Malta Poker Festival Partnerships: How Multiple Organizations Join Forces to Create Something Special

In just a couple weeks, the 2024 Spring Edition of the Malta Poker Festival (MPF) is set to get underway. Thousands of hopefuls will descend upon the Portomaso Casino from April 22-29 to compete at one of Europe’s most highly anticipated poker stops and was recently nominated at the Global Poker Awards as the best standalone festival.

Part of what always makes the event so festive and popular is the fact that many partner-branded events are incorporated under the Malta Poker Festival umbrella. To get a better sense of how those partnerships come together and how the multiple organizations coalesce to create one united offering, we decided to reach out to a few longtime Malta Poker Festival partners.

These partners included Amateur Poker Association & Tour (APAT) Director Tom Brady, DeepStack Open (DSO) Founder Alex Henry, Bounty Hunter Days Founder and CEO Stephan Kubler, and Head of Partnerships at Global Poker Index/TheHendonMob (GPI/THM) Roland Boothby. Knowing that every great poker event needs a great hosting venue, we also spoke with Tumas Gaming COO Jesmond Galea and Portomaso Casino Manager Jonathan Micallef to get their input as MPF partners.

Their collective responses to my battery of questions helps paint the special picture that coalesces twice a year at the Malta Poker Festival.

How did you first come to get acquainted with MPF Founder Ivonne Montealegre and begin collaborating with her at the Malta Poker Festivals?

Alex Henry: I met Ivonne back in 2012 but it was only a couple years ago that we first teamed up, after it became clear that multiple brands working with her could all mutually benefit.

Tom Brady: I was hearing great things about Ivonne and her poker activity in Malta, and through a mutual acquaintance we connected in early 2018 to discuss the first-ever MPF and an APAT relationship.

Stephan Kubler: I met Ivonne in 2018 when I was at the Malta Poker Festival for the first time. A mutual acquaintance introduced us and so the partnership has grown over the years.

Jonathan and Jesmond: We have known Ivonne for the past 13 years, since she began running events at Portomaso Casino. Back in 2018, Malta Poker Festival was born, and our collaborative work increased drastically.

Roland Boothby: Ivonne was one the first people I came to know in the Malta poker community when I moved there at the end of 2013. A few years later, when Ivonne founded the Malta Poker Festival, it was right at a time when I was looking for ways to diversity the ways in which GPI/THM could serve the needs of our partners and was contemplating dipping our toes into live events. Coupled with the fact that Malta was the home of GPI/THM, it made perfect sense for Malta Poker Festival to be our very first live event partner and home for the inaugural Hendon Mob Championship. We’re hugely grateful for the start Malta Poker Festival gave us and will always consider it our ‘home’ event.

In what ways do your partner-branded events at the Malta Poker Festival differ and stand out versus other live events you run on your own?

Alex Henry: We run 70% of our events in France, where we completely run the event: players qualified online come from Unibet, and oversee all side events, running additional live promotions, etc. Working with Malta Poker Festival makes things a LOT easier for us. Ivonne and Portomaso Casino gather several partners, so everyone is benefiting from a successful event.

Roland Boothby: In 2024, you will find THMC events in all shapes and sizes. In fact, this year we’ll be staging a dozen events across four different continents. That said, the familiarity of the Spinola Room at Portomaso coupled with the scores upon scores of familiar faces who file into the room at the start of The Hendon Mob Championship Malta is unmatched.

From day one in any location, members of our team are always trying to acquaint ourselves with the local playing community and looking to build friendships. In Malta we are a part of that community already. The players playing the event are our friends, colleagues, people we have spent countless hours at the tables with, in the bars and around Malta. It’s totally different, in good way!

Stephan Kubler: Malta is much more international than my own Bounty Hunter Days. There are 95% players from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Malta, there are poker players from all over Europe and beyond. That’s great!

Tom Brady: APAT has been around since 2006, as the UK’s first national poker tour, and whilst the majority of APAT events are standalone, and hosted extensively across the UK, we’ve been travelling further afield for many years throughout Europe, and also to Las Vegas. Co-hosting alongside the likes of MPF gives APAT players greater opportunities alongside our own brand and offering, most likely with higher buy-in events, big guarantees and with the same high-quality poker whilst still be centered around that APAT feeling of welcoming, social and good-natured competitiveness in professional-standard poker events.

In what ways do you feel the presence of your branded event at the Malta Poker Festival is of mutual benefit to your organizations, and to the players?

Alex Henry: DeepStack Open events have been successful for 15 seasons thanks to its structure quality and dedication to players. Partnering with MPF is a big opportunity for us to offer a large, guaranteed prize pool to our regular players and to qualifiers.

Tom Brady: Co-hosting with MPF, with the same quality tournament and social competitiveness that has been synonymous with APAT since day 1 is a win all round – APAT, players, MPF AND Portomaso – the quality of Ivonne’s Grand Event is attractive in its own right – Danilo and his team of floor staff and dealers stand out as exceptional to both players and us as hosts, and the Portomaso casino and surroundings continue to ensure a great experience for everyone.

Stephan Kubler: As a tournament organizer, I know better than anyone how important good partnerships are. Partners you can rely on, whose word is their bond. Especially in the poker scene, this is not always a given. Such partnerships, which develop over years, are worth their weight in gold. Ivonne is a very smart woman and she knows how to build and maintain such partnerships. That makes me very happy and I am convinced that we have a lot more potential for the future.

