Cinderella (Wo)man

ps_news_thn.jpgSince Chris Moneymaker turned $39 into $2.5 million in the 2003 WSOP Main Event, PokerStars has been the catalyst for hundreds of Cinderella stories. I should know, I've witnessed more than a few of them first-hand. For the last few years I've been traveling the LAPT and NAPT as a writer for the PokerStars Blog. If you've played on the circuit, you know us. We're in the tournament room with you all day, squinting at chip stacks, scribbling cards and suits, and madly hammering at our laptops, a routine that is almost always followed by a few spirited rounds in the hotel bar after the chips have been bagged and tagged.

So many fairy tale moments unfolded right before my eyes--Tim Vance's improbable victory in Copenhagen, Daniela Zapiello's final table run in Punta del Este, and Martin Sansour's journey from satellite qualifier to LAPT Grand Final champion last fall in Rosario, Argentina. If you had sat next to me on that return flight from Buenos Aires in September and said that in four months' time I'd be penning my own Cinderella story, I'd have probably laughed in your face, ordered another glass of Merlot and requested a seat change.

I suppose the joke is on me now.

On the day after Christmas, I won a PCA Luxury Ladies Event package in the final $215 qualifier. Since I'd won my way into that tournament via satellite as well, my total cash outlay was only $81. In addition to a seat in the $1,000 Ladies Event, the $3,480 package included four nights at the Atlantis Resort, $700 toward travel expenses, and a ticket to Vanessa Rousso's pre-tournament boot camp. If nothing else, I'd just won an awesome vacation for my boyfriend and me, a stunning ROI in and of itself.

Having most of my expenses covered went a long way toward helping me relax and play my best poker. So did the excellent cocktail reception the night before the tournament. I was not only introduced to my new favorite drink, the Bahama Mama, I had the opportunity to meet some new friends, like PokerStars Women contributor Jennifer Shahade, who had also qualified online. Vanessa Rousso also stopped by and took the time to chat with us and share her experience of winning last year's Ladies Event. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to defend her title, as she was playing in the $25,000 High Roller Event.

The tournament area inside the Atlantis Convention Center is the most sprawling, expansive poker room I've seen outside the WSOP. Five or six events were already comfortably running in this cavernous space, not to mention the sleek soundstage on the far wall that was abuzz with black-clad ESPN crewmembers. Anyone who equates the PCA with summer camp or a high school reunion is dead on the money. I couldn't walk ten feet without running into someone I hadn't seen since the (insert name of last tour stop). This included tournament directors Mike Ward and Greg Pappas, who were more than a little shocked to see me behind a chip stack instead of a laptop.

I can't say enough about the structures at the PCA. Players get a tremendous value for their buy-in and the starting stacks are roomy enough to accommodate an early misstep. During the first two levels of the Ladies Event, I lost one pot with two pair and had to make a tough laydown a short time later, leaving me with only half of the 10,000 chips I started with. Were this a $1,000 buy-in WSOP event with only a 3,000-chip starting stack, I would either be out of the tournament or extremely short. With the PCA's deep-stacked structure, however, I still had fifty big blinds and no reason to panic after losing those hands. Usually I'll use music to shake off a beat or stave off boredom while I'm playing but for the most part in this event, I took off the headphones and got to know the other women at my table. We were from everywhere--from California to Maine, and from London to Russia. Three of us worked in the poker industry. Several had significant others who also played. One woman had traveled from Sweden with her best friend after they both qualified online. And two of us lived three miles apart on the west side of Los Angeles only to meet at a poker table in the Bahamas!

In addition to the international diversity of the field, a wide spectrum of skill levels was also on display. Over the course of the tournament I encountered everyone from players in their first live event to top professionals, along with a number of women much like myself who grind it out a bit online and play a few events a year. En route to the final table I had to contend with several of the top women in the game, including Veronica Dabul, Lauren Kling, and Team PokerStars Pros Maria "Maridu" Mayrinck and Vicky Coren. I ended up heads-up with Lauren, an online star in her own right who is among the top up-and-coming women on the live tournament circuit. The last time I saw her she was playing a first-round table with Vanessa Selbst and the Grinder in the $5,000 NAPT Bounty Shootout at the Crystal Casino. Now she was playing heads-up against... me?

Lauren and I battled it out for over an hour before her pocket eights ran into my pocket queens and I locked up my first-ever major live tournament win and a much-needed $29,798. It was overwhelming, surreal, and far more emotional than I expected with my boyfriend Pauly and so many friends, old and new, sweating me from the rail. I'd watched this story play out so many times, seen the tears of joy and relief on the faces of qualifiers that had turned the proverbial matchstick into a lumberyard. Most were in complete disbelief that they'd actually done it and I finally experienced for myself that same floating sensation I'd written thousands of words about.

kristin_bihr_winner_photo.JPG

I'm still a bankroll nit and you won't find me turning pro anytime soon, but if you want to take your game to the next level, I encourage you to take that leap of faith and satellite your way into a live event. I can tell you from experience that it can be accomplished, even on the slimmest of bankrolls. Take a shot at the big parlay. See a new country. Dust of those ski boots and try for a seat at EPT Snowfest or do the same with your high school Spanish and get down to LAPT Vina del Mar.

And should you get there and see a blonde American girl hovering next to your table, notebook in hand, well consider me a good omen when it comes to Cinderella stories.

Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in PS Women