The Poker Common Market is up and running. Next week sees the start of an ambitious new series of tournaments, covering the whole of Europe, designed to produce a lot of fun and, at the end of it all, a genuine European champion.

The first two tournaments, seven card stud and no limit Hold 'em, will be held at the Grosvenor Victoria in Edgware Road, London, during the casino's "spring classic" next week. The circuit, promoted by the newly formed European Poker Players Association (EPPA), moves on to Paris (15- 23 March), Vienna (Concord Card Club, 24-30 March), Slovenia (Hit Casino, Nova Gorica, 2-6 April), and Germany (Bad Homberg Casino, 7-11 April). The tour continues through the second half of the year, with a variety of ranking tournaments in Amsterdam, and German and Austrian casinos, winding up in Helsinki.

Beyond the hard core of professional poker players, numbering perhaps 20 or so, these events are sure to attract a wide range of enthusiastic local players. Someone has to win, and experience shows that anyone can - given a reasonable standard of play and a modicum of good luck. Tournament entry fees range from about pounds 200 for stud, to about pounds 400-pounds 600 for Hold 'em. Prize money, probably at least pounds 25,000 for each event, is divided among the winners, with the first three receiving, say, 50 per cent 25 per cent and 10 per cent of the pool. But ranking points are to be standardised, from first to ninth place, to ensure a fair result regardless of the value of the competition itself.

"One of our main aims in setting up the EPPA is try to get corporate sponsorship and major television coverage of the tour," explains Mickey Finn, European title-winner in London last year. Still under discussion is a "superbowl" of poker, to be staged in January 1998. This would comprise the top competitors from the current series, selected on players' four best performances from as many ranking events as they choose to play. "If we can produce a European team, perhaps we could challenge the Americans, like a Ryder cup for poker," adds Finn. "I would love to see that happen one day." If it ever does, poker will finally make it to the television screens - on both sides of the Atlantic.