Last month it was the galloping poker economy, rather than a disaster in the making, that sent me scurrying off on a trip overseas. The itinerary was London, Barcelona and Vienna.
I was trying to keep up with Thomas Kremser, the immensely popular European tournament director who has established TK Poker Event Consulting, GmbH to serve the international poker community.
I had barely completed my visits when Thomas was hopping on another plane for Cardiff to oversee the televised Late Night Poker Series. Next he would be in Birmingham and then on to Stockholm where he had just scored a coveted speaking engagement at the inaugural World Poker Congress.
No trip to London is complete without a visit to the bustling Grosvenor Victoria Casino, where no limit hold’em has taken off like wildfire. The Brits used to be far keener on Omaha Pot Limit Hold’em, but these days everyone who is anyone seems to be sauntering over to the No Limit tables where big bankrolls reign in many of the small blinds games.
As luck would have it, I promptly bumped into European Poker Tour CEO, John Duthie. Duthie is a serious force on the European poker scene. In 2000, Duthie made international headlines as the winner of the Poker Million, on the Isle of Man. An experienced television producer, Duthie watched the fledgling World Poker Tour unfold in 2002. There and then he believed the time was ripe to create a European Poker Tour. The hotter the WPT became, the more excited Duthie was about making one of his own across the pond. In 2003, with the support of PokerStars, and tournament director extraordinaire Thomas Kremser as his chief consultant on tournament organization and rules, Duthie’s EPT opened with a bang. Earlier this year, Thomas and John had begun discussions about a third season of collaboration. But by the time I arrived in Europe, the poker scene was so hot that there were conflicting events all across the continent and it was beginning to look like Thomas would not be able to keep up with the growing market, or even figure out who might be the best clients. He says “I had to begin to think in new ways about my tournament consulting activities if I wanted to stay on top of my game.”
In addition to the call from the prestigious EPT, Thomas was mulling queries from both established and upstart companies every day. And then there was Betfair, a most serious gaming force in the UK, that had decided to gamble it up in South Asia.
Betfair was in the process of obtaining a license in Singapore to do a special tournament event (primarily to express gratitude to its online players). Betfair was scouring the continent and reaching across the ocean in search of the right tournament consultant for their project. And at the same moment, POKER4EVER, Ltd., another European poker site, headquartered in Malta, was also in hot pursuit of a poker consultant with impeccable credentials.
Thomas seemed to be on everyone’s radar screen, but overwhelmed and unsure of how he wanted to proceed in this incredibly bustling poker scene. He put aside all of the proposals that were floating through his fingertips, determined to focus on the business at hand in Barcelona. He was on duty there as the overseer of the jam-packed tournament in progress at Casino de Barcelona.
Besides you can only wine and dine so many suitors at once!
Why is the tall, handsome Versace-suited Kremser such a magnet for all manner of poker businessmen? In talking with Thomas over many days, it became clear that his knowledge of the tournament business, his reputation for fairness at the tables, and his proven expertise in dealing with customer needs might be unparalleled anywhere in the world. (Yes I am an unabashed Kremser fan and have been, since I first met him while covering the European poker landscape for another story.) At that time, Thomas was managing the Concord Cardroom Casino in Vienna, but he would soon have a taste for a more entrepreneurial career.
Thomas founded the IPF with top European player Marcel Luske and media maven Nic Szeremeta, the CEO of Poker Europa. Together they organized tournaments in St Maarten. Thomas ran the show at the tables, recruiting and training the dealers, supervising floor staff, making the rules and watching the transactions. Thomas’s stock continued to grow as a tournament director, nabbing plumb assignments with Late Night Poker and an expanding number of impressive tournaments.
One thing led to another- and then came Duthie’s invitation to be part of the EPT, which surely enlarged Thomas’ “sandbox.”
So while in London, last month I chatted up Duthie during the poker game at the Vic, knowing there would be earnest negotiations coming up for the EPT3. “See you in Barcelona,” I said, leaving him with food for thought.
It was time to hook up with Ben Fried, head of Betfair Poker. A savvy executive, he told me there were plenty of tournament directors eager to go to Singapore and more than one that could probably to do the job. But within a few minutes of discussion, he admitted that he fancied Thomas over the rest. Less than four weeks later Thomas had signed a deal that could pave the way for big time poker tournaments in South Asia- where none have been held before.
The rendezvous with Ben Fried behind me, I packed my bags and hit the road, touching down in Barcelona for a three day visit with Thomas. The entrance to the portside casino in Barcelona is manned by police and security that check everyone’s identification. The registration process gave me time to familiarize myself with the surroundings and meet a few of the locals that know their way around a tournament table.
They proved that in the main event. The locals took home the lion’s share of the prize money, leaving the pros as well as other unsung hotshots behind. Downstairs in the poker tournament room, music summons players back to their tournament seats.
I could see the towering Thomas conferring with his staff in the center of the room. His wife, Marina, a savvy tournament executive in her own right, was dashing toward a film crew to assist as a commentator. Marina is an integral part of Thomas’ team on the poker trail. With the players snugly ensconced in their seats, again, Thomas welcomed me to Barcelona, suggesting dinner in the casino’s fancier restaurant rather than at the buffet that most players favor for fast grub during the tournaments.
Thomas talks excitedly about the biggest poker challenge that has ever come his way. The principles of POKER4EVER are now courting him seriously.
He tells me that it looks like he has a chance to use his expertise, and to work closely with the management of the online poker room, which would allow him to learn a new part of the poker business. P4E honchos tell him they have nothing short of excellence in their plans. It is music to Thomas’ ears.
As is Thomas’ wont, he undersells his formidable skills, warning the suits behind POKER4EVER that he knows what he knows, and that they need to know what he doesn’t yet know. The principles are undeterred.
The senior business executive later tells me that what he likes so much about Thomas is his total candor. “Let’s make a contract, says the senior suit.”
Thomas and I leave Barcelona, headed for Vienna to talk about his creating a new business venture. The time has come for Thomas to open his very own TK Poker Event Consulting, GmbH. “I want it to be special, Thomas tells me. It must serve an international marketplace, with a qualified team of professionals to man each station. And it must set the best example for player integrity at the felt.” With contracts all but completed with three “big players” and inquiries from others continuing to roll in, Thomas took the leap, opening TK Poker Event Consulting, GmbH, July 1, 2006. In a matter of days, he assembled a small contingent of highly experienced tournament managers and supervisors that are ready to roll at scheduled tournaments in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean this fall-winter season.
As part of his commitment to the integrity of tournament poker, Thomas promises clients that TK tournament directors do not participate in any manner or form so as to benefit from the results of any player’s performance in the competition. And this is a promise that is offered as part of the contract.
A day before the TK logo became official (July 1, 2006), Thomas mounted the stage of the World Poker Congress to discuss the ABC’s of tournament poker (with the likes of keynote speakers Steve Lipscomb and Jeffrey Pollack in the building). At the conclusion of the meeting, he returned to Vienna to begin signing contracts on behalf of TK and put the finishing touches on TK’s “Recommended Rules for Tournament Competition.”
TK will offer its “Recommended Rules” to all clients and plans to make them available in printed form at all venues for players, throughout the tournament. Thomas says he is grateful for the work that others have done to elevate the professionalism and sportsmanship of the game. TK Rules, he says, reflect the considerable efforts by multiple casinos, poker associations, colleagues and players.
TK tournament rules are organized and presented in clear simple English! In an ever increasingly sophisticated poker world, Thomas Kremser is a trailblazer. This week, Thomas is coming to town, visiting Las Vegas for a close up of the World Series of Poker in this new hotsy totsy American poker world.