The PokerStars Blog's eyes
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.
The best of them are ninjas, clad in black, skulking on the perimeter waiting to shoot you. Their speed and accuracy are unparalleled. If your face betrays a moment of emotion, don't even bother trying to escape. They'll capture you, and you probably won't even know it's happened.
The PokerStars Blog has many weapons in its arsenal, but few are as powerful as the set of eyes responsible for the images you see here every day. Those eyes belong to the traveling band of ninjas known as the PokerStars Blog photographers, a group of people who have spent nearly a decade making the Blog's stories better.
The PokerStars Blog wasn't always so pretty. In 2005 when PokerStars began its live reporting efforts, I served as the chief writer, statistician, strategist, coder, and, indeed, photographer. Not only were my photography skills not what you'd call "professional," but taking the time to work on photos took away from time I could've been reporting.
In those early years, however, we noticed something very important: an image could make a story. Even if it wasn't a pro quality shot, sometimes one visual moment could tell a story better than 500 words of copy. I asked longtime PokerStars Blog writer Howard Swains to think back on a photo that did just that.
"My long-standing friends and colleagues Joe Giron and Neil Stoddart are the best in the business. They have set the industry standard for poker photography, and consistently better it while pretty much everybody else gets nowhere near," Swains said. "But just to keep them on their toes, I'm choosing a picture taken by somebody else for my favorite snap."
"This picture, taken at the 2006 World Series of Poker, is the moment the baton passed from the old guard to the new school," Swains said. "The popular veteran Minneapolis Jim Meehan found himself sitting next to a pint-sized Italian named Dario Minieri in the Amazon Room, on Day 1 of the Main Event. Despite finding himself a PokerStars T-shirt, Meehan was convincing no one that he was at ease sitting to the right of Minieri. This young Supernova Elite, playing his first World Series, was introducing to Meehan the kind of menace that would change the game forever."
Our photography team has changed many times over the years since. Today it is, without question, as good as it has ever been. You may not know their faces, but Neil Stoddart, Joe Giron, Kenneth Lim, Mickey May, Carlos Monti, Tomas Stacha, René Velli, and Jules Pochy spend their days and nights turning our stories into something far better than they were when when typed them on a screen.
PokerStars Blog contributor Martin Harris said, "Being able to work with creative, skilled photographers like Giron, Stoddart, and Monti has been a special treat when writing for the PokerStars Blog, as their considerable imaginations and abilities help inspire and broaden my own thinking when it comes to discovering new and interesting ways to tell the story of a poker tournament."
Technically, the PokerStars Blog photographers all have different skill sets. Some come from a background in portrait photography. Others come from news. At least one, Joe Giron, spent a majority of his career shooting every rock band you have ever heard of. All of them faced the very same dilemma when they took a gig shooting poker: poker can be really, really boring. It's a game where people literally get paid to hide their emotion. The talent to find the perfect poker shot goes far beyond finding the right white balance. It's a matter of finding the emotion that tells the story.
Giron shot that photo a few years ago on a night in the Bahamas. The first prize that night was more than a $1 million, but most of the players who had a shot at the biggest money were seasoned, grizzled pros who didn't care so much about the win as the money. Will Molson wanted the win more than any of them. In two previous years, he'd finished runner-up. That night, he won it, and Giron captured the moment better than anybody.
"I love the sheer happiness and pride the father displays towards his son after the win," Giron said. "Will had finished second in the same event in 2010, and it was a satisfying victory for him to win the event the following year."
While emotion is often in short supply, compassion is nearly extinct. Poker has long been a ruthless game, and in recent years, most players have been lucky to hear, "Good game," as their benediction. Finding a moment of compassion is like running across a dodo in the wild. Neil Stoddart did just that a few weeks ago in Malta.
"Over the years I've witnessed some of the longest heads up matches ever, and it's always devastating for whoever comes second after putting everything they have into winning," said PokerStars Blog contributor Marc Convey. "We witnessed such a duel at EPT Malta with Neil Stoddart capturing a touching moment between Jean Montury and Valentin Messina after the the latter was defeated."
Latin America is perhaps the only poker region in the world where both emotion and compassion come cheap. Sometimes it's less a matter of finding the emotion than singling out the one scream that matters. Among my favorite milliseconds in PokerStars Blog history was the night Giron picked off Jyries "Chiquitita" Saba during the final table of the LAPT Vina del Mar Main Event in 2009. Saba, who died later that year, was probably my favorite player to ever make a final table, and this picture captures him perfectly.
Our Latin American blogger Reinaldo Venegas said, "This Chilean really enjoyed poker. We all felt like our grandfather was playing poker, and he was having the best time of his life. He passed away months later, and most of us felt bad, but when we talk about him, we still feel that moment of true joy."
Over the years, we have worked with many photographers, and they have all made our work better. Even those we don't work with all the time deserve our thanks. Eric Harkins (the only man I've ever known to travel with a margarita machine) did our WSOP work for several years. Jayne Furman recently worked with us in Vegas and proved herself a woman who could find the story within the story. Danny Maxwell has rounded the UK and Ireland for us over the years. Kim Curtin worked alongside Stoddart on the EPT for many seasons (and once infamously and vociferously defended us from what may or may not have been a padded bar tab). They and our current regular rotation of shooters have made this site stand out over the years, and without them, this would be one ugly place.
The reason is simple: when we're out on the road in search of a story, we have ears, notebooks, and voice recorders. We even have the ability to see. But in the end, the photographers are our eyes, and often those eyes offer the shortest path to our hearts.
Here are a few more of the photos from over the years that still make us smile.
Thanks for reading all these years. If you'd like to play in the April 20th 15:00 ET PokerStars Blog 10th Anniversary freeroll, you can find it by searching "Blog" in the PokerStars lobby and using the password accurate
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging