All in the family
This week, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the PokerStars Blog with a series of articles looking back on the blog's history and the people who make it what it has become.
In November 2011, I was in a smoky card room in Macau when I learned my dad had just died 8,000 miles away. In those first moments, I couldn't even figure out how to stand up, let alone understand how I was going to finish the APPT event and get home to my family. I eventually found a rail and leaned against it. Minutes later, I had more to lean on. PokerStars Player Liaison Garry Gates offered a hug. Longtime Asia-Pacific blogger Heath Chick told me to leave for home immediately. He'd finish the event on his own.
Though that's an admittedly maudlin way to start a story, it's the first thing that occurs to me every time I think about the unwritten part of being on the PokerStars Blog team: while we're nose-down in chip counts and double-ups, life goes on in a part of the world we have temporarily set aside.
My dog died while I was at the World Series of Poker one year. Another year, my older son pulled off his training wheels and started riding around our driveway. I wasn't there to see it. I was with then Team PokerStars Pro manager John Caldwell who told someone we were working with to give me some space.
"Go easy on him today," Caldwell said. "His son just learned to ride a bike, and he wasn't there for it. That's a big deal."
I don't bring any of that up as a call for sympathy. I mention it for two other reasons.
First, it's not just me. Every member of my team has missed out on what we sometimes call "real life" while traveling for the PokerStars Blog. My right hand man, Stephen Bartley, has missed his wife's birthday for seven years running. He proposed to her from a service galley in the back hallway of the Rio Convention Center during the WSOP Main Event. Beyond that, every member of our team has learned that accepting a spot at the PokerStars Blog desk can often require a lot more from the psyche than simply writing about poker.
That leads to the second reason, the one that inspired this post to begin with: in the ten years of running the PokerStars Blog, we have created a sort of dysfunctional family. That's what this story is really about.
I asked a few people who have worked for the PokerStars Blog over the years to talk about their favorite moments. As I started going through their responses, I realized that all of them had loved watching the poker games, but their best memories were those they shared with our team.
"It's great when you get a spike of satisfaction from writing a great piece or witness poker history, but the lasting memories of working on the Blog will come from the laughs you share with colleagues," said contributor Marc Convey. "We spend a lot of time away from friends and families, so colleagues fill in those gaps and bonds are formed with mickey-taking par for the course."
What do you do when the world collapses around you? What do you do when the world that existed when you woke up suddenly falls over on its axis. You find the closest thing to family that you can.
On Black Friday, April 15, 2011, I was on a plane home to my actual family. I got to spend that night with my wife and kids. Some of the people on our team weren't as lucky. Among them was contributor Martin Harris.
"On April 15, 2011, I was in Lima, Peru helping cover an LAPT event with Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuire and Dave 'F-Train' Behr when we discovered along with everyone else the surprising news that would result in PokerStars then leaving the U.S. as far as real money games were concerned," Harris recalled.
Harris was thousands of miles from home, and the only people he had to lean on were people suffering the same professional cataclysm as he.
"It was a unique place to be -- thousands of miles from home and suddenly going through an experience we all immediately knew would be a memorable one even as it was happening. The tournament played out as scheduled, and in terms of reporting everything was business as usual," he said. "Looking back, I think of the conversations I had during those days in Lima -- about poker, about writing, and about the past, present, and future -- and how they benefited me both then and now."
A friend who spent some time observing our team many years ago likened us to war correspondents, men and women who spend months on the road covering a never-ending battle, eating at the same tables, and drinking at the same bars.
Though lacking the gravity of real life, the comparison isn't far off. Not only do we spend all of our days together, we often find our escape hatches in the same places. It sometimes makes for real stories that you end up reading about here.
Stephen Bartley recalls, "Howard Swains and I were playing $3-$6 limit hold'em at the Golden Nugget after an exhausting and probably suicidal walk downtown. We sat with the usual tourists and began to play, with this goofy looking guy at the other end of the table with long curly hair throwing chips about."
Swains realized quickly that the long-haired guy had them outmatched, but before he and Bartley had a chance to get up and leave, they fell for the dude and spent the next several hours talking to him. Within a few days, that guy who was playing low-limit poker with them had made the WSOP Main Event November Nine and won nearly $3.8 million.
That man was Ylon Schwartz.
"It was only in Monte Carlo the following year that we talked to him about the whole experience, staying up late to hear his take on that final table, that summer in general, and of his running into two pale British guys in a $3-$6 limit game at the Golden Nugget," Bartley said.
Swains ended up writing about the experience here: The pride of Uncle Stan.
What does all of this mean for you, the reader? Well, if we're doing our jobs right, you shouldn't even notice. You don't come here to read about us, nor do we expect you to. That understood, none of what you read here would be possible if we all hadn't found a way to turn our work colleagues into something like family.
Over the years, we've shared meals, drinks, and stories. Beyond that, we have shared our lives, opened our homes, and held each other up when things got tough. We have argued, bared our souls, and in a couple unfortunate cases, bared our bodies (Howard, I'm still really sorry about that).
No matter where we go, from Europe to South America, from Asia to the Caribbean, our family ends up growing, and each time, we learn something new about our work and ourselves.
"It's an honor to be sitting down with colleagues that you actually collaborate with and learn from at the same time," said our Latin American blogger Reinaldo Venegas.
Now ten years in, our dysfunctional little family abides, and we do so in a way we hope you never notice in our reporting. Perhaps our young gun reporter Alex Villegas sums it up best.
He said, "The blog team is a hilarious, talented, occasionally sober group of international reporters that I would never have met otherwise--except perhaps some mental asylum somewhere."
Thanks for reading all these years. If you'd like to play in the April 23th 19:00 ET PokerStars Blog 10th Anniversary freeroll, you can find it by searching "Blog" in the PokerStars lobby. The password is fireball.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging