Toernooidirecteur Christian Scalzi: “We want to sportify poker”

Spelers die hebben meegespeeld in een WPT in Nederland (of ergens in Europa) hebben hem ongetwijfeld al in actie gezien: toernooidirecteur Christian Scalzi (43). Hij runt toernooien met strakke hand, spreekt vijf talen en reist van WPT naar WPT. De WPT National Valkenburg is zijn derde bezoek aan Nederland als toernooidirecteur, na vorig jaar Valkenburg en eerder dit jaar de grote WPT in Amsterdam. PokerCity sprak met de Italiaan uit San Remo over de TDA, de WPT, het vele reizen en natuurlijk de WPT National in Valkenburg. Aangezien het Italiaans van uw verslaggever niet echt werkbaar is en ondanks jaren Franse les ook die taal verre van vloeiend is, ging het gesprek in het Engels.

Christian, this is your second time in Valkenburg for the WPT National. How do you like it here?
“The location is very good! I have to be honest; last year when my company told me we signed with Holland Casino and the first time will be in Valkenburg, I had to look it up on google to know where it was. The casino is really nice, the pokerroom is nice, the hotel where I stay is very nice and the apartments nearby are very convenient. Everybody is relaxed and just wants to enjoy a nice poker experience. And that is what we need for the players and what we’re looking for. There are a lot of amateur players here. Holland was one of the first country’s top pick up on poker when it started to come to Europe and I know that they really like poker here.”

What’s it like working with Dutch players and casino employees, compared to some of the other countries you’ve worked?
“It’s really different to work with 300 Italians, 300 Norwegians or 300 Dutch people. It’s easy for me to work with Nordic players because they are more relaxed. In Italy and Spain during the bubble, sometimes everybody is standing and you have fifty people behind one table. That is very difficult with a microphone to manage.
It helps that I can speak multiple languages, so it’s easier to communicate. I think a tournament director of referee, which we are, should try to be nice and understanding. This has helped me in the past and I hope it will help me in the future as well. I try to pick up on the Dutch language, but it is not easy. I can understand German, but Dutch is a bit harder. I am very lucky, because all the Dutch people talk English well which is great.”

In Holland, we like to agree on something before we decide to do it and we call it the ‘poldermodel’. I’ve see you in action and you’re more of a director in the classic way if I may say so. You’re the boss.
“Here I am alone and work with the local staff, sometimes I have my team with me. For me the most important thing is find out who are the people that can really help me from the local staff. I am responsible so I have the last word, but I try to work with the team. The first time is always more difficult, the second time you know each other so it all goes easier then. The staff in Valkenburg is quite good and they like poker a lot. If you like poker it’s’always easier, because then we are on the same page.”

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Christian Scalzi samen met WPT National Valkenburg 2015 High Roller winnaar Niels van Leeuwen


You travel around Europe and some countries outside Europe as well to direct WPT tournaments. How many tournaments did you attend last year?
“A lot! I didn’t count. My wife knows, because it’s on the calendar. She and my daughter are happy for my career, but they would like to have me at home a little bit more. For that reason I do not do all of the WPT Europe. After Valkenburg I’ll go to Bruxelles, then I’m at home for two weeks and then it’s off to the UK for a big festival in Nottingham, which is our next big challenge.”

Yeah I heard about it. The WPT500 in the Dusk till Dawn pokerroom in Nottingham. Can you tell me a bit about that event?
“Basically, it’s a big one. It’s a WPT500 in Europe, like we did in the Aria in Las Vegas. There will be a one million pound guaranteed Main Event with a buy-in of 550 pound. It’s never easy to manage a big, big field but Dusk Till Dawn has a very good organization all together. Still, it will be a challenge. The entire festival has a guaranteed prizepool of 2,5 million pounds. One million for the 2.200 pound Main Event, one million for the WPT500 and 500.000 for the High Roller and other side events. I hope that a lot of Dutch players will come, i am in touch with a few of them. I expect to see of lot Dutch players in Bruxelles next week as well, which is great.”

I remember last year at the WPT National Valkenburg, you had a flight early Monday morning to Londen to be at the Alpha8 Super High Roller. That must be something else, directing a Super High Roller coming from a 500 euro buy-in event!
“Of course, when you are responsible for the highroller – basically it’s the same job , but in truth, it’s not. Everything should be really accurate and the players are used to having a really, really good service. They are High Roller players so they should feel like they are playing a big event. These events are great for pokerfans as well, who like to see the superstars of poker play. I think poker is the only sport – we want to sportify poker – were anybody can beat the world champion. It’s difficult to imagine an amateur player to beat for example Roger Federer in tennis. This is an important aspect of the popularity of poker. Anybody can be a hero.”

Is that something you take into account as a tournament director when making a ruling, whether it’s an amateur or a pro making a mistake or breaking a rule?
“The amateur players are really important for the game of poker. We talked about that at the TDA summit in Las Vegas this summer. Amateurs are normal people, who play like, for, five tournaments a year. They have a job, but they like an love to play poker. It is for that reason that we decided at the TDA meeting not to be too strict with them. The pokerworld has a lot of procedures and a lot of terms, not all amateurs know all the rules. For example if an amateur checks the nuts behind, because he didn’t see the flush he should get a one round penalty. But it is the discretion of the tournament director to understand who you have in front of you. We don’t want to chase the amateur away by being very strict with them, while they just made an honest mistake and mean no harm by it.
WPT Nationals are great for both amateurs and pro’s alike. The amateur can win a huge prize for an reasonable buy-in and the pro’s can get value out of a field with more amateurs. In Valkenburg there is one WPT a year, so the amateur player is perhaps already planning to play this tournament for a long time, thinking I will take my week off work then and play the WPT. We need to attract this kind of player, not punish them.”

I couldn’t agree more with you on this subject. Mentioning the TDA meeting – which rules are used in the Holland Casino as well – what other subjects did you talk about that we need to know of?
“We talk about a lot of things, always keeping in mind what is best for the game of poker. For example we talked about the ‘first card off the deck’ rule, about when players have to be at their seat when a hand is dealt. We returned to the ‘last card off the deck’ rule, because it is better for the players. Daniel Negreanu came to the summit to talk about this rule and how the last card off the deck rule is better for the players. In the end, the players spend the money so I can understand that most of them like the last card off the deck rule better.”

Thank you for your time and good look with the big one in Nottingham. We hope to see you in Amsterdam and Valkenburg again next year!

Pieter Salet a.k.a. 'PrinsFlip' uit Nijmegen is sinds 2009 aan PokerCity verbonden. Sinds 2017 is hij eigenaar, samen met Lars 'LarsVegas' Smeets.