I made the journey to Monte Carlo without incident. PokerRoad and PokerNews' video hostess, Amanda Leatherman was on my flight, though we didn't have seats together. I read a couple of trashy magazines, watched the pilot of Breaking Bad on my iPod, popped a couple of Xannies, and fell asleep for most of the ride to Frankfurt. No crying babies or odorous seatmates, just a quiet older man who read the Bible in Italian in between naps.
In Frankfurt, we ran into Josh Arieh, who was on our flight to Nice. The three of us shared a cab to Monte Carlo and he was nice enough to pick up the tab. Though there had been talk of renting some sort of balla beach house for the week, the PNews crew ended up in the Novotel, a super-modern three-star joint with ocean views. My room was huge by European standards and boasted a couch, a plasma TV, and a balcony big enough for a table and chairs. It's absolutely the perfect setting for an afternoon drink and a game of Chinese Poker, but unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate for most of the trip. It was chilly and overcast the first two days and rained on the third. Unfortunately, the bed was hard and the pillows large and oddly shaped, which, combined with the jet-lag that never really left me, resulted in only about 5 hours of sleep a night. The strangest thing about the room, though, was that it had two half-bathrooms instead of one whole bathroom. One was basically a closet with a toilet in it next to the door. The other contained the sink, shower and bathtub. I walked into the wrong room in the middle of the night needing to pee almost 100% of the time. Good thing Pauly and his pharmies weren't here, otherwise there might have been a puddle of urine under the sink.
Monte Carlo is a very vertical city. It hugs the cliffs of the Southern Alps, spilling down to the Mediterranean. Every street is twisty and hilly and the 1.5 km walk from the hotel to the Monte Carlo Bay Resort (tourney venue) involves descending at least two staircases. I got terribly lost on the first day and practically walked to Italy (it is possible). I ended up on some sort of cliff above the resort and couldn't figure out how the fuck to get down. And getting directions from the snotty locals when I can't speak a word of French? Yeah, not so much.
Anyone who tells you how expensive it is here is not exaggerating in the least. I got a pretty good per diem on this gig, but one meal and two short cab rides a day pretty much ate it all up. There are pretty much two choices in terms of meals one can get at the tournament venue-- the 20 euro cheeseburger or the 20 euro pizza. At one point I went to xe.com and did the conversion since I was curious. 20 euros= $31. $31 for a below-average pizza I could only finish half of! It made me not want to eat at all. Every time I'd walk up and order something, I thought about all the bills I could be paying with the money I was pissing away on bad food. One morning, Blonde Poker's Jen Mason brought in baguettes and cheese from a local market and was sweet enough to give me one. I think it was the best meal I had in Monaco.
Unlike the near-bankrupt World Poker Tour, the EPT is still growing at an exponential rate. When Mad Harper put out her infamous pie chart at the end of Day 1B, I wasn't surprised at all to discover that in a field of 842, 138 Americans and 40 Canadians had made the journey across the pond to play, including many of online poker's absurdly talented wunderkinds, who are still too young to play in the U.S. and will be notably absent from this summer's WSOP. Guys like Matt "AllInAt420" Stout, Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron, Mike "Timex" McDonald, and Jeff "ActionJeff" Garza all made the trip over, many of them having won satellites on Poker Stars.
Despite the luxurious surroundings, this was very much a no-nonsense gig for me. No side trips. No staying an extra day to check out more of the city. Just fly in, report a tournament, and fly out. I was basically at the venue from noon until 2 a.m. or so which left very little time for seeing things. What I did see was from the backseat of the taxis I took to the tournament every day following Day 1's disastrous attempt at walking. A glimpse of the Casino Monte Carlo here, a glance at the Lanvin boutique there. Some days the taxi ride cost 10 euros. Other days it was 12 or 13. By the last night it was up to 15 euros-- $23 US for about a mile or so ride. There are no meters in the cabs in Monte Carlo. I guess they just charge you however much they feel like charging that day. One morning Humberto Brenes cruised past me in a gleaming Saab convertible as I was heading to an ATM. He honked the horn and gave me a wave. For a split second I thought about sticking out my thumb and hitching with the Costa Rican Chark.