Roland Boothby: The great thing about the partnership with Malta Poker Festival is that both sides are bringing aspects to the table which complement one another. Ivonne and her team are experts in running live events and looking after players. Danilo De Berardinis and his Ludos Academy staff are some of the best in the business.

What GPI/THM brings to the table is the ability to connect live events to a global audience of poker fans. Great poker stops will inevitably grow, as players will keep coming back, and when they have a great experience, they will bring their friends. We can accelerate that process by amplifying those stories and those experiences globally. At Malta Poker Festival, you won’t just find players from Italy and Malta, but from the UK, Taiwan, Australia, USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Latin America, and beyond. A great playing experience with a global platform to amplify it is something we consider a strong formula for success.

Your organization has partnered with the Malta Poker Festival on many occasions now. Looking back on the first time you engaged in the partnership versus today, what would you say you do differently/better now than a few years ago?

Jonathan and Jesmond: We spent many months working on christening the first Malta Poker Festival back in October 2018. Since then, we have endeavored to work with Ivonne on increasing the number of partners and of course players to ensure the best poker environment.

Alex Henry: Over our last few collaborations, I introduced some specific DSO rules like the “25 bb average” starting from Day 2. From then until the final table, when the average stack is lower than 25 bb we don’t move on to the next level until a player busts.

We are always looking to try new ideas, like Ivonne is doing for this upcoming festival by having run a Day 1 flight in London. It is important to test new ideas, as poker is always evolving, and the Malta Poker Festival is a great opportunity to do that.

Stephan Kubler: In autumn of 2018, I was at the Malta Poker Festival with a group of 8 poker players. This year in spring there are over 120. A lot has changed! I was alone back then and did everything myself. Now I have partners and employees who do a lot for me. I am happy and grateful for how everything has developed. I hope to be able to travel to Malta for many years to come and I’m already looking forward to the next poker trip like a little kid.

Tom Brady: The relationship between MPF and APAT has grown into a joint-venture with the player experience front and center in all discussions – tweaks made to the APAT structure, and balancing the need for a quality APAT event with the overall schedule Ivonne has created has ensured we continue to attract great numbers to APAT at MPF. Autumn 2023 was testament that we seem to be doing something right with a post-Covid record of 460 entries in the APAT 2-day Championship.

Roland Boothby: I would say the addition of MPF Spring, which doubled the amount of THMCs we run with Malta Poker Festival annually is the biggest change we’ve seen. Our coveted THMC trophy has seen some improvements, and we are always looking to create a spectacle by having as many players as we can with bounties on their heads. We always throw a lot into the event, usually brining the whole THM team to Malta and treating it very much as a celebration of our connections to Malta.

Malta Poker Festival Partners Look Ahead to the Future

As far as additional and new ways that partners hope to try and enhance and improve for future Malta Poker Festivals, there seems to be a consensus that “there’s a lot planned”. Those efforts to continuously improve mirror Montealegre’s, as for the 2024 Spring MPF she’s also partnering with “The Poker Girls of Las Vegas” Tatiana Fox and Rebbecca Scales, who will be leading off-the-felt activities.

As Fox shared with us, “I’ve been working with Ivonne for a few years now, and she is a passionate entrepreneur. She wears many hats and not only runs the MPF but also many women business groups from Malta. I am delighted to host the MPF off felt activities and see it as a great opportunity to see the beautiful island of Malta and make new friends.  If you are travelling with a non-poker friend or partner send them our way!”

Scales concurred, saying “Ivonne’s collaborative spirit makes working with her a pleasure. Last year, she generously provided us with a platform at the Malta Poker Festival to launch WPA International. The off-the-felt activities are what make Malta a must-visit destination for poker enthusiasts. During the day, you can enjoy the island’s beautiful beaches, explore its cobblestone roads, and indulge in exotic cuisine. When the sun sets, the poker room comes alive with plenty of action.”

All the partners we spoke with confirmed that they intend to keep collaborating at the Malta Poker Festival for a long while yet. With the massive current boom in live tournament poker, it’s a no-brainer that the Malta Poker Festival will continue attracting ever more players to the island’s shores. The MPF partners all know this and intend to continue working on special promotions and ideas to keep things fresh and exciting for future festivals.

Notably, Tom Brady added that with APAT being well known as a brand favored by mixed game lovers, it might soon be time to help bring some of that mixed game love, and audience, to the MPF. In addition, he noted that APAT-backed ‘Poker Raffles’ – where players can skip the grind of the usual Satellite route to entry and win themselves into many prestigious events – are now available to MPF hopefuls wishing to win a Malta Poker Festival Seat plus £500.

Travel partners include: Pokertrip-de for DACH market, Esportami Viaggi for Italian market and Main Event Travel for UK, USA and rest of the world.

The door remains open to new partners, too. As per Jonathan and Jesmond “in order to keep building on our past success, together with Ivonne we will remain on the lookout for new sponsors and agents who would like to partner with us while keeping our focus on the poker community accordingly, which always remain at the heart of our operation.”

The 2024 Spring edition of the Malta Poker Festival will take place April 22-29, and the Autumn edition will run from the October 28-November 4, 2024.

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