Mauritz Altikardes, newly appointed social media star for The Festival Series, starts by reeling off his credentials. He’s racked up over a decade of experience at every level of the game, and is nothing short of evangelical about poker as a life skill.
10+ years experience with live events
“I’ve been doing live events for more than 10 years now,” he says, “Both national events in Sweden, and private corporate events - no money involved, the only incentive is a trophy, you know - the company’s ‘greatest poker player’ or whatever, stuff like that. So I’ve been trying to teach people to play poker and see that it’s not about sitting in a cellar somewhere, pushing in the money and then expecting the police to storm the place - it’s about money management, risk assessment, stuff like that.”
While his enthusiasm for the grassroots side of the game is obvious, he is also proud of his work at the other end of the spectrum, running major tournaments. “I’ve been quite involved in the Swedish Poker Federation, sitting as chairman back in the day, and since 2015 I’ve had the licence to arrange the Swedish Poker Championships live, which I do in Tallinn. That’s like, my little baby. It’s a real fun event, that people really enjoy. Me and Franke, we have the same ideas. What we do is we focus on the social experience off the felt - the parties, get togethers, dinners. If you come down to Tallinn to play poker, fine - but you don’t have to. And therefore it’s really popular for the Swedish poker community.”
Altikardes has also worked on the Cash Game Festival, the European Masters of Poker and the GSOP (latterly The Grand), regularly works as a consultant on poker events, and (in non-plague times) is a fixture in poker rooms across Sweden and much of Europe. That’s quite some schedule. “Yes,” he says, “But it’s fun, I don’t see it as work. Even though I’m working, you watch people play poker for 10 or 15 hours in a day - it’s still really, really fun. The community you have at an event - you’ll see players you haven’t seen for a year, and it’s like you’ve just seen them yesterday. That’s what’s driving me to do the live events.”
Combining the community aspect of poker with the business side of things is a passion for Altikardes. “I work with sales,” he continues, “Trying to find online operators as partners. I really love sales and cross-selling, because it’s all about generating value - value for the players, for the partners, for the casino. Unless you’re able to do that, I don’t think it’s sustainable - the event will die unless everyone is happy. I’m a fixer. So now with Acroud I’m going to take care of the social media channels, but also I will work closely with Franke and try to develop The Festival Series in order to make it as big as we can.”
Social media has been more important than ever
Everyone behind The Festival Series takes fun, and connection, very seriously. Social media has been more important than ever through the pandemic, holding together the poker and gambling communities that haven’t been able to meet in the way they used to. “So I’m basically from the live events scene, and obviously during all of this time… We use social media, a lot of Facebook groups, stuff like that, so I’ve been working with that.” His love of the game, along with his deep understanding of the close communities that it fosters, make him the ideal man for the job. He’s looking forward to it, too.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, actually. You know, me and Franke used to be competitors. He had his event company and I had mine, so we actually weren’t that fond of each other from the beginning, but once we met, after a couple of beers, it was like, we were best of friends.” I point out that this seems to be a common theme among people who’ve had dealings with Franke. “Exactly!” Altikardes laughs. “I’ve been playing a lot of Sviten with him, there’s been a lot of White Russians, a lot of laughter, sometimes he falls asleep, but he’s fun. He can sit there in the casino in his sandals at 4 o’clock in the morning and you can hear his laughter, and I will be there but I will be in a suit just making sure that it works, because that’s what I put my emphasis on, and he does the social part of it, which in my book now - and this something I learned from him, actually - is even more important than the logistics of everything. You want to hear a player who was the first to bust out of the tournament say that this was the best trip ever - not just someone who makes the final table.”
Altikardes is also a firm believer that live events should be, first and foremost, fun. “These corporate events I do,” he says by way of illustration, “They’re having fun. It’s a social event, they’re sitting around the table for at least two or three hours, enjoying themselves, having drinks and getting to know each other. I think it’s really important for the sustainability. That’s why I have this hashtag, #makepokergreatagain. I even have the red hats, Trump-style,” he chuckles. “It’s making it fun again - that is sustainable. So you can lose money, then you might not want to stay any more - but then you remember, I had fun actually.”
While Altikardes’ background is firmly rooted in poker, he is enthusiastic about the mixed poker and casino game schedule for The Festival Series. “I think it’s a brilliant idea,” he says. There is of course a lot of overlap between people who play poker and casino games - someone who comes into the casino to play a poker tournament may also drop by the roulette or blackjack tables on their way out. But including casino events in the festival schedule also has the potential to bring in new players from outside the poker world. “With the operators, it means that we can talk to the CMO, not just the head of poker, and they have a bigger budget,” he says bluntly. “I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
“It’s all about generating value. So if you can all of a sudden do something in a fun new setup like a tournament, then people are thinking more strategically. You’re not sitting by yourself in front of the slots or in front of a roulette wheel or blackjack - all of a sudden, it’s a competition, you have to work with your money management. There might be, you know, roulette pros out there who think, oh, this is fun. I can show my skills now in a whole new setup. I think it’s a really good idea. Also, it feels like it’s a complete event when you don’t just focus on poker. But I think it’s also important to have sports betting, a sportsbook area where you can just sit and discuss what odds to find, stuff like that. I think people enjoy that, because you can also be in a community around it. I think people want to be involved in a context, everyone wants to belong to something. So I think this will appeal to a lot of different players actually.”
While he is optimistic about The Festival in Tallinn, Altikardes isn’t letting the covid situation faze him. “Bratislava also is really good. It’s close to Germany, Hungary - it’s a lot of people. Strategically, really good choices of venues, and I think actually that The Festival is starting at the right time now.”
Mauritz Altikardes - welcome aboard!