PokerStars 10th Anniversary review: Going live

10th-ann-thumb.JPG"I can't answer this question," John Gale said. In his hand was a player bio form handed to him by a member of the television production crew. He had just made the final table of the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure as the chipleader. Now, the TV crew wanted to know as much about him as possible.

"I can tell you about my biggest win," he said. "But my my biggest loss? My wife is standing here."

Gale was in the middle of his umpteenth Marlboro Red. He chased them with green and orange Tic-Tacs. After that, he most prominent thing around Gale's mouth was his omnipresent smile. After spending $127 in a rebuy qualifier, Gale had made it to the first PCA at the Bahamas' Atlantis resort. Now he was about to become a star. It was the second live event of his life. The first one?

"That didn't really count because I only played for about ten minutes," Gale said.

He wasn't a poker pro. He was a management consultant who dabbled in poker. Now, he was on his way to the final table.

"I'm just over the moon to be here," he said at the time. "I'll just take what comes and I'll still be smiling.

What came next was his first major championship. Since then, he's turned an amateur win into 47 cashes, five first place finishes, a World Series of Poker bracelet, and $3.2 million in live tournament earnings. All from his $127 start at the PCA.


John Gale celebrating his 2005 PCA win

That was what the PCA was all about. It was more than a PokerStars event. It was more than an annual get-together. It was PokerStars' signature way to turn its players into international stars.

Over the years, the PCA has expanded well beyond a simple tournament. It's given way to an entire festival of unique tournaments, Battleship poker, and huge cash games. It hosts the live finals of the World Cup of Poker and occasionally offers freerollers a chance at life-changing wins.

In 2007, for instance, the PCA hosted the Moneymaker Millionaire finals. More than 800,000 entries in PokerStars online freerolls resulted in 27 people getting trips to the live finals in the Bahamas. They were all guaranteed $5,000. When it was over, Quillan Nagel, a student laboring under the weight of $30,000 in student loans, had won $1 million.


Quillan Nagel celebrating his $1 million win

These days, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is appointment poker. People schedule their years around the annual January PokerStars reunion in the Bahamas. But when it began in 2004 on the Voyager of the Seas cruise ship, it was something new. Over the next eight years, it became the richest poker festival outside Las Vegas.

The most recent PCA main event was historic for a number of reasons. It was the biggest ever with 1,560 players, it had its deepest-ever run by a female player, and 2003 WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker nearly made the final table. Eugene Katchalov won the first-ever PCA $100,000 Super High Roller tournament. The most visible of the history-making events came by way of a big satellite truck in the parking lot outside. For the first time in the PCA's eight-year history, ESPN aired the event live across America (on a one-hour security delay) with the players' hole cards exposed.

Now, the PCA is set to record its ninth stop in the Bahamas. January 5-15, the 2012 PCA will kick off its annual poker festival at Atlantis, the Caribbean's biggest and most lavish resort and casino. As part of the PokerStars 10th Anniversary celebration, players have an insanely good chance of getting there for free.

Starting this very weekend on November 13 and running through December 11, PokerStars is going to be giving away prize packages worth more than $15,000 apiece. Here's how it works:

Every ten minutes, PokerStars will be running free qualifiers to weekly finals. Each of the top ten finishers in each of the freerolls gets an entry into the finals (you can also buy into cheap cash qualifiers, too). Each weekly final will hand out 10 PCA prize packages. See the PCA Giveaway page for more info.

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We are publishing these daily review articles throughout November as PokerStars gears up to celebrate its 10th Anniversary.

Previous reviews:

It's a bling thing
Online wizards cast their spell
The EPT circus
Sporting greats
Making world champions
Party treats

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in News