After being held in large, iconic cities such as Paris, London, and Berlin, the World Series of Poker Europe is moving to the Czech Republic this fall. It’s the fourth country to play host to this semi-annual event.
WSOP Europe currently runs every other year, alternating with the WSOP-Asia Pacific. This year it runs from Oct. 19-Nov. 10, and features 11 bracelet events, including the $12,000 Main Event (won by Kevin MacPhee in 2015) and a $30,000 High Roller Event.
The host venue is the King’s Casino in Rozvadov, home to be the largest poker room in Europe. The owner of this location is Leon Tsoukernik, a prominent figure on the global poker scene in recent years whose rise in popularity has correlated with a growing reputation as a poker villain.
Off Beaten Path
Rozvadov is a small hamlet near the German border, about 85 miles from Nuremberg, with a population of less than 1,000. Some were surprised to see the WSOPE pitching its tent in such a small town, 101 miles east of Prague. But with 160 tables, King’s Casino boasts the largest poker room in Europe.
Tsoukernik bills his casino as “The Las Vegas of Europe,” though comparing it to Foxwoods in Connecticut or the Commerce in California might be more apt.
The owner of this establishment is an avid participant in high-stakes poker games, and reportedly lobbied hard to bring the WSOP-E to the Czech Republic. He said he has invested more than $23 million in his facility, including an expansion of the adjoining hotel to 210 rooms.
“I don’t think you need to be better, you don’t need to be bigger – you just want to be different to everyone else,” Tsoukernik said. “Our build-up to the WSOP-E is different to everyone else before us. There was never this amount of action that there is going to be in King’s.”
Tsoukernik was named 2014 GPI Industry Person of the Year, and since then has been on a major recruiting campaign to bring high rollers and world-class players to his establishment.
The $30,000 No-Limit High Roller Event, won by Jonathan Duhamel in 2015, already has commitments from Fedor Holz, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Dan Cates, Patrik Antonius, Antonio Esfandiari, and Gus Hansen. Daniel Negreanu has stated that he will not be attending this year’s WSOP-E, despite the opportunity it presents for some players to vie for WSOP Player of the Year.
While getting superstars to the game is a big priority, Tsoukernik claims to be trying to attract recreational players as well. To that effect, he announced last week that Russian Tennis legend Yevgeny Kafelnikov will be there and that six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker also plans on attending.
But two high rollers who would cause a huge stir if they were to show up are Matt Kirk and Elton Tsang. These two pros have both accused Tsoukernik of skipping out on debts to them, accrued at the poker tables, in the millions.
Kirk filed a lawsuit in Las Vegas charging that Tsoukernik borrowed $2 million from him during a heads-up session at the Aria in May.
Tsang confirmed a similar experience in August, saying Tsoukernik stiffed him for $2.4 million in a private game. He also alleges that associates of the casino owner attempted to intimidate him about pursuing the matter further.
Tsoukernik has denied culpability in both cases.