San Remo is a peaceful place, the 'city of flowers' on the Italian Riviera that comes to life in the summer sunshine then spends the fall and winter waiting for that sun to come back.
But once a year it gets an early shot of adrenaline in the form of a thousand poker players who fill the streets in the morning, the casinos through to the evening, and demand 24 hour service at night. They may not always get it, but what they do get is one of the best poker tournaments in the world. And those watching get one of the most exciting.
Since the San Remo leg was first added to the EPT calendar it has always provided a little extra, be it a three hour final table or a shock Dutch winner. This year has been no different, just ask the new champion Liv Boeree.
EPT San Remo winner Liv Boeree
Four years ago Boeree won her first poker tournament, a £5 re-buy event, in the Gutshot poker club in London. Four years later she paid €5,000 to play in San Remo on the Italian Riviera. Well, tonight she won that as well, winning €1,250,000, the EPT San Remo title and a seat to the Monte Carlo Grand Final next week.
"I can't even speak," said Boeree as she was grabbed by EPT presenter Michelle Orpe seconds after winning.
Liv Boeree embraces EPT presenter Michelle Orpe moments after winning
"I don't want to cry because that's not professional but I can't believe that I've won this. This is incredible. Everyone today played so good. Jakob was the one person I didn't want to get heads-up against, he's such a good player. But I ran well and I played good."
Boeree had stunned everyone when she eliminated Toni Pettersson in third place to take a massive lead into the heads up, not least eventual runner-up Jakob Carlsson who had led until then.
At one point Carlsson was able to wrestle control of the heads up battle from Boeree but the 25-year-old heavy metal fan from London was in touching distance of a long held dream and was not prepared to give it up without the hardest of fights. She prevailed, salvaged the lead once more to finally get her way.
In the final hand the money went in pre-flop, raising, then calling a Carlsson shove. To win she needed her pocket fives to survive a race against Carlsson's ace-six. The board brought blanks and missed any Carlsson get outs. Few champions have looked more tense beforehand, sick during and ecstatic after a winning hand.
"It's exactly what I've been working towards when I started playing poker four years ago; to win a major tournament," said Boeree. "I just didn't think it'd come so quickly."
Despite being done and dusted long before the sun had completely set beyond eastern horizon this final did not have the quick start most had anticipated. Instead it took an hour for the first elimination. Atanas Gueorguiev left first when he moved in with J♥6♥ with two callers, eventually sent to the rail for €90,000 by Alexey Rybin's K♣J♣ with a king on the board.
An hour later we saw the first competitive turn card of the final. It would be the first and last for seventh placed Claudio Piceci, whose 5♣6♣ was bettered by Carlsson's ace-deuce on an ace-high board when Piceci bluff-shoved on the river. Piceci took away €150,000.
Diep, the other Italian, watched all this with an Italian flag covering his face as his stack got smaller and smaller. He pushed with 8♣9♣ after a hand against Rybin had left him crippled. Michael Piper had pocket tens making Diep's shove one to dash hopes of an Italian winner. Diep settled for sixth place and a cheque for €210,000.
Alexey Rybin had been among the leaders throughout the week, and despite the handicap of a short stack played with a fearlessness common in men of shocking wealth and no financial concerns. Winking his way through the final he was taking back chips before he ran into Carlsson.
Piper had raised, which Rybin three-bet from the cut off. Carlsson four-bet from the button which dispatched Piper, but on a flop of 2♦T♥8♦ Rybin shoved with ace-ten behind Carlsson's bet and was called by pocket jacks. It was over right there, fifth place for Rybin and €270,000.
Piper had his fair share of Carlsson clashes and the last of them would send him to the rail. Piper, who with aviator glasses and horseshoe moustache looked more like a fictional New York detective from the 1970s than a graduate of astrophysics, shoved with Q♥T♥ behind a Carlsson bet and a Pettersson call. Carlsson insta-called with A♣K♥ and a king on the flop stripped Piper of his chips, badge and weapon. Remember the moustache for sure, but remember the name also, for it's one likely to appear again soon.
With three left the final entered a new phase. Initially it looked an easy task for Carlsson. But while this may have all taken place in a theatre used to dramatics, poker doesn't always follow the script.
Pettersson had survived some close shaves, doubling up twice already and at one point being rubbed for luck by the other players. As they began three-handed play Carlsson began losing pots, evening up both Pettersson and Boeree who combined could not out chip the leader. Then the hand that would send Pettersson crashing out.
Pettersson made it 600,000 from the button and Boeree three-bet from the big blind. When the Finn called for a flop of 4♠K♦3♠ Boeree made it another million and a half, but Pettersson seemed unconvinced, raising to 3.2 million making for an 8 million pot.
Boeree bided her time, waiting, staring at her opposition as she had done all week, then she suddenly announced she was all-in. The 18-year-old Pettersson snap called then snap-cursed as Boeree tabled pocket threes. His own king-queen was soon drawing dead. He was out in third for €420,000.
It changed everything, giving Boeree the lead, 23.2 million to Carlsson's 14.5 million. Carlsson, who once towered over his competition, dominating the landscape and thwarting any well intentioned rebellion, was now left looking up at a new foe, a well spoken Boadicea from the Home Counties, casting an ominous shadow over the Swede ready to become a champion.
Boeree couldn't believe it
The final table results:
1 - Liv Boeree, UK, €1,250,000
2 - Jakob Carlsson, Sweden, PokerStars player, €750,000
3 - Toni Pettersson, Finland, PokerStars qualifier, €420,000
4 - Michael Piper, UK, PokerStars qualifier, €345,000
5 - Alexey Rybin, Russia, €270,000
6 - Giuseppe Diep, Italy, €210,000
7 - Claudio Piceci, Italy, €150,000
8 - Atanas Gueorguiev, Bulgaria, €90,000
It may be all over in San Remo but don't be sad as while we drift off for pasta, aperitifs and the fish course, busy people a few miles from here are at work preparing Monte Carlo for the arrival of hundreds of the best poker players in the world each armed with a hotel reservation, ten grand and the dream of winning European poker's richest prize.