Interview with Raúl Horta

In Habwin we were fortunate to attend the last CEP at the Casino de Barcelona. There we were welcomed by the poker manager of the room, Raul Horta, a former poker player and great professional of the tables who has been working for poker for many years but from behind the scenes. Talking to him we realized that, in general, we do not realize all the work that goes into organizing a poker tournament. The truth is that it's nice to meet people who understand so much about what they do. Do you want to know what he told us?

-Hi Raúl, we just saw Ramón Colillas playing the CEP. In a way, the whole Ramón Colillas factor has been great for the CEP and Casino de Barcelona, hasn't it?

-I would say, because Ramón has been lucky enough to win the CEP when he had to win it, because I have a friend Jordi Martínez Alekhine, three-time CEP champion, who is pulling his hair out, wondering why I never had the chance to win the Platinum pass? So, Ramón Colillas won here in Casino Barcelona the first stage, which was the most crowded stage in history, 831 players, he entered again in prizes in Peralada... he managed to win the overall, and thanks to that he gets a Platinum Pass.

With the Platinum Pass he goes to the PSPC Bahamas, goes from day to day, goes from day to day in a $25,000 tournament, which very few people can afford. In fact, out of the 1029 players in the field there were 300 players with very similar stories to Ramón's, people who had qualified in national tournaments, local circuits, online tournaments... and another 700 people who had paid for it out of their own pockets.

So, for us this is a very good thing. It is the story of a player from here, from Barcelona, who wins a tournament here, ends up being champion of Spain, next year you send him to Bahamas, he makes a deep run and gets $5,100,000. We are delighted, Pokerstars is also delighted, and well, it's a dream come true.

-The CEP brand is closely linked to Casino Barcelona.

Yes, it has always been closely linked to CasinoBarcelona, it was born here, and it was last year when the joint satellites between CasinoBarcelona and Pokerstars started. The truth is that the CEP has been growing in a brutal way for the last five years. We take it the first year here and the participation data is around 120 people, and little by little it goes up to 300, 400, 500 ... up to 831 last year... (873 this year) and well it is the result of doing things well, of working well, of treating the tournament with a lot, a lot of love and the result of all this work is the sponsorship of Pokerstars, which is one of the most important rooms worldwide.

Obviously we have a very good relationship with Pokerstars, we organize the EPT Barcelona together every year, but for a room like Pokerstars to focus on a championship like ours? Obviously it makes us very excited, as well as the extent to which they are getting involved, is a bit to join the best online poker room with what for us is the best circuit in Spain and the results are slowly arriving.

-Last year Pokerstars starts with the CEP, the CNP circuit starts to collaborate also with 888, recently we have known that Partypoker is also going to promote satellites for the Spanish Poker Festival... the question: why do you think this strategy of the poker rooms that until three years ago were totally "missing" in the circuits?

-I think that what has changed a bit is the sector and the market. For example, before each major room had its own circuits; Pokerstars had the Estrellas Poker Tour that had a stop in Donosti, a stop in Marbella, in Barcelona, in Valencia... then the same rooms have been specializing in their own thing, which is online poker, and have been leaving a little aside the circuits. In Spain we had very important circuits, such as the Spanish Poker Tour of Everest, which disappeared because Everest stopped operating in Spain, but well, I think that the circuit disappeared much earlier, and I think that in general it has been a natural step: that those of us who organize circuits continue with this, and the rooms, which is not that it is not their thing, but they are more specialized in taking online.

I think that in the end it is something natural, they have taken and focused on their activity, but if there is an important circuit, well, hey, why not sponsor it and exploit synergies between organizers and rooms. That said, it is not entirely true that they have stopped organizing circuits, for example Pokerstars is now exploiting the European Poker Tour; 888 continues to organize the 888Live circuit with stops in Barcelona, Rozvadov and London and this year has increased by two or three more stops ... but then when it comes to setting up a national tournament, it takes and sponsors something that is already running. And the bottom line is that I think it's a lot less headache for them, they don't have to deal with the logistics, or contracting with casinos and so on, and it's much more comfortable to dedicate themselves to qualifying online players for circuits, which is their thing.

-Continuing with the circuits, from March 8-17 you have here in Casino Barcelona the World Poker Tour sponsored by Partypoker. Had it been a long time since you worked with Partypoker?

It's been a year in fact. Last year we organized here the Partypoker Millions in March, which along with the European Poker Tour, were the first and second largest poker tournament in the world, obviously behind the WSOP in Las Vegas. It was a resounding success, I would have liked to work again with the Millions brand this year, but they have had a change of strategy, they are trying to take the Millions more .com and not .es, and this year we are going to take the WPT which it is true that we have not worked with them for years, because well, it must be said that the WPT brand in the US and the rest of the world works great, but in Europe it has never worked as it should. But I think that this year with Partypoker behind it, and with the people behind it, with Nick Darrel, with John Duty... I think it is going to be a success.

-And as a casino organizer, are there many differences when working with one house or another? If it's 888, Partypoker or Pokerstars...I guess you can't tell me favorites this is like children, but is the personality of each house very noticeable?

-Surely the answer should be yes, but not here in Barcelona, because I think that in Barcelona, we have been organizing tournaments for many years, we have a very developed know-how and I think that when the circuits arrive, to begin with we have been working together for many years, and we already know each other perfectly. The second thing is that we already know how far we can go, or how far we can't go, what we can do and what we can't do with each room... For example, a room comes to you and tells you they want to make a promotion of such and such, and they say "no, because here the legislation doesn't allow it".  And the truth is that we have been working with everyone for so long that when it comes down to it, we work with everyone in a very similar way.

What I am also going to tell you is that people do not imagine the amount of work that is behind the organization of a tournament such as the EPT, the Millions or any other tournament we organize.

-I wanted to ask you about this: most people can't even imagine, all the work that goes into the organization of a tournament, just to have the players come, and to be able to play.

Look, that's one of the keys, how a room that normally has 20 tournament tables and 10 cash tables daily, organizes tournaments where 800, 900, 1,000 people fit, or in the EPT, we organize tournaments for 20,000 players and at the same time, 75 cash tables running 24 hours a day for 15 days.

There is a very hard work of preparation and coordination behind it, to the point that, of course, to run 20 tournament tables and 10 cash tables you need a number of dealers, but to run 75 cash tables 24 hours a day you need about four times more staff. So, this requires a lot of planning, a lot of organization, I have not yet been the Pokerstars EPT event in August 2019, but I'm working, not for this year, but for the EPT2020.


And that's all for today. You can enjoy the full interview this Friday, don't miss it!

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