The women of the Big Game

PS Women logo.jpgWhen Cari Bershell stepped onto the set of The Big Game she was hoping to see two people: Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu. She wanted to play with Phil because "he always doubles up the loose cannons," while she thought Negreanu would be a ball to play with. The Big Game is a TV show, which stakes PokerStars qualifiers $100,000 to play in a cash game against some of the top pros in the world. But Daniel and Phil were not among the five villains Cari would be grappling with for a chance to win life-changing money. The line-up was still fierce though, featuring Team PokerStars pros Jason Mercier, Eugene Katchalov, reigning World Series of Poker Champion Jonathan Duhamel, poker pro Bob Voulgaris and billionaire Guy Laliberte.

Cari, used to small stakes live cash games, made adjustments to her play based on watching previous episodes of the Big Game and thinking about the format. The loose cannon only gets to keep winnings over the initial $100,000 stake, which encourages risk-taking, including thin calls and bluffs that might not be profitable in an ordinary game. The top loose cannon of the season wins a North American Poker Tour passport worth $50,000, which adds even more incentive for the cannons to seek action. Cari was determined not to let the lights, stakes and excitement cause her to play too passively. She told PokerStars Women, "Watching the first season and seeing some players freeze under the pressure" made her realize how important it was to stay calm and collected.


From the very start, Cari showed the pros that she couldn't be pushed around, calling third pair against a three-barrel bluff by Duhamel. In another early dramatic hand against Mercier, she pulled off a bluff of her own. Mercier raised under the gun and Cari called in the small blind with 77. She bet out on a Q♥ 2♠ 5♦ board and got heads-up with Mercier. The J♠ turn was checked through. Cari then overbet the river, after which Mercier tank-folded. Upon watching the episode later, Cari saw Jason's hole cards and was surprised by how strong his holding was: Q♦ T♣.

Throughout the week, Cari was relentlessly aggressive and built her stack up to over $155,000 by the final episode. Cari was just a double -up away from grabbing the lead for the coveted NAPT passport. At this point, she got involved in a fateful hand against Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque De Soleil and the One Drop Foundation. First to act, Guy raised with A♠ K♠ while Cari called on the button with A♦ T♥ and Jason Mercier called in the Big Blind with 5♥ 3♥. The flop was a lovely sight for Cari: A♥ T♠ 4♣ for top two pair. The turn brought the ugly K♦, bringing Guy a better two pair. After calling bets on all three streets, Cari ended up losing an 80K pot. Despite this cooler, Cari ended the season with $27,000 in profit. Cari was even proud of the unlucky hand, "I think a lot of loose cannons in my position would have gotten stacked."

Since the show's taping, Cari has moved up from 1-2 to 2-5 and 5-10 NL cash. At the time of filming, Cari was a college admissions officer. Additionally, Cari has degrees in physics and law and recently moved from Las Vegas to Houston to take the bar exam. She is still passionate about poker and is also busy building her bankroll for live tournaments.

Cari would love to see more women taking up poker. As she watched the full season of the Big Game, she found growing admiration for Team Poker Stars Pro Vanessa Selbst, who appeared on the third episode: "I'm glad she was not at my table. We probably would have been running into each other a lot."

This season's other female loose cannon, Courtney Gee, is no stranger to PokerStars Women. Courtney, a Vancouver-based tournament pro, plays in the weekly Women's Sunday and qualified to this year's PokerStars Caribbean Adventure via a PokerStars Live Women's satellite. Courtney's line-up included Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, Phil Laak, business man Rick Salomon, poker pro Bryn Kenney and Randy Lew, aka "nanonoko" of Team PokerStars Online.

Gee lost most of her chips in an unfortunate hand where she got queens all in preflop against Salomon's pair of tens. When a ten flopped, Courtney said, "my heart sank...but I took it better than I thought it would." In response to some commentary that her style was overly tight for the format, Courtney replied, "I'm happy with the way I played. Though I may not have played optimally for the Big Game, I played in a way that should be profitable."

Since the show, Courtney has increased her volume and says she feels like a different player, "I've learned to hand-read better, and (deepened) my understanding of stack-sizes and position." She's also posted a number of stellar results on PokerStars this summer, including 1st place in a $44 15K guaranteed Turbo, chopping a $11 Rebuy for almost 10K and final tabling a $162 freezeout.

Courtney also plays the Women's Sunday every week. "I'm really impressed that Stars has worked so hard to involve women. I hope more women start playing poker. I just think it's an amazing game. "

To watch the full episodes see Courtney Gee and Cari Bershell.

Jennifer Shahade
@PokerStars in PS Women