Playing the PCA Women's Caribbean Adventure

ps_news_thn.jpgA major snowstorm was headed for Philadelphia exactly when I was scheduled to leave for the Bahamas. In a panic, I called the airline to change my flight: "There's a sixty percent chance your flight will be cancelled, to change it will cost $500...but if you wait an hour, we can do it for free." I applied everything I ever learned in poker and made a +EV decision. Fewer than 24 hours later, my boyfriend and I landed in the Bahamas.

After checking into the Coral Towers at the Atlantis, I could tell I was in the right place as the PokerStars timebank tolled for dozens of teenaged grinders. When these young people opened their mouths, they spoke intelligently about poker and gambling, breaking new ground in subjects like four-betting and Atlantis specific prop bets like whether a tourist will come splashing down the right slide or left slide first (always bet on right). Upon other matters, they were bizarrely oblivious. "Where are the PokerStars headquarters anyway?" mused one, "Hmmm, somewhere in Central America," another replied, "No...Macau," and after a few more tries someone nailed it, "Isle of Man!"

As funny as I found it at the time, I cannot blame anyone for associating PokerStars with a variety of international locales. The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is an ideal example of this, a super-tournament series that merges the Latin American Poker Tour, the North American Poker Tour and the European Poker Tour. Roaming the halls and the aquarium, I recognized snippets of many languages from Russian to Portuguese.

The PCA's January calendar date comes just in time for us to give up on ill-conceived and overly general New Year's resolutions like "Never spend more money on an online MTT than you would on a pair of shoes" and "Two-drink maximum while grinding." In fact, some amateurs and semi-professionals make the PCA their yearly big buy-in event as opposed to the World Series of Poker (WSOP). It's not a hard sell--Bahama Mamas in January or guzzling water in the desert in a vain attempt to fend off dehydration.

It's also easy to forget that millions are at stake through the course of the PCA, as the tropical atmosphere seems to affect pros and amateurs alike. Both appear relaxed and sociable. Although the highest stakes players reside in the luxurious and secluded Cove, many go to the party bar at the Coral in the evening. When drinking colorful concoctions, sometimes with shots on the side, midstakes, highstakes and super-high rollers seem to merge, like Atlantis's famous Lazy River.

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As for my own socializing, I met a lot of competitors that I'd previously only known by online screen-names at a rum-infused welcome party hosted by PokerStars Women. Among them were Maryann Morrison, the editor of Woman Poker Player Magazine and producer of Women's Poker Hour, which I co-host; and Kristin Bihr, aka change100, the author of one of my favorite poker blogs, Pot Committed. During the party, Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso stopped by and told us about her tournament selection strategy and her Big Slick Boot Camp the next morning. Seeing Vanessa in the flesh was a sign that we had truly arrived. After all, I was beckoned to the Bahamas with a striking PokerStars Women promotional image of her with sun-streaked ringlets, a baseball cap and a poker face.

My tournament started on a high as I found myself in a key hand against the same person who knocked me out of a World Series of Poker Ladies event a few years ago. Soon after taking a few small pots off of her, I called her preflop button raise with pocket eights in the big blind, along with two other players. The flop came 8 2 9 rainbow. It checked around to her and she bet 1200. I raised to 3000, everyone folded except for the button, who called. I decided to check-raise rather than slowplay by check-calling because she seemed like a solid player, and I didn't think it was likely that she'd be betting into so many opponents without a strong holding. If she did have an overpair like I suspected, there are a lot of turns that could scare her and prevent me from getting action. The turn was a jack. We got the rest of the chips in the already bloated pot on the turn and she flipped over aces. Poker is such a breeze when you flop a set vs. aces! After that hand, I felt like a high-rolling Dolphin at the Cove. Even Women in Poker Hall of Famer Kathy Liebert, sitting a few seats to my left, smiled and joked with me.

But things can change quickly in poker and twenty minutes later, I lost two-thirds of my stack and felt like a tiny goldfish on the ground level of the Coral, easy to scoop up and with no view to speak of. Where did all my chips go? Many of them were lost in a fatal hand against an inexperienced player who said she had been very successful with "PlayMoney" on PokerStars and was contemplating a switch to "Real Money." At this point I had 14K in chips and the blinds were 100/200. After an early position limper, I looked down at two black queens and made it 800. The play money player insta-raised it to 1600. The small and quick raise sent KK/AA chills up my spine but rationally I knew she could have other hands like AK-AQ, JJ and maybe even tens or other random hands. I decided to flat and evaluate the flop, which came KJ3 all spades. Since I have the queen of spades, my hand is not bad, but not great against much of the aforementioned range, which I couldn't even be sure included hands as weak as AQ. She only had another 6K behind so with almost 4K in the pot, I decided to open-shove, optimistically hoping there were some better hands that could fold (checking may be better, though the result would be the same in most cases). She insta-called with a set of jacks and filled up on the turn, crippling me.

I patiently nursed the short stack for several hours before I was unceremoniously knocked out by talk show host and actress Ricki Lake. With about six big blinds, I shoved Ace-Ten suited from middle position and Lake kindly snap called and fast-rolled her ace-king offsuit, which held up. The only positive was that Ricki eliminated me out just in time for me to enjoy the elaborate PokerStars party, where I broke my Atlantis Diet and ate like a teenaged boy.

The next day, I sweated the star-studded final table, which featured Lauren Failla of High Heels Poker Tour (out in eighth), Ricki Lake (out in sixth) and Team PokerStars Pro Vicky Coren (out in 4th). An all-blonde final four turned into two, with high stakes tournament pro Lauren Kling vs. writer Kristin Bihr. Bihr, better known by her online handle change100, played her heart out to her largest ever score of almost $30,000.

Jennifer Shahade
@PokerStars in PS Women