Barcelona: A guide to one of Europe's hippest and hottest poker destinations

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Ever since Sweden's Alexander Stevic won the first ever stop on the inaugural season of the European Poker Tour (EPT) for €80,000 back in 2004, Barcelona's appeal as a poker destination has soared. This stunning city on Spain's east coast has consistently been a magnet for players, which is why it commanded a slot in the calendar during all 13 seasons of the EPT and developed such a rich history of PokerStars-sponsored events. When Sebastian Malec scooped the very last EPT Barcelona Main Event for €1.1m in 2016, it was the largest field in EPT history with 1,785 entries creating an eye-popping prize pool of over €8.6m. And PokerStars has high hopes for similar a turnout when the PokerStars Championship Barcelona makes its debut at Casino Barcelona between August 15 and 27.

Tournaments to put in your diary include the €10,300 No Limit Hold'em event and the €1,100 PokerStars National Championship with a €4 million guaranteed prize pool, which both start on August 16. Other events to note include the €50,000 Super High Roller on August 19 with a guaranteed prize pool of €2m, the €10,300 PLO High Roller starting on August 23 and the PokerStars Championship High Roller on August 25. For those with more modest bankrolls, the PokerStars Open from August 25-27 boasts a buy in of just €220 but comes with a guaranteed prize pool of €100,000. Meanwhile, the key attraction - the €5,300 Main Event with a €7m guarantee - runs from August 21-27.

Malec.jpgSebastian Malec was the memorable champion in the 2016 EPT Main Event held in Barcelona

Action on and off the felt

As well as massive fields and dizzying prize pools, this vibrant and cosmopolitan city, which is the capital of Spain's Catalonia region, also boasts warm weather, a long sandy beach and more bars and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. It all makes for a winning combination. For globetrotting Team PokerStars Pro Fatima Moreira de Melo, Barcelona is hands down her favourite destination on the international poker circuit. "This is the best stop," she states emphatically. "It offers everything. You've got the weather, the beach, clubs, shops, good food and everything is very near to each other with the casino being behind the clubs, restaurants and the beach. And the poker is great because of the huge fields."

In fact, Barcelona brings back fond memories for the former Dutch field hockey player, particularly her deep run in the Main Event at EPT Barcelona in Season 9.

This came hard on the heels of winning the Dutch version of castaway TV show Survivor. "I loved my deep run in 2012 [Fatima cashed for €34,650]. After Survivor I felt really strong mentally and even though finishing in 16th place was disappointing, I felt like I played my best poker then and there. It was such a difference from the time I played in 2009, which was my very first EPT. I felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event and all the great players I got to see for the first time. Within the first level I had lost 30% of my chips to [EPT Dortmund Season 5 Main Event champion] Sandra Naujoks."

Of course, you're also going to want to get out and about during your visit. And when not grinding at the tables, there's much to explore in a city that is home to 1.6 million people. Here are a few of our favourite things to do and see:

Festa Major de Gràcia

While PokerStars Championship Barcelona is in full swing, the not-to-be-missed Festa Major de Gràcia takes place from August 15-21. For the uninitiated, this is the city's largest street festival and sees the Gràcia district undergo a huge transformation as it's festooned with colourful decorations. The event also features outdoor concerts, parades, pop-up bars and heaps of stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs. Every year more than 1.5 million visitors and party-goers sample the delights of this enthralling, 200-year-old festival.

The Camp Nou

One thing Barcelona is synonymous with is its famous football club, FC Barcelona. Barça kick off their campaign in La Liga - the top flight of Spanish football - on Sunday August 20 at home to Real Betis, so if you can get your hands on a ticket you're sure to be in for a footballing treat. Alternatively, there are daily tours of the club's jaw-dropping home, the Camp Nou. With a capacity of over 99,000, it is Europe's largest stadium.

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If you love soccer then you can't afford to miss a tour of Barcelona FC's incredible stadium, the Camp Nou

La Sagrada Família

No trip to Barcelona would be complete without visiting probably the city's most iconic landmark, La Sagrada Família, otherwise known as 'the unfinished church'. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and featuring imposing spires and ornate facades, construction began in 1882 - yet it's still not complete after 135 years of toil. It is, however, in the final phase with building work expected to finally come to an end in 2026.

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The view from inside Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia

The beach

One reason Barcelona is such a hit with poker players is that the golden, sandy beach is just a dice roll from the Casino Barcelona. Indeed, the beach is one of the city's star attractions and, best of all, it's completely free to enjoy. The locals flock here to flaunt their bronzed bodies, making it the place to be seen and a great spot for a bit of people watching. There is also an abundance of al fresco dining options in close proximity.

Talking of which, you're going to need to refuel or perhaps celebrate a win at the tables. You'll find yourself spoilt for choice in Barcelona, but here is a rundown of our best recommendations:

Tast-Ller

Catering to no more than a few dozen people on an evening, this cozy restaurant is a fine-dining gem in the city's gothic district. The exquisite dishes resemble works of art.

Uma

Believe the hype - this two Michelin-starred establishment really lives up to its billing. The 13-course taster menu includes petit but superb dishes that take you on a three-hour culinary journey.

Can Solé

Specialising in seafood and paella, Can Solé's signature dishes are known as 'grandmother's spoon food', which are various hotpots. Our personal favourite is the chorizo and chickpeas option.

Agua

Situated just a short walk from Casino Barcelona, this waterfront restaurant serves delicious seafood and tapas dishes. Be sure to try the very tasty calamari.

Tapas bars

Tapas bars are littered throughout Barcelona, making it almost impossible to single out one particular eatery. If you twisted our arm, though, we'd have to opt for Ziryab Fusion Tapas Bar. However, many drinking holes provide complimentary tapas with every round of drinks. Result! Indeed, washing down tasty Spanish finger food with a cold beer on a warm evening is our idea of heaven.

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Gaudi created more than just La Sagrada Familia. Before you get some tapas work up an appetite by exploring his beautiful Park Guell

Meanwhile, Fatima, who probably won't be straying too far from the poker action during her stay, adds: "I'd suggest having a fresh juice at one of the summer stalls on the beach, or going for dinner at the W Hotel, which is just a 15-minute walk away along the beach. Or you could play some tennis or go for paddle. But don't go skinny dipping and leave your clothes on the beach as they'll be gone by the time you get out the water!"

Essential travel advice for PokerStars Championship Barcelona

Average temperature in August: 24C

Country code: +34

Currency: Euro

Getting there: El Prat Airport, known simply as Barcelona Airport, is located 12km southwest of the city. A taxi to the centre will set you back around €15 to €20. Alternatively, trains to the centre run every 30 minutes for €4.10.

The casino: Casual attire is allowed in Casino Barcelona, although that doesn't include sportswear or shorts. You'll also require a passport or government-issued ID to play.


Julian Rogers
@PokerStars in Live Poker