Getting the royal flush at the PCA

Since my first visit to the PCA as a player in the Main Event, I've been lucky enough to attend three more times--once more as a player in the Ladies Event and twice as a blogger. Even though all four trips have been exciting, I have to say that being a player and being treated like royalty is somehow better. I know that may shock you because, as everyone knows, the life of poker writers is one glamorous locale after another, partying with celebrities and interviewing poker pros. In between, we shut down the clubs at night and stay up until the wee hours of the morning at our own private poker games. Or at least that's what people think.

Bloggers - PCA.jpg

I'm afraid I'm here to burst that bubble and tell you that blogging at the PCA is more work than play. Granted, it's lots of fun interviewing players and the occasional TV star, but not to put too fine a point on it--it is work, and the hours are long--and there's not much time for partying if getting a few hours of sleep at night is something you fancy. But more about that later. Let's talk first about what it's like to be a player at one of the world's premier poker tournaments.

Players are treated like royalty at the PCA, and whether you're playing the Main Event or a side tournament like the Women's Event, PokerStars makes sure that royalty is respected. I've interviewed some pros as a blogger, and meeting the likes of Liv Boeree, Vicky Coren, and Vanessa Rousso has been a pretty exciting experience. I even chatted with TV celebrity Ricki Lake at one event and found her to be as funny and charming in real life as she is on television.

But all of that pales to being at a table surrounded by pros and knowing that you're playing for thousands, if not millions, of dollars. It doesn't hold a candle to playing poker all day, eating incredible food at the resort's amazing restaurants, and partying all night at their nightclubs. Sitting hunched over a keyboard writing up that interview from the night before seems decidedly less glamorous than eating breakfast poolside and squeezing in a swim and a few hours of sun before the games start later in the day. And when it's all over and the tournaments wrap up on the last evening, the PokerStars party is the New Year's most extravagant kick-off event for players around the world. World-class food, drinks, and entertainment are the order of the day, and no expense is spared to make it a party the players will always remember. I know I will.

PCA party 2013.JPG

I remember my first blogging experience quite differently, however, but for an entirely different reason. Partying was pretty much out of the picture for me when I arrived there as a blogger because, unlike some heartier souls whose tales have graced these pages, a few hours of sleep for me at night is a necessity if I want to write something coherent the next morning. And at least one meal throughout the day is required to keep my body from rebelling. Unfortunately, that was what happened when I covered the Women's Event in 2011.

I brought my bathing suit with me that year, hoping for at least one dip in that gorgeous ocean on my final day there after the event. As it turned out, that bathing suit never saw sunlight, and neither did I. When the tournament was over, I went to my room and didn't leave for 24 hours. I was finally forced to venture forth the next evening due to a sore throat and a burning thirst for something citrusy and sweet. Shivering from the chills between bouts of burning fever, wearing my faux fur coat and long pants, my face flushed from the fever, I looked a bit out of place for the climate. This was January, mind you, but January in the Bahamas means a balmy 80 degrees. And I had a nasty bout of strep throat.

I was lucky that my flight left on schedule the next day and that I made it home in time to see the doctor. He was appalled to see the shape I was in, but after I told him I had been covering a poker tournament, he warmed up enough to tell me his bad beat stories while writing my prescription.

The trip was memorable, as it turned out, but for a whole different reason. I got to tell everyone I got a royal flush at the PCA but still wound up losing. Poker players always have stories, and that one is mine.

The second visit as a blogger was much improved, as I had learned the ropes by that time. I forced myself to grab a sandwich on a break at least once throughout the day. And I gave up on spending precious time in restaurants. I ordered room service at midnight or whenever I had the time and wolfed it down before falling into bed at night. The days flew by in a blur of names and notes and bustouts, but I weathered it mostly unscathed.

But I can tell you that from either perspective, as either a player or a blogger, there are some things that never lose their appeal. Every time I've come across that bridge and seen Atlantis in the distance, I've been awed by the location and beauty of it, and that I get to stay there.

Atlantis approach.jpg

Another thing that never fails to surprise me is the number of poker pros and celebrities everywhere. I remember arriving that first time with my husband and seeing Greg Raymer and Daniel Negreanu in the hallway as we entered the lobby to check in. I was trying to act nonchalant, but seeing them in the flesh instead of on TV had much more of an effect on me than I imagined. I had spent the better part of a year analyzing and watching them on ESPN, trying to pick up some of their poker knowledge by osmosis. They were luminaries of the truest order for me, and they were right there in front of me. I didn't get their autographs that day but did get a picture with Raymer later at the party that I still have in my scrapbook of memories from that trip.

Greg Raymer at PCA.jpg

The PCA is an unforgettable experience and one every poker player should enjoy at least once. Let this be the year that it happens for you by playing in the daily satellites to win your seat for this year's PokerStars Women Live Event at the PCA. You can find all the details about it here.

And to read about last year's tournament and some thoughts from the winner, see this post from the blog about Corina Lupascu's exciting experience.

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women