A few more close encounters of the pro kind:
--On Day 2 Antonio Esfandiari pulled me over as I was passing his table and asked me to point out where Gus Hansen was sitting. After indicating that it was clear across the room, Antonio asked if I'd do him a favor and tell Gus that he wanted his iPod back. Sure, why not. I go over to Gus' table, where he's surrounded by reporters and a video crew from his new training site, ThePlayr. Once he had folded his hand, I tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hey, Gus. Antonio wanted me to ask you if I could get his iPod back."
"Can you tell Antonio I said to go fuck himself?"
All of the Playr guys cracked up. I was about to say "sure" and go deliver the message, when Gus stood up and asked me to point out his table so he could go and do the deed himself.
-- Daniel Negreanu was hanging out in the media room as Day 4 drew to a close and was using Amanda's computer check out some forum threads about the "High Stakes Living" episode he had just shot in his hotel room. I'm not sure what he was looking at to inspire this comment, but at one point, he popped out of his chair and addressed the entire media room.
"Who here in the media is a pothead?" Daniel asked.
Snoopy and I looked at each other before sheepishly raising our hands. All the Dutch guys, a bunch of the Scandis and maybe half the Brits had their hands in the air. Maybe half the room in total.
"No wonder you all get everything wrong!" he laughed.
* * * * *
The final table lasted 274 hands and finished past 3 a.m. To put some perspective on that number, the 2007 WSOP final table lasted 205 hands, the 2007 WSOP-Europe final table went for 211, and the 2007 WPT Championships final table took a mere 182. We all had early flights, so most of us did our best to stay up all night before grabbing our airport transportation. Amanda and I were again on the same flight and we decided to split another cab. We met down in the lobby just after 8 a.m., both of us looking like total zombies after only about an hour's sleep apiece. She had already asked the guy at the front desk to call us a cab. Usually, it wasn't more than a 10 minute wait. After 25 minutes went by, I went up to him again.
"Bonjour. Do you know how long it will be before our taxi arrives?"
"There are no taxis in Monaco today. The Congress is in town."
"But you called us a taxi almost half an hour ago?"
"I am sorry madame. No taxi."
"Well, we have a flight to catch. How are we supposed to get to the airport?"
"I don't know."
(You don't know! 400 euro a night gets you "I don't know" at this joint? WTF?)
"O.K. Let's think about this. It's too late to catch the bus. How about a car service?"
"Yes, private car?"
"Oui, madame. But it will be at least 100 Euros."
"Call them, sil vous plait, all right? And tell them their driver will get a nice American-sized tip if he's here in 10 minutes."
The Congress? Yeah right. More like a conspiracy between the hotel and the car service if you ask me. Even so, it was only about 20 Euros more than if we took a cab. They indeed were there in 10 minutes and the young Italian driver made that Mercedes fly like the wind on the highway, giving us an on-time arrival at Nice airport and more than earning his U.S. American sized tip.
16 hours later, I opened the door to my apartment. The first thing I noticed was a huge bouquet of gorgeous yellow sunflowers. And the next thing I noticed was that everything was clean. Beautifully, sparkling clean. No dishes in the sink. No trash piling up in the kitchen. Pauly had done an outstanding job taking care of the place and was sweet enough to bring me flowers. That's the side of him you guys don't get a chance to see. The Pauly you all know is the perpetually restless soul jacked up on pharmies whose blood flows through his keyboard and whose dollars end up tucked into strippers' g-strings. I get to be with the Pauly whose thoughtfulness and generosity knows no bounds. I'm a very lucky girl.
And that was just the living room. Then there were the seven paintings he did for my empty walls!