And when I say breaking news, I really mean it. Tables, equipment, cashiers’ boxes. And order, custom, routine -- all breaking, in dramatic fashion.
Like a lot of us poker people here in the States, we awoke Saturday morning to learn something unexpected had happened at the European Poker Tour Main Event in Berlin. “There has been an unscheduled break in the action,” reported Danafish over on PokerNews. Understated, that.
Soon we’d discover an armed robbery had taken place. I read through numerous tweets from colleagues and friends reporting it had happened, and while it was quickly evident no one was seriously hurt, the news was nevertheless mighty troubling to read.
I had just worked with a number of those same folks at the NAPT Venetian a week before, and have myself had the opportunity to work an EPT event during this sixth season of the tour -- the opener in Kyiv, Ukraine last August. I could quickly imagine the strangeness and uncanny feeling of a carefully planned and smoothly run poker tournament suddenly being interrupted by shouting, running, and other types of chaos. I could also imagine the fright of being around people with guns who were not there to preserve the order, but to disrupt it.
Of course, I didn’t have to use my imagination for long, as clips of the robbery soon surfaced online. I got a chance to view some of those vids before they were taken down. Here is a PokerNews report that includes what it looked like on EPT Live when the interruption occurred, as well as an interview with an investigating officer:
Kevmath quickly compiled more information over on Pokerati in a series of posts, some of which were additionally accompanied by more video and photos. Click on through for more interviews of eyewitnesses and other unsettling reportage:
EPT Berlin halted by robbery attempt (3/6/10)
EPT Berlin armed robbery attempt (3/6/10)
EPT Berlin final table (3/7/10)
I suppose ever since The Blair Witch Project and various “reality” TV shows we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to viewing shaky cameras and unedited, raw footage. But when it’s really real... well, it’s no fun at all. Especially when guns and machetes are involved.
A lot of misreporting, apparently, regarding what exactly happened, including some exaggeration of the booty -- called a “jackpot” in some places (like on MSNBC) -- as being as much as €1,000,000. Also some loose talk of machine guns and other what not, when that apparently wasn’t true, either.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that four men, armed with pistols and a machete, made off with “more than €100,000 ($136,000)” following the Saturday afternoon heist, and that they remain at large. The article reports that eight people were injured amid all of the running around.
Detectives are now on the case, looking at the various videos and photos taken, and having obtained fingerprints of one of the robbers. And while the robbers were wearing masks -- making identifications more difficult -- Michael Gassen, speaking for the investigators, says “I am confident we will solve the case.”
I’ve reported from tourneys in American casinos, where I’ve generally felt especially safe thanks to all of the surveillance cameras and security everywhere you turn. When I went to Ukraine last summer, the event took place at the Kyiv Sport Palace -- not a regular casino -- and while there was security present I’ll admit to having wondered a little about just how secure the place was.
The event at EPT Berlin was not at a casino, either, but in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. There were security guards present, though they were not armed. Most accounts suggest these guys acted heroically, despite the threats of physical harm to themselves. That picture at left (from the Berlin news site B.Z.), shows one of the guards temporarily subduing a suspect. Apparently the guard forced him to relinquish some of the money before the suspect was able to flee.
The WSJ article quotes Kirsty Thompson, an EPT spokesperson, saying how the tour “works closely with all its venues to ensure that appropriate security is in place” and that they “will continue to do so going forward, and step up efforts even further after this incident.”
After a delay of three hours or so, the Main Event was continued and played down to a winner on Sunday. I’m glad it was completed as scheduled, and especially glad the players and reporters all made it through in relatively good shape.
Like I say, something uncanny about a poker tournament, so carefully managed with rules of play, precise timing, and incessant order (or, at least, the effort to maintain such) being so brazenly disrupted. Then again, poker players and reporters are somewhat seasoned to expect the unexpected, which might explain why most seemed to have taken the incident in stride.
Tom McEvoy once characterized no-limit hold’em as “hours of boredom and moments of sheer terror.” He was of course speaking of surprise check-raises or awaiting a response to one’s all-in bluff -- not uninvited, armed thugs suddenly forcing themselves into the game.
Even so, poker does encourage those who play to be able to adapt to unforeseen occurrences, including potentially violent ones. (Open up Doyle Brunson’s memoir, The Godfather of Poker, to just about any page for examples.) I’m guessing that skill served some or most of those who were forced to endure the 15 minutes or so of “terror” Saturday afternoon.
Even so, let’s hope no one will need to demonstrate that sort of adaptive ability on the circuit again anytime soon.
(EDIT [added 3/10/10]: A New York Times piece from yesterday notes that the thieves made off with “240,000 euros ($320,000) in cash” and that police are now searching for the four robbers plus a fifth suspect who tipped them off that the money was unsecured. The piece also reports that there had been an “attempt to leave with more than 690,000 euros ($930,000) in cash,” but security guards succeeded in wrestling away a bag containing much of the loot.)