Interview with Ivonne Montealegre, founder of the Malta Poker Festival

The Spring 2024 edition of the Malta Poker Festival is getting closer and closer. We reached out to its founder, Ivonne Montealegre, to tell us more details about this upcoming festival that will seek to surpass the enormous numbers it had last year.

Ivonne is from Costa Rica and her Latin roots are evident in the energy and passion with which she speaks and works. In this wide-ranging interview, we spoke about the upcoming festival’s special events, the Global Poker Awards nomination that her Malta Poker Festival received, women in poker, and many more topics.

Ivonne Montealegre

Ivonne Montealegre on the Malta Poker Festival’s History

The Malta Poker Festival was played for the first time in 2018 and had 1,366 entries, giving out €662K in prizes. In 2019 there were 1,324 entries and last year the record of 1,444 entries was reached in the Autumn edition, with a prize pool of €693K ($736K). The winner was Frenchman Arthur Navellou, who turned the €550 buy-in into a €115K ($122K) grand prize after making a heads-up deal.

Arthur Navellou Ivonne Montealegre

We asked Ivonne what factors contribute to the success of the Malta Poker Festival: “It is the tournament that had the fastest growth in Europe and I think it is due to the great community that formed around the festival. The players who go have a great time and want to return. We are also lucky to have many partners who contribute their bit to make the festival a success. I think we can beat last year’s record.”

An example of the festival’s success was the recent nomination at the Global Poker Awards in the “Best Stand-Alone Festival” category. What did that nomination mean to Ivonne? “It fills us with pride and is a great recognition of our work. It was a very nice feeling of satisfaction and we were clearly the underdogs among the nominees for the great festivals such as the Irish Open that has been played for 43 years and the Wynn Millions in Las Vegas.”


Malta’s Non-Poker Activities

What attractions does Malta have and what can players do outside of playing poker during the upcoming festival? Ivonne had many recommendations! “The island of Malta is beautiful wherever you look at it. Near the Portomaso Casino there are more than 100 restaurants to choose from. We also have an exclusive party for players on the first Friday of the festival and it’s called All In Friday. We have activities for festival players with special prices such as a catamaran ride for €70, an excursion to Valetta on a private bus for only €25, or engaging in a Michelin Star tasting menu, starting at €80. These types of excursions are usually taken advantage of by players during their free time and by their partners and spouses who accompany them on the trip.”

Those planning to attend the festival can take advantage of special rates at several hotels, too. “Festival players will be able to access special prices at the Hilton and Valentina Hotels. I recommend that you consult with our partner Main Event Travel, as they offer very good packages that include airfare, hotel and buy-ins to the tournaments.”

Day 1As in London… and Beyond?

Ivonne has always worked hard to innovate at her festival, and this Spring’s iteration is no exception. For the very first time, the Malta Poker Festival will be running a Day 1A of their Main Event offsite, in London’s Hippodrome Casino!

How It Works

Those who live in London or nearby will have the chance to play Day 1A in their city. If they make it through to Day 2, while will take place on-site in Malta, they’ll already have cashed the event! “I’m very passionate about that promotion,” says Ivonne. “Day 1A will be played at the Hippodrome Casino in London on Saturday March 16 at 3 PM. 15% of the field will advance and those who survive qualify for Day 2 in Malta already in the money. Plus, whoever is the chip-leader will win free accommodation at the Hilton valued at €1,500.”

Ivonne already has plans to expand on this idea, which will no doubt prove successful in attracting more entrants, and cashing players to Malta for the Autumn edition at the end of October.

Malta Poker Festival London

Celebrating Diversity and Women in Poker

The Malta Poker Festival is called the friendliest poker event in Europe and this is what Ivonne says: “Our goal is for all players and especially beginners or recreational players to have a positive experience. We care about ethics, security within the casino and the quality of the dealers, which is not common in tournaments of €500 or less. We are also concerned about the issue of diversity and inclusion. We want our tables to be inclusive and respect all minorities such as women or the LQBT community, without allowing them to be disrespected.”

Malta Poker Festival Ladies First

Women will have their special tournament called “Ladies First” on Saturday, April 27 at 4 PM: “That project fascinates me and is one of my favorites. The idea for the name came from one of my children and the hostess is going to be KJ Craigie, who is the Boss Lady of the Hippodrome Casino in London. That day, women are the protagonists and we put the tournament tables on the main stage. Other festivals make the mistake of putting the Ladies Event in the middle of the week, but women are usually busy and prefer to play on the weekend. At the MPF they can play on a Saturday afternoon and have a lot of fun.”

