Confessions, deleted scenes, & the stories we couldn't tell
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.
I had forgotten to pack socks. And underwear.1 So, on Day 1 of the event in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, still recovering from a birthday gift from photographer Joe Giron that involved a lady with a really loud whistle carrying a bottle of tequila around the players' welcome party, I was working in a pair of flip-flops and a decidedly breezy pair of cargo shorts.
But it was a Mexican resort town. It was relaxed. I could do that kind of thing without worry, right? After all, the tournament wasn't going to make it to the end of Day 1, anyway.
With less than two hours to go in the first day of play, gaming authorities shut down everything, confiscated all the equipment in the room, and blocked off the tournament area with crime scene tape. I'd been lucky to pick up my backpack with my passport in it. Otherwise, I might not have made it home in time for Christmas a few weeks later.
Although PokerStars had done all required to secure the necessary licenses to operate that week, someone in the local government saw it differently. The tournament was over. Though it would later be played to a final table online and then finished in Uruguay, our jobs there were done. We couldn't write any more. You can still find some of those reports here, but they don't tell the story of the confusion and chaos that reigned over the next 24 hours, the near-riot caused by players who had already busted the tournament wanting (inexplicably) to get re-paid, and the guy who ended up falling in an infinity fountain as a result.
It was the only time our jobs ended before we could tell the whole story, but not the only time what we saw didn't make it to your screen.
From my very first day of writing for PokerStars, I knew I was in a different world. It started first time I heard a woman describe herself as a very well-known pro's "poker wife," one who served his needs on the road. It happened again when I saw another very well-known pro get so mad during a call with a famous TV executive that he threw his cell phone across the room, shattering it.
It wasn't that the stories weren't good. They just weren't right for this site. The PokerStars Blog has never been a gossip blog. Not too many years later, I sat with Dan Michalski as we watched some random insanity play out in Las Vegas, and we agreed that someone could create a TMZ-style site about poker and it would thrive. But that wasn't the role of the PokerStars Blog.
Many of us who work here have worked as journalists in other capacities. We value the need for good sourcing and comment. We loathe speculation. Sometimes we end up with stories we just have no way of writing, especially in the moment.
Jason Mercier just got stabbed after winning an EPT title?
William Thorson just ordered 52 rum and cokes because a bar was closing?
David Williams is playing high-stakes poker with rich fish on a yacht just outside?
There is an armed robbery happening right now in the lobby of the hotel?
All of those things happened, and they all challenged our editorial standards and guidelines at the time.
We could list these kinds of things for days, moments we wished we'd been able to report better but for whatever reason couldn't manage at the time. Over ten years of reporting, we've gotten better at it, and I like to think we've struck a good balance between reporting the news and avoiding the role of town gossip.
We are not, however, without our faults. We are not, indeed, without our necessary confessions. On this, the eve of our 10th anniversary, we offer these few confessions and seek absolution.
A PokerStars staff member once bribed us with drinks to fill the seats of a celebrity poker tournament audience that featured, among others, Montel Williams. Our behavior could have been better, and at one point, I may have loudly suggested Alex Gomes show Montel who the real pro was. Montel's sense of humor was not what I expected it to be.
I once tried so hard to get an interview with a man I believed to be Snoop Dogg's stepfather that he physically pushed me away from him. I'm still not over that one.
Stephen Bartley, in desperate need of a restroom in the Ukraine, found a quiet dark place to relieve himself against a building in a park. When the Kyiv police arrived to question him, they revealed that the building on which he was micturating just happened to be, indeed, an open public restroom.
I was once reprimanded by EPT creator John Duthie after becoming obsessed with the number of glasses getting knocked off tables and broken at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo (it was happening once every half an hour due to the stemmed glasses' rickety foundations). Duthie--one of the nicest guys I've ever met--quickly tired of me posting photos of every broken glass and asked--firmly--for me to cut it the hell out.
The Blog team once became so obsessed with fireball jawbreaker candies that we littered our 2010 WSOP reporting with fireball references. It got very silly, and we still blame Joe Giron's fiancee. He remembered, "My fiancee, Sandra, sent me to the event well stocked with the addictive candy, and it soon became, unofficially, 'The Official Candy of the PokerStars Blog.' It's the type of scenario and cliche in describing our time together as 'you had to be there,' but trust me, it was the most fun I have ever had photographing a poker tournament."
Giron, famous in his own right for partying for years with rock band Pantera celebrated his 50th birthday with us in a quiet celebration at a business hotel in Connecticut. Upon returning to his room, he tried not to drop a collection of glasses and bottles in his hands but stumbled and got a rug burn on his forehead. We still sometimes call him Gorby.
The only time we ever left work early was the night Stephen Bartley proposed to his wife from the service galley of the Rio hotel convention center. We went for margaritas, and with the permission of our boss Simon Young, blew off the rest of the night.
Howard Swains, desperate to show a few of us a good night in London pulled aside the manager, and in a feat of deception I've not yet seen equaled, pretended to be the representative of a group of international celebrities. "Do you not see who I have at this table?" he said with incredulity dripping off his face. "Do you not see?" In a matter of minutes, we were getting the royal treatment and the bar stayed open until we were ready to leave.
Swains and I once ate so much BBQ during a WSOP dinner break that we literally collapsed in the Rio parking lot in a food coma.
Swains, Bartley, and Rick Dacey once nearly fought a taxi driver after the man refused to take their short fare. Foul language was spoken, tempers flared, and ugly names were exchanged in what would become known as The Battle of Fairmont Hill.
Simon Young, once desperate for a snack after a particularly long night woke to find that the bedside chocolates he'd been saving for just that occasion had gone missing. Further investigation revealed empty wrappers strewn all around him in his bed and smudges of chocolate on his own hands. He didn't need hotel security to determine the culprit.
We could do this for the next week, but that's probably enough confession for one decade of reporting. We'll save the rest for our 20th anniversary.
1Oh, as it happened, when I was hurriedly packing to fly out of Mexico, I found a hidden zipper pocket in my luggage where I'd apparently packed socks and underwear after all.
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