/20.
Rebuy and double add-on purchases will be provided throughout the first day, and poker players wishing to advance immediately to the finals held on the field without participating in the early stages of the tournament may purchase a direct buy-in, for which 1,000 spots have already been reserved. The direct buy-in price tag has not yet been announced, and those players will enter the live finals play with the average amount of chips of all the poker players who qualified from the initial in-stadium online level. The stadium floor live portion of the event will be run by Groupe Partouche, the leading online poker tournament organizer in Europe and manager of 55 casinos in France and around the world.
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