2007 PCA: Home again, home again

The airport smelled the same, a combination of carpet and island humidity. The immigration and customs officials greeted me with the same look of island relaxation I've come to expect when I touch down in the Caribbean. The cab ride cost the same, though I learned if I'd come a few months earlier, I would've paid more.

"$3.80 a gallon," the cabbie said in broken English when asked how much it cost to fuel up his minivan. "It was as high as $5.00 a gallon."

Here on this island, the government regulates how much the cab drivers can charge guys like me as we make our way from airport to Paradise Island. Back when gas was $5.00, the government let the cabbies make up their costs with higher fares. I was pleased to learn, though, my cab ride would still cost me $28 and the time it takes to navigate through cruise ship foot traffic in downtown Nassau. Really, it's a small price to pay when the minivan door slides open to reveal the biggest (and growing) resort in this part of the world.

This is now my third trip to Atlantis. The first trip was full of awe at both the enormity of the place and PokerStars' ability to put on a first-class poker tournament on an island where poker is usually verboten.

The second trip, I felt more in my element. The tournament had grown and PokerStars' efforts had grown with it. Now, on this third visit, this place is starting to feel like a winter home. I know the back hallways, the shortcuts, and the quickest place to run and check the NFL scores on playoff weekend.

I've written before that the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is more than a tournament. It's a poker players convention where stories come out of nowhere and future champions emerge from the masses. I shared a plane here with a World Series of Poker main event champion and a European Poker Tour Grand Final winner. I wasn't on the property for half an hour before Lee Jones grabbed me.

"I already have something for the blog," he said with an exuberance I've come to both expect and appreciate. Lee pulled a slip of paper from a stack by his laptop and pointed to it.

"Dario Minieri is here," he said. I could tell by the look on his face that Minieri wasn't the full story.

Apparently Minieri brought a bit of a posse with him. One of his Italian buddies did not yet have a seat in the main event. He came anyway. And then he played the very last $475 satellite PokerStars held. And he won his seat. If I understood correctly, the short version goes: Italian player leaves Italy to travel to Bahamas where he is not expecting to play in a poker tournament, but plays online and wins a seat anyway.

That's the kind of thing that happens here. And that's why I come. Because, for all I know, that guy is going to go on to win this thing within the next nine days.

When I arrive to any poker tournament venue, I like to walk around and get the lay of the land. Thing is, as I explained to a few folks, I know this place. I've seen it.

I wondered for a second if there was anything I hadn't seen. Then I figured it out. I've never seen the Dragon Deck at Atlantis without millions of dollars being at stake. So, I took a walk.

The Atlantis Dragon Deck, sans excitement

To be sure, the Dragon Deck has a pretty view, but there's not a lot to it today. It's wide open. If you've never seen it, it likely looks nice. But, let me remind you what it looked like this time last year:

That's what the Dragon Deck looks like when somebody wins more than a million bucks on the World Poker Tour. And that's what PokerStars offers at the Caribbean Adventure.

That said, it's going to be more than a week before we get to that deck outside. There is a lot to do between now and then. The main event kicks off on Friday. That's not to mention the Moneymaker Millionaire Freeroll Finals that will play out on Saturday or the World Championship of Battleship Poker at the beginning of next week.

We'll get to all that. The camera batteries are charged. The laptop seems to be in working order (despite having survived two years of hardcore tournament coverage). The coverage here will kick off in earnest on Friday.

In the meantime, most of the players will start arriving tomorrow in time for the kickoff party and live satellite to the main event. Even better, for those of us who don't have to oil the laptop gears and plan for a week's worth of coverage, there's a whole bunch of paradise out there to see.

The first fish I spotted (note: the poker tables are not yet open)

A few suggestions, if I may be so bold. If you make it down here, take a walk over to the marina and check out some of the yachts that have tied up. These things boast more square feet of living space than my house.

How much of these boats would your lifetime winnings buy?

Patriotism, yacht-style

Keep walking around and you'll see some of the other sights Atlantis has to offer.

When -EV sounds like a good idea...

When EV is calculated in sunlight and serotonin

When you've given up on calculating EV and want to jump off a ledge

When I left my house, it was 35 degrees outside. The plane was delayed because the frost had to be melted off the wings. I thought I suffered hypothermia on the jetway when I changed planes. So, all in all, covering a poker tournament in paradise is a pretty good way to spend the first part of the new year. The only better way would be playing in the PCA....which hundreds of people are going to start doing here in just a couple days.

Keep your eyes right here for full coverage. Or, better yet, watch a good sunset until the cards get in the air. It's good for the soul.

The sun sets over Atlantis