Breaking Down the Action:
  • Excitement at Returning to Prague
  • From Christmas to New Year 
  • A Pandemic Spent Apart
  • Celebrating a Global Poker Award
  • A Leading Light for Poker Tours

11 Minute Read

Joe Stapleton and James Hartigan.

The return of the European Poker Tour this week is a huge boost to a poker landscape that has missed the live EPT festivals put on by the market leader in global terms, PokerStars.

On the eve of the kick-off of the EPT Prague Main Event, we spoke to Joe Stapleton and James Hartigan, the two men responsible for bringing the European Poker Tour to vibrant life over the past decade.

Excitement at Returning to Prague

“It’s great to see the European Poker Tour back in 2022.”

Live poker’s retreat in 2020 denied poker fans many live poker experiences, but the cutting back of EPT events was a big one. Almost two years on from that initial lockdown, it’s clear that Stapleton and Hartigan are excited to be back behind the mics and in the stunning European city in person.

“I love Prague for many reasons,” says Stapleton. “At the moment, I’m most excited to be commenting over live poker again being played be real human beings with real emotions* *some of them.”

James Hartigan agrees and admits that the unexpected nature of the global pandemic was a shock. “When we left Prague in December 2019, I couldn’t have imagined that the next EPT we’d be travelling to would also be in Prague, more than two years later. It’s great to see the European Poker Tour back in 2022. Step by step, event by event, we can – cautiously – start to celebrate the return of big, international live poker tournaments.”

EPT Prague has always been a legendary stop on the tour schedule. Back in 2007, Arnaud Mattern won the Main Event. Joe Stapleton’s life was quite different 15 years ago.

“In December 2007 I was opening presents around the Christmas tree with my parents,” he says. “I had asked Santy Claus for a Sharper Image automatic shuffler to use in my home game I used to play for nickels and pennies. I was 26.”

Even our rudimentary arithmetic hints at a bluff on that timeline! Hartigan says that in that year EPT Prague wasn’t as big a presence in his life as it is now.

“I was working on both the EPT TV shows and live streams at that time, but we didn’t cover every single stop on the tour,” he explains. “My first trip to Prague was in December 2008, when Salvatore Bonavena became the first Italian EPT champion. That was a very noisy winning moment.”

From Christmas to New Year 

“It may not technically be Christmas, but for many people, it will feel like it anyway.”

James Hartigan

James Hartigan in relaxed mode ahead of the start of EPT Prague

Bonavena is not the only player to get carried away in Prague. The capital of the Czech Republic is a special place for players. Usually, the Prague stop would take place just before Christmas with the markets open for players to visit on their off days. This year, the action kicks off the year in live poker terms. Despite this, ‘Stapes’ believes it may still have that ‘end of the school year’ feel about it for anyone attending.

“You nailed it with why it’s so special for a lot of players. I also think it’s one of the few cities we visit that still feels like old Europe,” he says. “When I say that I mean it’s one of the only major cities we visit that doesn’t have New York City and Los Angeles prices attached to all the things around it.”

As Stapes explains, online poker players on PokerStars could have made their way to the Czech capital for a lot less than the Main Event buy-in.

If you win your way in via satellite, you can still afford a fun night out and a nice meal without having to lie to your backers about having played extra events. And it may not technically be Christmas this time, but for many people’s first live event in over two years, it will feel like it anyway.”

Hartigan’s excitement at the change of timing for EPT Prague is twofold.

“I’m genuinely excited to see Prague at a different time of year,” he says. “I hear it’s still pretty cold in early March. But that won’t stop Joe from failing to bring a coat.”

A Pandemic Spent Apart

Both Hartigan and Stapes have commentated on some great online moments during the live poker hiatus, but it is clear that live poker is always going to be better for fans. But is that true for them?

“I think we’ve spent plenty of quantity time together over the past two years. You read that correctly.” Says Stapleton.

“I have missed being in the same room as James in as much as the timing is still slightly difficult to manage when you’re doing something remotely. So, the quality suffers slightly with comedic timing and the ability to go back and forth (or sing a jingle), but honestly, we’ve spent so much quantity time together that I don’t think we’ve really had a chance to miss each other, per se. I’d say our bond is so strong that if we were to go a week or two without speaking during a vacation or a holiday, neither one of us really gets all that broken up about it. Haha!”

“Yeah, we work together a lot, and we talk a lot outside of work,” Hartigan admits. “But I have missed Joe’s physical presence. Plus, I miss my Mishima Blu-ray that he’s had for that last two-and-a-half years. Although I fear – like Joe’s coat – that will get left behind in L.A.”

Celebrating a Global Poker Award

“I sometimes have a mini crisis of confidence. Then I remember that it’s showbiz.”

Both men recently celebrated a major achievement as they won the Global Poker Award for Podcast of the Year, with Poker in the Ears triumphing after a hotly contested battle for the title. The two presenters are both immensely proud of the show and keen to stress that many others were a part of that victory.

“I stand by my assertion that the concept of poker awards is absurd and a bit silly,” says Hartigan “But I’ll take it. Obviously, it’s nice to be recognised for a show that we’re both really proud of. So proud, in fact, that we have no problem putting it on the back burner for a couple of weeks so we can leave our homes for the first time in forever and actually stream some live poker!”

