Twelve years ago, a relative unknown in the poker world began distributing PokerStars hats to players who busted from events on the European Poker Tour. If you went busto, she showed up with a baseball cap for your troubles. Now, she’s still going strong with the EPT as its Media Coordinator as the tour gets ready to wrap its 12th season with the annual Grand Final in Monaco starting on April 26.
Mad Harper‘s big “break” with the EPT came as the nascent tour was beginning in 2004. Her friend Conrad Brunner, the man who brokered the relationship between PokerStars and EPT founder John Duthie, asked if she’d help out at events. Her mission: give PokerStars hats to players who busted, a far from glorious job, but one that gave her face time with players and staff alike.
“Apparently some players were escaping without a cap, so I was told to keep a better eye on the short stacks,” Harper said. “The players got wind of this and started treating me like I was the Grim Reaper. If I went near any of them, they would wave me away and tell me they were fine and about to double up.”
After the final tournament of EPT Season 1 took place in Monaco, Harper’s flight was scheduled to depart later than her coworkers’, so she helped load equipment onto a truck bound for the UK. “I was absolutely horrified to find an empty box that said ‘EPT trophy’ on it,” Harper said. “It was an enormous trophy, much too heavy for the winner to have taken it on a plane, so I was convinced someone had stolen it. It turned out that the winner, Rob Hollink, had driven to Monte Carlo from Holland and taken the trophy back with him. Scary moment.”
By Season 2, Harper started running the EPT’s website and began serving as the tour’s Media Coordinator. “I thought it would be nice to write little player profiles for the finalists,” Harper said, “but Patric Martensson refused to talk to me. His friends said they’d instead give me his ‘biographical details.’ They told me a load of rubbish, like Patric had the second biggest stamp collection in Sweden, sold used cars on the weekends, and was the national Monopoly champion. I reckon you could google Patric today and still read all those so-called ‘facts.'”
During Season 3, Vicky Coren became the first woman to win an EPT event, doing so in London. Then, Roland de Wolfe emerged victorious in the series’ stop in Dublin. “Roland de Wolfe was a lovely winner and brought loads of champagne into the media room for us to celebrate,” Harper said. “There had also been a few hotel issues at that event, so the hotel agreed to give us free drinks for an hour. People in Ireland don’t hold back if there’s a free bar, so that was quite a night.”
The EPT expanded from eight events to 11 for Season 4, which caused Harper to live out of a suitcase. It also marked the debut of stops like the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure half-a-world away in the Bahamas along with San Remo and Prague. For Harper, however, an existing stop remained her favorite: Baden.
“I absolutely loved Baden,” Harper said. “We went there three times in all and it was always fantastic. For starters, it was a stunning venue: a beautiful Belle Epoque casino in a really pretty town. Plus, they had the best player buffet we’ve ever had on the circuit with delicious food and cakes to die for. In Season 4, Julian Thew won there. I was a big Julian fan, so I was very happy with that result.”
In Season 5, a memorable character named Will Fry won the EPT’s lone stop in Budapest, Hungary. “We’d never heard of him before the event, but he and I became firm friends from then on,” Harper said. “I wish he still competed on the circuit. He played the whole final with a bottle of red wine at his side.” After Fry’s win, he partied with EPT media in a flat.
In Season 6, the EPT expanded yet again, this time to 13 events. At Kyiv, Shaun Deeb won the High Roller Event and, according to Harper, was pretty low-key while making history. “There were only three players and Shaun was treating it like a home game,” Harper said. “He kept telling them to hurry up so that he could join a side event. Shaun is always great to have at an event. He’s very entertaining and an amazing player.” It was Deeb’s first EPT cash.
Also in Season 6, a resort in Austria played host to EPT Snowfest. The location was memorable and came complete with… goats.
“The media room had a giant picture window facing the ski jumps and we would all stop whatever we were doing whenever we saw anyone about to take off, and then obviously howl with laughter if they screwed it up,” Harper said. “Up the slope behind the venue was a bar that had actual goats living in it. They were adorable, so I went up there as often as possible and we had the EPT parties there too.”
