What does it take to win two PCA titles? Ask Kathy Saraf
As we've spoken about before on the blog, there is something quite reassuring in poker when a single player routinely wins the big events. It's not just that desire to make heroes (or heroines) out of a field of hundreds, it means putting to bed the notion that everything that takes place on the poker table is pure chance.
Of course we all know that poker is a skill game, but so is predicting the weather. When that tornado sneaks by unexpected, or flash floods take your azaleas by surprise, you can be left wondering what it's all about.
Happily such players customarily make themselves obvious, such as one of the most talented players in the women's game Kathy Saraf.
Last year the women's event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure drew a field of 69. It's a tournament that is often victim to cliché. Far from being a place where the wives and girlfriends of professional players can spend a few hours, it is an event inked into the schedule of some of the best women in the game. And while they have in the past become theatres for indignant men to wear their grandmother's frock to make a dubious point, it is more about the best women in the game competing against each other in the most competitive environment, and in January 2014 the best of them was Saraf.
She had of course been there and done it all before. Her win in 2014 was her second PCA Women's Event title in three years. To earn it she had beaten some of the best women in the game, including Team PokerStars Pro Fatima Moreira de Melo, Laurence Grondin and Loni Harwood. With the PCA now fast approaching, and qualifiers to the PCA Women's Event already under way, Saraf talked to the PokerStars Blog about her experiences, starting with how she did it.
"I'm not sure how but some luck certainly helps!" she said. "Both times I stayed as focused and relaxed as much as possible and played one hand at a time. Of course as you get closer to the end, you always want to play your best and make every decision carefully as the end is within reach."
It helps also when the environment you're playing in is conducive to getting you to play your best. For Saraf that means a great structure, a beautiful venue and an atmosphere in the tournament room that was both welcoming but also inspiring. The PCA managed to provide all of that.
"I remember feeling much more confident the second time," Saraf said. "The first time I was just excited to get to the final heads-up. The second time, I was more focused. I wanted to win even more, but I also knew what it would take to get there. I also had a small cheering section the second time (husband and some family) so that was nice motivator!"
Saraf had actually only played the event to keep her sister-in-law, playing her first event, company. The result, and a pretty impressive trophy, turned a nice gesture into a nice result. So how did it compare to that first win?
"Slightly different but I was excited to win just the same. The field seemed tougher the second time as the ladies seemed overall much more experienced."
That much was true, particularly at the final table where she would face Elena Stover heads-up. After a difficult duel Saraf managed to steer jack-seven past Stover's pocket queens on the last hand to become the event's first double winner. Unsurprisingly the PCA has come to mean a lot to Saraf.
"The PCA is an important event for me," she said. "I looked forward to it each year. Being married now with two kids, I don't get to play too many events anywhere. It's usually the PCA and a couple of events during WSOP."
Part of that restraint is the obligations of everyday life. Married with two children, Saraf juggles her family life with a passion for poker, one shared with her husband. So when the opportunity comes along to play she typically makes the most of it, whether it's in the Bahamas with women or in Las Vegas with men. I asked her such events compare.
"There are a few differences," she said. "I would say the ladies event is much friendlier in terms of chatter. Both are competitive but I would say there's much less chatter in a mixed event and a little less friendly in terms of atmosphere."
But regardless of how much she enjoys the PCA, a third title will have to wait.
"My husband and I both love the game and enjoy playing when we can with friends and in some tournaments but having young kids makes it tough to find too much time."
For that reason Saraf will not be at the PCA this year and instead will be at home while her son starts his first day at school. Poker titles are one thing, but that sounds like a pretty good reason to us.
And besides, there's always 2016.
Qualifiers for the PCA Women's Event are now running on the PokerStars client, offering a variety of packages. For more details on the event, and the PCA in general, go to the PokerStars Women Live webpage.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.