Joe Stapleton

Funnyman Joe Stapleton can’t wait to get back behind the mic in Prague

“I’m incredibly proud of a piece of content we do winning an award rather than someone individually winning something,” says Stapleton. “Even though I think we’re both deserving of those sort of awards – James especially – it’s so much more reflective on how things actually work when the show wins. Honestly, I’m only capable of thinking of the show about a week or two ahead of time. James and Francine Watson, the Associate Director of Branded Content for PokerStars) really do all the long term thinking for where the show is headed.”

Many fans love the EPT shows and how both Hartigan and Stapes bring the characters of each player to life, whether they are a household name or a new face on the scene. The pair both worry a lot more than congratulate themselves on the fame this has brought players over the years.

“I do sometimes have a mini crisis of confidence,” says Hartigan. “I worry about offending people – not treating their poker prowess with respect – or being seen to trivialise the game. Then, I remember that it’s showbiz. And we’re just trying to make a multi-day multi-table tournament, where not much happens for an extended period of time, entertaining and fun.

The key is the ability to switch gears, and get serious when the action gets serious, and celebrate awesomeness when something really special happens.”

Over the years, the European Poker Tour has celebrated some really special moments, so we asked both men for their favorite memories from the hugely popular poker tour.

“I know this answer is a bit of a copout, but I’m a bit of a hamster when it comes to this,” says Stapleton. “There are only a few moments – Malecz, Coren-Mitchell, Scarf Guy – I can conjure when asked, but show me any given episode of TV we’ve done and I’ll say, “this is one of my favorite moments” four or five times in the hour.”

For James Hartigan, the choice is ‘easy’.

“The chimpanzee throwing sh*t at Joe Stapleton. EPT Barcelona Main Event. 2014.”

This writer was in Barcelona for my first EPT that year but was struck not by a flying lump of monkey excrement – sorry, Joe – but by how slick the overall operation was, including the ‘roaming’ video content that captures the outer field action and keeps the narrative of the Main Event so strong.

“Were you there for the chimpanzee incident?” jokes Hartigan. “Obviously, I’m speaking from a position of huge bias, but our production team is the best in the business. They create the greatest poker content in the world. Joe and I then make it mediocre by adding our faces and voices.”

A Leading Light for Poker Tours

“PokerStars has always been the industry leader.”

Joe Stapleton also credits PokerStars as leading the way in poker when it comes to content, especially at the live shows.

“I’d like to think PokerStars has always been the industry leader in almost whatever it is we’re doing,” he says. “Then, as the competition starts to catch up, we have to figure out new things to keep us one step ahead, delivering something from our coverage that no one else has. Adding in more and more elements to make it like a live sporting event are a big part of that. Just that little extra cherry that keeps us just ahead of the rest. It’s actually something I usually take for granted, so thanks for reminding me.”

One moment that is difficult for ‘Stapes’ is presenting the Main Event trophy at the end of the show. It always feels like a huge moment for poker fans but for the winning player, but the logistics of lining it up as part of a seamless production are mind-boggling. I asked Stapleton if this was one of the most challenging parts of the week.

“For me, yes. As you can tell, I like to always make things unique and entertaining in their own right, and it’s really difficult to do that in these moments without making the moment about me, which – we all agree – it is not. The only way to do this is to try to get some emotion out of the player, and it’s generally been a pretty long ****ing week for them too. Between that and the fact that they’re generally trying to late-reg for the last 5k turbo. In any piece of entertainment, endings are hard.”

James Hartigan takes a slightly more enjoyable back seat during this moment and clearly revels in it.

“This bit of the show is all Joe. And it stresses him out every single time.”

EPT Prague 2021

The EPT Prague Main Event that should have taken place in 2021 kicks off this week.

This year, EPT 2022 is looking like expanding to pre-pandemic levels, with the UKIPT returning and many other national events aligning as part of each EPT Stop. The two are tentatively encouraged when it comes to the EPT growing back to its previous powers and looking forward to visiting more European cities.

“I’m really looking forward to going back to Monte Carlo in May and hoping that some other familiar destinations will reappear on the tour after the summer months.” Says Hartigan.

“I’m sure I will live to regret this, but, yes,” agrees Stapleton. “Even before the pandemic, I was starting to miss the variety of places we had been visiting on the EPT during the peak. Now that we’ve been locked down, I do see some greener grass over there, and I think I’d be down for an eight-stop EPT season. Especially if I can convince my girlfriend for ONE hall pass. Pretty please!!”

EPT Prague’s Main Event returns to action this week, and Joe Stapleton and James Hartigan are once again front and center to bring you all the action as it happens. With more stops on the horizon and fans and players excited about the return of the EPT, the future looks a very entertaining one. The team behind poker’s historically great event series is hopeful of building an exciting future to match its legendary legacy.

Poker’s biggest touring show is about to get back on the road.

Dave Consolazio

Dave Consolazio has been passionate about writing and sports journalism since his high school years. He has a degree in Broadcast Journalism from USC where he worked with the school's radio and television stations. His work has been featured in SportsbookReview, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation. Dave's experience ranges across multiple fields in the gambling industry. You can find his sports, casino, and poker articles in

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