We asked Ivonne if she thinks her events can help increase women’s participation in tournaments: “First it is necessary to say that with the patriarchy, women became risk averse. I have organized poker tournaments for 20 years, but I was never able to see more than 10% of women in the field. Today they comprise 4% of poker tournament fields on average, which makes me very sad. I think one of the reasons is that men make the promotions for women. I once received an invitation to a tournament with soaps and perfumes, but what women players want are buy-ins to tournaments or good prizes to play in higher events. We try to address that at the Malta Poker Festival.”

MPF poker room

Winning Partnerships Make for a Great Festival

What do you like most about organizing the Malta Poker Festival? “I really enjoy analyzing the tournaments and structures in detail with the different partners. For example, with Alex Henry from Unibet DSO, we wanted the Grand Event to have a great structure and we achieved it, since it has a great starting stack of 50K and the blind levels of 40 and 50 minutes. Great ideas also come up in the meetings, like the one we had with Roland Boothby to run a Hendon Mob-branded live tournament for the first time; that took place during the MPF.”

What events can’t be missed? “The Ladies Event and the Mystery Bounty cannot be missed. Neither can the Betsson One Bullet, which has a freezeout mode and has a lot of attendance. The Seniors fields are also growing a lot; this rendition will be hosted by Global Poker Community’s “Bingo” Buddy Villaluz. And the Bounty Hunters Days are already an MPF classic. This year we will also have mixed games with the H.O.R.S.E. 5-game Mix and the host will be Jeanne David, who will be teaching the modality a few hours before the event.”

Malta Poker Festival

The Friendliest Poker Festival in Europe

How would Ivonne invite new players to participate in the MPF? “Firstly, they should get out and explore the island of Malta, which is a magical place. Secondly, the climate, which is very pleasant during spring, is super inviting! Thirdly, players should come and experience in person the poker party and the great community that exists in the MPF. Players create new friendships and many special things happen. For instance, we had a player who proposed to his girlfriend during the festival. We honor our motto of being the friendliest poker festival in Europe.”

Another point to highlight about the MPF is that they did not raise the rake despite the current atmosphere of global inflation: “It is something very important to highlight, since players in their desire to look for value do not realize the enormous cost of doing this; having a festival on an island, bringing all the dealers in. But despite that we decided not to raise the rake of the tournaments or the prices of food or drinks as a thank you to our players.”

In wrapping up our talk, Ivonne told us an emotional story about one of the hosts of the festival: “On Friday, April 26, the Friday 2 Stack tournament will be played and the host will be the Norwegian Rolf Arne Bechstrom, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer 3 months ago. One of his wishes was to host one of our tournaments and it will be a pleasure to make it happen. €10 from each tournament buy-in will go towards a cancer research center in Norway. It is very nice to be able to help a friend and do charity with poker.”

The 2024 Malta Poker Festival

The 2024 edition of the Malta Poker Festival will be played from April 22 to 29 at the Portomaso Casino in Malta. A total of 18 events will be played with buy-ins ranging from €170 to €2,500 for the Super High Roller. The Grand Event will begin on April 24 with 6 initial days, a buy-in of €550 and a guaranteed prize pool of €300,000. A large number of qualifying satellites will also be played for the most important events.

Below is a listing of all the festival events:

April 236 PMSviten Special€23020’30KUnlimited
April 239 PMMPF Texas Classic€20020’20KUnlimited
April 24-291 PMMPF Grand Event€55040/50’50K2
April 245 PMBetsson One Bullet€17025’25KFreezeout
April 246 PMH.O.R.S.E. 5 Mix€23025’25KUnlimited
April 254 PMBounty Hunter Days Malta€23020’30KUnlimited
April 26-274 PMMystery Bounty€23030’30KUnlimited
April 266 PMPLO Knight Crusaders€30025’30KUnlimited
April 267 PMSuper High Roller€2,50040’30KUnlimited
April 267 PMFriday 2 Stack€23020’20KUnlimited
April 274 PMLadies First!€20025’25KUnlimited
April 275 PMAPAT Maltese Championship€12025’100K1
April 28-291 PMThe Hendon Mob Champ.€25030’30KUnlimited
April 283 PMMPF Seniors Event€30025’25K2
April 28-297 PMMPF High Roller€1,10040’30KUnlimited
April 289 PMDeepstack€25020’50KUnlimited
April 293 PMBounty Hunter Days PKO€17020’20KUnlimited
April 297 PMLast Chance€23020’20KUnlimited

You can see the complete calendar with the qualifying satellites at this link.

Malta Poker Festival 2023



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Santiago Garcia Mansilla
Written By.

Santiago Garcia Mansilla

Santiago is a longtime veteran of the poker industry, having written primarily about the game in Argentina since 2009. He has published hundreds of articles in Sudamerican Poker and Pokerlogia, and has provided live media coverage at the WSOP Main Event in 2015 and 2019. In addition to being a former columnist in PokerFace Magazine, […]

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