PCA Stories That Won't be in the Brochure
This is the time of year when a PokerStars rep emails me and asks me to provide memories from previous PokerStars Caribbean Adventures. Of course, what they really mean is they want me to provide something positive to put in their brochure or up on the wall at the Atlantis, the kind of thing that will be interesting to new players going to the PCA for the first time.
Each PCA seems like a new installment of the Harry Potter series. There are all of these fresh new faces who've won packages on PokerStars, and they're looking at me to tell them what it's going to be all about.
Even with my advanced age and failing memory, I do have plenty of recollections from past PCAs I can share. Usually only the nice ones make the brochure, but the others I can share here in a blog post.
The First PCA: A Full Boat
My first PCA memory goes back to the very first PCA in early 2004, which was on a cruise ship. I used to go to the WSOP and over to the Commerce where I would occasionally play a tournament while there, but I was going to those places for the cash games. Until this trip, I had never traveled somewhere just to play in a tournament.
The previous year Jack Binion bought a casino in Mississippi, and he asked his best friend Doyle Brunson to try to get the players who played in the "Big Game" to move it there during his new poker tournament to drum up interest in his casino. We all agreed to go, and before we went, a few of us decided to go to this other big tournament happening a few days before -- the first PCA.
So I made arrangements to go on the cruise ship to play the PCA, and as I recall Phil Ivey and I both got knocked out the first day. Phil pleaded with me to get us both off the boat, because Phil gets seasick easily. I went to the ship's captain and told him my friend was sick and we needed to get off the boat in Haiti, which was close by.
The captain proceeded to inform me they were having a civil war in Haiti. There was no way we could get off there unless it was a matter of life and death.
I reported this news to Phil. He said "I would rather dodge bullets than stay on this boat." I went back and tried to convince the captain to let us off, but he held firm and we had to wait another day before getting off in Jamaica.
From there we flew to Tunica, primarily to play in the cash games with the other pros who had come and I also entered the tournament, a $10K WPT event. I remember as that tourney got underway we were all amused to hear reports that Gus Hansen, who had stayed behind on the boat, was making another deep tournament run.
Gus was a new player in the Big Game then, and kind of "not ready for prime time" (or so we thought). We were all hoping he'd win the tournament, and miraculously he did, his third WPT win in just two years. Little did we know, time would prove Gus to be one of the best tournament players of all time especially considering how few tourneys he plays and how much success he's had.
Meanwhile, the tournament continued in Tunica -- and somehow I won that one, earning me my first really big tourney win. So my memory of that first PCA isn't necessarily a great one for me, having gone out early, but I do remember Gus's triumph and then my getting the win shortly thereafter in Tunica.
Journeying to Atlantis
The next year, the tournament was moved to Atlantis. I took several family members with me that year. I remember having a good time, but I also remember it being very expensive. I think we spent around $30K on the trip on food and lodging.
I also remember the Atlantis being the most beautiful casino I'd ever seen. I liked seeing all of the sharks and fish and the way the tanks weaved throughout the property. That was the good part.
The bad part was I had never encountered such poor service. If you ever complained, they'd just say "What do want me to do about it?" The internet service in the rooms was pretty bad as well, which was especially inconvenient for all of the online players who were staying there. On the bright side, it forced people out of their rooms downstairs where they could socialize and even play cards face-to-face.
Needing a Card
About the third or fourth year we were at the Atlantis, the recession had hit, which made it a bad time for places like the Bahamas because Americans didn't have the money to spend like they did before.
One consequence of that was that the service at the Atlantis improved. Instead of acting like we should be thankful to be in their hotel, they started to realize they needed tourists, so the staff became a lot nicer and accommodating.
It was still expensive, of course. By then I was a Team PokerStars Pro, and so I started to be concerned with how the packages players won didn't necessarily cover all of their expenses, especially if they brought family with them.
I remember a couple of occasions when a young player tried to check in his room and they wouldn't let him because he didn't own a credit card. I ended up putting up my own card for them, just so they could check in.
A Convention for Online Poker Players
All in all, I usually feel like the PCA is the second-best tournament series behind the World Series of Poker. I consider the WSOP a convention for poker players. The PCA is more like a convention for online poker players. I've enjoyed playing against guys online, then meeting them in the Bahamas and being able to match screen names with faces -- that has always been fun and I think a lot of others have had that same experience. I think every online player should go to the PCA at least once, if given the opportunity to do so.
The PCA Main Event is a great tournament, especially if you can final table it and get your tournament year off to a great start, although I haven't had that much success over the years. I've made relatively deep runs a couple of times where I got knocked out all in pre-flop with pocket aces. Once was against pocket Fours when my opponent turned a Four, and the other was against 6♠4♠ when I believe my opponent made two pair (and I think he went on to win the tournament). Then two years ago, I was short-stacked the whole way and hung on to make the last three tables.
Looking ahead to this year, there's another casino scheduled to open soon in the Bahamas, which I think bodes well for the PCA. Whether PokerStars decides to move the PCA to the new location or not, it should provide some competition and perhaps force the Atlantis to bring down its prices a bit, which would be good for the players.
Those are some of my recollections from playing the PCA over the years -- some of which are good for the brochure, some less so. Overall, it's been a series I've enjoyed playing every year, and I'm looking forward to going back again.
Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro