ANZPT Perth: Go west, young men!
For those of us who make our home in the relatively populous regions of Australia's south-east, it's sometimes easy to forget that the bulk of the country is empty. The four-hour flight from Melbourne to Australia's western coastline provides a stark reminder.
Watching from QF475, the conveyor belt of farmland gives way to the vast expanse of the Great Australian Bight and the Southern Ocean before landfall brings a vista of mile after mile of parched desert.
Suddenly, Australia's own version of the fabled Oz looms on the horizon, and you step wide-eyed and slightly bewildered into the world's most remote city, a thriving metropolis that's home to more than 1.6 million people.
Welcome to Perth, the state capital of Western Australia, for the second stop on season two of the PokerStars.net Australia New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT). Lying on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Perth epitomises the "great Australian dream" as much as any of the major east coast cities.
With an idyllic Mediterranean-style climate and more self-made millionaires per capita than any other city in the world (thanks mostly to the state's almost unthinkable mineral wealth), it's a place where dreams come true. For one player in the AUD $2500 ANZPT Perth Main Event, dreams will also be realised over the next few days.
The setting for the tournament couldn't be more impressive: the Burswood Entertainment Complex on the shores of the grand Swan River, overlooking the city skyline and the lush parkland that surrounds Perth's CBD.
Although removed from Australia's major cities like Sydney and Melbourne by more than 3000 kilometres (about the same distance that separates New York from Las Vegas), Perth has not been immune to the popularity of poker that has swept the nation in the past five years.
Burswood Casino has established a fine poker culture in recent years thanks to its Sapphire Series and annual Western Classic, which made the decision to add Perth to the ANZPT calendar a no-brainer for season two.
After years of trekking across the nation to take on the region's best players, Perth's poker fraternity are looking forward to playing with the home-field advantage for the first time.
That list includes reigning WSOP Player of the Year and four-time WSOP bracelet winner Jeff Lisandro, who was born in Perth. Much to the delight of the Burswood poker team, Lisandro has been front and centre since the opening day of the preliminary schedule.
However, the east coast invasion is underway, led by PokerStars.net Team Australia's Grant Levy, Eric Assadourian, Tony Hachem and Emad Tahtouh. PokerStars.net Team Asia's Bryan Huang has also jetted in from Singapore for the event.
Many players have made the most of the opportunity to check out Perth's sights and enticing array of restaurants and bars, arriving several days prior to the Main Event. The world's sunniest capital city has rewarded their foresight with day-after-day of warm mid-autumn afternoons.
Over the next five days, we look forward to bringing you some of the flavour of this unique city and state. But after tonight's Welcome Party, it'll be down to business from 12.15pm local time for day 1A of the PokerStars.net ANZPT Perth Main Event.