Joe Stapleton: Then and Now on the EPT (Part One)

Joe Stapleton: Then and Now on the EPT (Part One)

Just like Joe Stapleton has had a great time co-presenting the European Poker Tour, the EPT audience has had a great time because of ‘Stapes’ presenting. Back in 2013, Stapleton and his EPT co-presenter and friend James Hartigan were on the mic for one of the most incredible ends to any poker tournament in history. The hand involved Andrew Pantling and a certain Mr. Steve O’Dwyer (43:08 in the video above).

“Steve O’Dwyer is a lovely guy. He’s also very, very good at poker,” says Stapleton from his home in Hollywood, Los Angeles. “There was one hand in the tournament where Steve made a call with ace-high on the river. But any time you can have a royalty hand like quads, it’s even better.”

This hand is a classic, not just because it ends a tournament, but how the rug is pulled out from Pantling’s feet. O’Dwyer is ahead, behind, then, amazingly, ahead once again as his hand picks up the most spectacular of the ten outs he could hit for victory – the only {8-} remaining in the pack, to give him quads… and the win.

Moments after winning, it was Stapleton who had the job of asking the exhausted poker legend to put it into words. It’s not a smooth few minutes during the festival.

"It’s really hard to act like they’ve won $5 million when really they’ve probably won $800,000."

“It was probably tied for my least favorite part of the job. It sucks because we’ve been working a long event, we should be thrilled, but [instead], I’ve got this last fucking hurdle every single time.”

Stapleton would frequently be holding the microphone in front of that final, winning player. They’ve given it their all, triumphed and suddenly they’re being asked to analyze what has just happened.

“A lot of them do it to be decent human beings. Steve O’Dwyer or Justin Bonomo just want to go play the next tournament. They’re not bad guys; they’d rather just say ‘Cool, thanks, where’s the money? I’m going to jump in this 50k event.’”

It’s not just the lack of desire to speak on the player’s part. Often, Stapleton would be asking them to think about and talk about the amount they’d won and what they’re going to do with it.

Joe Stapleton interviews Andre Lettau about his EPT win
Joe Stapleton interviews Andre Lettau about his EPT win (Barcelona, 2014)

“We know that people aren’t playing for the full figure themselves a lot of the time. It’s really hard to act like they’ve won $5 million when really they’ve probably won $800,000.”

Stapleton admits that he wasn’t comfortable doing those interviews for some time, and it took until he was prepared to accept that they might suck before he could be comfortable doing them. Add into this tournament that he was in Monte Carlo, and it was far from the ideal gig.

“Monte Carlo is not my kind of place. I like to wear a tank top and flip-flops. I like things to be laid back. Monte Carlo is not a laid-back place. Things are a little stiff there.”

If it’s your first time there, you really feel that glitzy, glamorous James Bond side of the game. That’s not what I like about poker.”

Is it the Formula 1 racetrack streets, the fact that the principality is home to the obscenely rich, or the sheer level of exorbitance on show in every retail outlet in Monaco that bothers Stapleton about the place? Well, maybe it’s all of those things.

“If you’re the kind of person who likes expensive cars, $4 million apartments, and the fact that it’s $43 for a Heineken, it’s fucking great. If it’s your first time there, you really feel that glitzy, glamorous James Bond side of the game. That’s not what I like about poker.”

Whether Monaco will always host poker games isn’t in doubt; games in Monaco will go on. Whether people will always want to travel to the principality or watch it on television is an entirely different question though.

“Being rich is out of fashion right now. Gluttony and over-indulgence aren’t in. There was a time where people would have admired Monte Carlo with its decadence and wastefulness, but we’re just more pragmatic as a society right now, it’s not as fashionable to be into rich, opulent things.”

Many times, in Monaco, Stapleton and Hartigan would lampoon their location, picking on the idiosyncrasies of the clientele to subvert the form. The sketches were many fans favorite segments of each show.

“We haven’t done those in a long time, and they were like ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ They were a stressful pain in the butt, and a lot of them fell really flat. But when they decided they weren’t going to do them anymore, we all really missed them.”

“They’d say ‘We’re going to film a round of sketches from London; there are nine shows and three wrapped breaks in each show, so we need you to write 27 sketches to be shot in London in three weeks.”

Joe Stapleton interviews Martin Finger about his Super High Roller Win
Joe Stapleton interviews Martin Finger about his Super High Roller win (London, 2013)

Producers would chip in with approved locations such as Marble Arch. But cities are notoriously difficult to film in, and after writing and rewriting the sketches, Stapleton would hand them over to James Hartigan. They’d frequently run out of time to make them happen.

“In one Barcelona episode, at Parc Güell, we did a bunch of Jurassic Park references. One was where I told James to stay really still so that the [El Drac] lizard statue doesn’t see him. In another one, I rebooted my phone like I was afraid it would reboot like Jurassic Park.”

It all takes time, and in television, especially poker television, time is money. The team had one sketch left but had to abandon their plan to have Stapleton jump out of the bushes like a velociraptor to eat Hartigan’s sandwich.

“We had five minutes to shoot, and there was no way we’d be able to do it. So I said, ‘We’re going to sit on this bench, I’m going to pull my arms into my sleeves like T-Rex arms, you feed me, and I say, “T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed, T-Rex wants to hunt.”’ We both thought it wouldn’t end up playing well, but it ended up being one of the funniest skits we ever did!”

If Barcelona sketches and Monte Carlo final tables were the evergreen ‘middle series’ of the PokerStars EPT, what of the later years, including the most recent PCA at Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas’? Find out in the second part of our exclusive interview with the face – and voice – of the EPT, Joe ‘Stapes’ Stapleton.


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  • Joe Stapleton looks back on the glory days of the EPT in Monte Carlo.

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