Season 7 marked the EPT’s first trips to Tallinn and Vilamoura. For Harper, though, Roberto Romanellowinning EPT Prague was the highlight of the seventh season. “I was working in the media room when someone came in and told me he’d won,” Harper said. “Then about 20 minutes later, someone else came in and said Roberto was sobbing in the corridor. I said, ‘I thought he won?’ They said, ‘Yes, he did, but he’s so emotional about it, he’s been crying outside for nearly half-an-hour.’ Roberto is still by far the most emotional winner we’ve ever had.”
Harper called EPT Season 8 a “standout year for winners.” Ronny Kaiser won in Tallinn, Benny Spindler won in London, Martin Finger won in Prague, Davidi Kitai won in Berlin, and Mohsin Charania was the Grand Final champion.
“We also had three Danish winners back-to-back-to-back,” Harper said. “Mickey Petersen in Copenhagen, Fred Jensen in Madrid, and Jannick Wrang in our one and only event in Campione, Italy.”
Season 9 marked the first year of Edgar Stuchly at the helm. And the EPT was, needless to say, quite different. “All of the events had a super slick new look, new digital registration, official EPT concierge, free internet, and we joined up with national tours to create really massive festivals with tons of side events,” Harper said. “It all looked totally different and super glamorous.”
Stuchly’s influence continues to be felt throughout EPT events, including at the upcoming EPT Season 12 Grand Final in Monaco, where 80 events will play out over 11 days.
To make it 10 years was quite a feat for the EPT. The end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 saw the EPT in its 10th season and, in San Remo, Vicky Coren became the series’ first two-time female winner. For Harper, it was a moment she wouldn’t forget. “It was very emotional,” Harper said. “Especially for the not-very-many-of-us who had also been at the Vic seven years earlier for her first victory.”
The beginning of EPT Season 11 also featured a milestone, this time the 100th tour stop, which took place in Barcelona. “I really would never have believed ten years earlier that we would ever get to this incredible milestone,” Harper said. “Over the previous seasons, we had welcomed 180,000 players, been to 16 countries, and created 39 millionaires. EPT100 was one of our biggest tournaments ever and it really felt like we were now beating the World Series as the best poker festival on the planet.”
The 12th and current season of the EPT has featured a gauntlet of talent taking down titles. John Juanda Niall Farrell, Hossein Ensan, Mike Watson, and Dzmitry Urbanovich have all tasted victory so far. There’s one Main Event champion left to be crowned on May 6 in Monte Carlo. “Every single champion this season has been a well-known player who richly deserved to get an EPT title,” Harper said.
The EPT has come a long way since its birth 12 seasons ago. And so has live poker in Europe as a whole, in part thanks to the EPT’s presence. “The EPT totally revolutionized poker,” Harper said. “I think it took a while for Americans to realize what was going on, but the EPT turned poker from a fairly niche pursuit into a mainstream activity. John Duthie started something amazing: televised, very professionally run events that everyone wanted to be a part of.”
“We’ve been hearing people for ages saying, ‘Poker is saturated. There aren’t any more players,’ but it’s patently untrue,” Harper said. “We break records every single season. We have more and more events, and more and more players turn up to compete in them. I can’t see a ceiling to this.”
Harper won a European Poker Award in 2007 for Poker Staff Person of the Year. She’s about as well-connected as it gets and continues to attend many live events.
“It has been a privilege to get to know some of the very best players in the world,” Harper said. “You have all of these huge stars like Daniel Negreanu and Vanessa Selbst and ElkY and I actually know them. That’s pretty weird. The EPT team is amazing to work with too, and then there are all of the media. Some of them have been coming for years and we’re like a family now.”
Aside from schmoozing with poker pros and media from around the world, Harper has also been able to rub elbows with a few brand name celebrities over the years. Although she won’t name-drop as much as other poker pros you might know, Harper said, “Not many people can say they’ve been to a beach workout with Tito Ortiz followed by a Teddy Sheringham golf round or chatted on the rail with a Hobbit like I did with Sean ‘Samwise Gamgee’ Austin at last year’s Grand Final.”
She’s certainly come a long ways since her days playing Grim Reaper.