Live poker has been on a widespread hiatus since Spring 2020—with a few rare exceptions.
One of the countries to allow in-person festivals throughout the last 12 months has been Russia, which has seen tournaments hosted in Altai and Sochi. PokerStars has been among the brands involved and there are upcoming festivals planned from 888poker and the WPTDeepStacks brand.
On the global 888poker client, online satellites for the 888poker LIVE Sochi festival have emerged. PokerStars has also listed satellites for the EPT Open in October 2021 and the World Poker Tour is intending to return to Sochi in August.
Past live events in the current year showcased mostly local players and participants from neighboring countries amid travel restrictions.
While live poker has been essentially banned by law in Russia, the country has established five designated gambling zones so far in which casinos can offer poker and other casino games to local and international players.
The most popular location and center of live poker in Russia is the Casino Sochi Casino & Resort. It was opened in 2017 in the “Krasnaya Polyana” region, which contains the Sochi gambling zone.
Several international brands such as the World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, partypoker LIVE, 888live, and the Triton High Roller Series have all previously headed to Sochi. The frequency of live tournaments has certainly decreased during the ongoing pandemic but every other month, Sochi and the Altai Palace Casino West Siberian in the Siberian Coin gambling zone have hosted poker festivals.
Successful Festivals for the WPT and EPT in Sochi
In February 2021, the World Poker Tour returned to Casino Sochi for the third time. In the flagship WPT Russia Main event with a price tag of ₽245,000 ($3,330), a field of 251 entries emerged. The 14-event strong festival attracted more than 1,700 entries and paid out nearly $2 million in prize money.
Essentially one month later from March 21 to 28, the European Poker Tour held its sole live stop of the current year so far in Sochi. It was the fourth time since 2018 that an EPT Main Tour stop took place at Casino Sochi and the flagship ₽175,000 Main Event narrowly missed out on setting a new record field in its fourth edition.
In the very first year, EPT Sochi drew a field of 861 entries and the numbers for the following years dropped significantly below that. However, despite the field consisting almost exclusively of local players, the 2021 edition reeled in 852 entries. Upcoming Russian poker star Artur Martirosian added another title to his resume and earned the top prize of ₽24,633,000 (€274,419).
The entire EPT Sochi 2021 festival drew very solid numbers across all events and the next PokerStars-branded live series at the venue is the EPT Open from October 2 to 11. Online satellites for the $1,850 Main Event are listed in the global PokerStars client and include packages worth $2,615.
Current and Upcoming Live Events in Russia
All international live poker events in Russia are organized by the team of Artur Voskanyan and his Moscow-based Poker Club Management (PCM). They are currently running the Eurasian Poker Tour (EAPT) stop in Altai from May 14 to 23. The entire festival includes ₽17.5 million in guarantees and is held in cooperation with partypoker.
The Sochi Poker Festival then returns in June and the following month thereafter features the 888live Sochi festival from July 17 to 26. Players can “find the entire schedule of the series on the PCM website already. Satellites on 888poker for both headline events have now emerged on the global client as well.
The 888live Sochi Main Event comes with a price tag of ₽62,160 ($888) and players can win their packages for a trip to Russia as of right now. Furthermore, the 888poker client has also listed satellites for the ₽31,080 ($444) 888live Sochi Cup, which is slated to take place from July 17 to 21.
During the WPT Main Tour stop in Russia’s prime live poker venue, the brand has also confirmed plans to return to Sochi with its popular mid-stakes WPTDeepStacks series. According to the PCM website, this stop is currently foreseen from August 6 to 14 but no full schedule has been published yet.
Another edition of the Sochi Poker Festival is slated to take place in September as the busy monthly schedule for live poker in Russia continues. These announced festivals are an exception to the current rule as major live events in Europe remain essentially non-existent.
Slow Return for Live Poker All Over the World
Unibet moved its popular Unibet Open live poker stop to the virtual arena for the remainder of the year. PokerStars has also opted to once again postpone the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) for the second year in a row.
Other live poker events have been essentially restricted to local players in specific countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia. As casinos all over the world continue to slowly re-open, the only major exception has been the United States. In Florida, Texas, and Nevada, large live poker events have been taking place with measures in place such as plexiglass dividers and mandatory masks.
These restrictions are disappearing in recent weeks due to dropping case numbers of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in Nevada. One major series to benefit from this development would certainly be the World Series of Poker.
The pinnacle live poker festival of the year has been tentatively moved to Fall. In the meanwhile, the WSOP has strengthened its partnership with GGPoker to fill the usual summer window with domestic and international Online Bracelet Events. GGPoker will also be hosting online satellites for the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas for the first time as well.
Until then, international poker players may have to brush up their Russian language skills if they wish to take part in live poker events. Casino Sochi will provide live tournaments in cooperation with several brands in the months to come.