Antoine Degiorgio, one of the founding members of the Malta Poker Fish Facebook group and enthusiastic cheerleader for poker in Malta, has actually forgotten he agreed to be interviewed today - but he doesn’t seem particularly flustered. “I’m in no rush,” he says easily, “So don’t worry.” This seems to sum him up quite well - he’s a very chilled sort of guy, and he’s all about the fun.
I only do it for the community
“I’ve been involved in Malta poker for 11, 12 years now,” he tells me. “I take care of the Malta Poker Fish community page, and all I do is try to promote Malta for poker. I never go into any businesses, I only do it for the community - never for any financial rewards. It’s just that we are a small island, and to get big events happening in Malta, I wanted to promote them. Whenever there are big tournaments in Malta, I make sure that everything goes well, speak to the poker players and make sure they’re informed about everything, see what their complaints are, speak to the tournament organisers… I could tell you all the stories that happened in the past but it would be, like, days! Basically, I am the happy poker guy who is always there to help and make things happen for local casinos and organisers of events, to make sure they have a good turnout, any problems are sorted out - so that they can return next year and we’ll have more events.”
Even the EPT leached on the Battle of Malta
For sure Degiorgio seems like a happy guy. He’s also been involved in all the big events for the Maltese poker community right from the start, including the Battle of Malta - although he’s keen to stress that he’s not doing it for financial gain. “For sure I was involved, but not in a commercial way - first of all, I played them all!” he laughs. “When it first started it was meant to be a one-off marketing exercise, the company lost money actually. But at the time, all the poker companies that were doing tournaments were losing money, and they weren’t coming back to Malta. But Battle of Malta, the owners at that time - it was Pokerlistings and Ivonne Montealegre running it in those days, and she said, ‘We’re not interested in making money, we just want to promote our brand and make a brand.’ And I promoted them and our beautiful little island, even to the point where WPT was making a tournament on the same dates. They were so nice to move the dates. Even the EPT leached on the Battle of Malta.”
Degiorgio is looking forward to helping grow The Festival Series among the Maltese poker community in much the same way. “With the Festival... I go abroad to play poker, to Tallinn. I play Kings of Tallinn, I have Finnish friends there. So I know Franke from Malta and from Tallinn, and he’s quite a character, he’s quite good fun. He came to Malta and he wanted to play a game of Omaha - you know how he is! So I organised him a game of PLO, and he said he was doing this [The Festival Series]. And everyone went crazy, saying we’re dying for an event.” Indeed, the hunger for a return to live events is obvious everywhere in the poker community. Degiorgio is confident that the time is right for the launch of a new tour. “You know how these things are, when an event comes out everyone says they are coming, but then a week, two weeks before, many people drop out… But I can tell you there’s a lot, a lot of people who want to go. I’ve been contacted by at least 40, 50 people.”
Everybody I’ve spoken to is desperate to get back to playing live, I tell him. “Seriously!” Degiorgio agrees. “We just had a tournament that was cancelled this weekend - that was Unibet. A lot of people booked tickets, so my heart goes out to the players, to the casino. I was really, really sad. But what I realised when this event in Tallinn came up, the views [on the launch video] were super high - it’s something to look forward to.”
A lot of live players don’t have patience for online games
I bring up the Covid-proofing of The Festival Series - if players can’t travel to The Festival in Tallinn, or circumstances force the event to be cancelled. “Yes! I’m not worried about that,” says Degiorgio. “A lot of live players don’t have patience for online games. If there’s a [live event] cancellation, there’s a cancellation. I think people should take the risk. We take a risk playing poker, you know? We go to these events, we take €5k, €7k with us, we know there’s a risk we come without any of it, or we can come back really happy if we make a profit. So we know there’s a risk. But if you love poker, it’s the same.”
The location is also a massive draw for Degiorgio. “I love going to Tallinn,” he enthuses. “I go there for the Kings of Tallinn and I know a lot of the Finnish players - they just get a flight or a boat over. And I love the atmosphere - everybody drunk, that’s the way I like it, and this is what I love about Franke. He doesn’t see it as a poker tournament - I mean, it is a poker tournament, but it’s a fun atmosphere, and he brings the party with him. I remember an Omaha tournament where I’d done 20 rebuys and I was still on starting stack. And finally on the last hand of the rebuy, I managed to quintuple up - so mission accomplished! But then I bust in the funniest way…” Degiorgio proceeds to reel off the hand, and I, a veteran live reporter, feel a real pang of nostalgia. It’s been so long since a player told me a bad beat story, and it suddenly feels like I’m right back at the Olympic Casino bar in Tallinn. The real punchline, though, was the guy who busted Degiorgio buying him a drink at the bar afterwards. That’s the kind of atmosphere these events engender.
I’ll be bringing a group of Maltese players
“Hopefully I’ll be bringing a group of Maltese players,” Degiorgio tells me, “And hopefully we’ll get a trophy - we’re trophy hunters. Until now, every time we went to Tallinn we came back with a trophy - if it’s not me, then it’s someone else. So that is the plan. Tallinn to me says fun. It’s ridiculously cheap as soon as you get out of the hotel - taxis, food. And obviously the floor at the casino there are great. It’s such fun.”
Degiorgio hit the nail on the head there. Poker is a fun game, and poker festivals should be fun events - that’s the whole philosophy behind The Festival Series. Bring it on.