This year's Women's Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure was filled with fun players, interesting stories, and poker action at every turn.
The tournament brought 66 players to the tables in the massive poker room set up for PCA players. That created a $66K prize pool, enough to pay out the top eight players. Day 1 was long but made the final table late into the night, and the required 12 levels ended the night with only six players remaining.
Day 1 highlights
Day 2 highlights
Under the surface
Every poker tournament has a story, and there are many individual chapters because the players are so different. Each of them comes from a different place, traveled a unique road to get to the tournament, and has their own personal reasons for playing and wanting to win.
Some of the players at the final table had stories to tell of poker relationships. Tracy Rouse, who finished in eighth place, is married to 11th place finisher Wendy Davis. Lexy Gavin had a fun group of railbirds at the final table that included players like Jesse Sylvia and Russell Thomas of WSOP Main Event final table fame.
Several of the players were known simply for their poker prowess. Seventh place finisher Xuan Liu is quite well-known for her skills online and live, most recently and notably her 2012 fourth place finish at the PCA Main Event final table. Jamie Kerstetter also has live and online results, as well as being known as a member of the elite Grindettes group of female players. Besides winning an Omaha tournament last summer, she finished fourth in the WPT Borgata Poker Open Main Event. Marguerite Spagnuola won the 2010 WSOP Circuit Ladies Event and final tabled one at the Borgata Poker Open just months ago, among her many other accomplishments in East Coast live poker in the United States.
Bernadette Martino proudly donned a unique pair of PokerStars sunglasses throughout the PCA Women's Event, something that her son made for her because of her love of poker and PokerStars. She did quite well without much English language under her belt, and despite the issue of having a very unique and special jade ring stolen from her on the trip. In the end, she was all smiles because of her success in the tournament.
The charity factor
Valerie Jensen was a mystery during much of the tournament. She wore a beautiful pink hat on Day 1 but remained very quiet through much of the day, accumulating chips and minding her cards. But it was the occasional visits from husband Greg Jensen that gave away her identity.
Greg enjoys poker, though he's not as well-known as names like Mercier or Grospellier in the high stakes tournament poker world. That was the case until he showed up to play in the $100K buy-in Super High Roller, made the final table, and finish sixth for $286,200. Most extraordinarily, the successful businessman chose to donate the balance of his $286,200 winnings to the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.
He then became a spectator when his wife final tabled Event 31. Valerie played a game that made her opponents wonder if she knew what she was doing, so when I asked her when she started playing poker, she responded with "about a week ago," and then laughed. In reality, she's been a games player all her life but really started learning more about poker eight or nine years ago. She doesn't enter tournaments very often, and this was her first major final table.
Her dry, brilliant sense of humor emerged as she answered questions about her third place finish while her husband stood within ear shot. "He only came in sixth in his tournament," she said, referring to his Super High Roller final table. "I wouldn't really call that a success. We were playing Blackjack Switch, and I was better at that, too, so..."
Valerie then took a serious tone when explaining that she, too, will donate her money to the Newtown families. With emotion, she said, "We live near Newtown, and it's very important to me to help Newtown smile again. We're hopefully going to make them a carousel."
A dream come true
Corina Lupascu was quiet throughout the tournament, though began smiling later on Day 1 and into Day 2 when she realized that all of her poker study could just pay off. The Romanian native has always enjoyed the game, having played for years with her family and dedicated herself to it.
Throughout the tournament, Corina was on her phone, sometimes doing research on her opponents, but more importantly keeping her brother in Romania up-to-date on her progress. He also plays poker. "Oh, yes, he enjoys it, too," she told me emphatically. They helped each other learn the game, sharing strategies and ways to improve.
When she won the tournament, Corina was so excited that her previously subdued grin turned into a smile bigger than the distance between her and her brother. She immediately texted him that she won the tournament, and she smiled even bigger at her phone when the congratulatory response came through. She also had a friend at the PCA who traveled with her from her current home in New York, and he was overcome with emotion. As he approached her with the beginnings of tears in her eyes, Corina became serious. "Don't," she said firmly, referring to her desire not to break into tears of joy. He hugged her, then left so as to respect her wishes, as he was still teetering on emotion.
Much of Corina's poker life has been spent online, with several $5K wins. "I've had most of my poker successes online. This is the biggest live win," she admitted. And what does someone do with this kind of win?
"Get a visa!" she exclaimed. "I have a visiting visa to the US, but I want to get a professional one so I can stay longer than six months at a time. I live in New York, but I go back and forth to Romania, and they give me a hard time every time because of the poker. I'm starting to do it as a business, and now here I am. This is a good start!"
Corina shared her joy through hugs to our photographer and people like me, and we were happy to share in her success.
A gracious winner is always exciting, as is a happy and smiling one. Corina was filled with such genuine emotion, and it showed just enough for the joy to spread to all of us.
Congratulations to all of our finishers!
1st place: Corina Lupascu $22,420
2nd place: Marguerite Spagnuola $14,080
3rd place: Valerie Jensen $8,320
4th place: Jamie Kerstetter $6,080
5th place: Bernadette Martino $4,480
6th place: Lexy Gavin $3,200
7th place: Xuan Liu $2,880
8th place: Tracy Rouse $2,560
Photo credits and thanks to Carlos Monti.
Jennifer Newell is a PokerStars freelance contributor.