2008 PCA: Turning nothing into something

Counting poker players in the early stages of a major tournament is like trying to number bees in a swarm. Everyone has an assigned seat, of course, but they also often have a friend or family on the rail, a scheduled trip to the bathroom, or a nicotine habit needing feeding. They're often buzzing to and from the tables, leaving a vacant chair.

The word coming from the man with the microphone, tournament director Mike Ward, is that about 580 players are registered today, parting with $8,000 for their shot at the big time. Of those, we have a list of 255 players who won their seat here in a PokerStars satellite, attempting to parlay a paltry couple of hundred dollars into something near to a million bucks.

A further ten names playing today have the potential to write themselves an even more spectacular story. These are the FPP qualifiers, people who saved up their Frequent Player Points on PokerStars, exchanged them for an entry fee to an online tournament, and came out on top. They earned their ticket to the Bahamas for precisely nothing except a good few hours grinding around the virtual tables. If, or maybe when, they make the money, figuring out their return on investment breaks the calculator. It's round about infinity.

Among the FPP qualifiers here in the Bahamas is Joan Schank, from Miami, Florida. She took up poker a couple of years ago, playing for play money on PokerStars, getting a feel for the software, the game and the way these tournaments go. She soon graduated into the real money ranks and earned 70 FPPs that she used to enter a satellite into a satellite, prevailing in both and successfully climbing a double-runged ladder into the main event.


To put things into perspective, a stress ball at the PokerStars store costs 400 FPPs. Joan is in the Bahamas for less than a quarter the price of that. Her, her husband and daughter made the trip, and so far they're having a blast.

"My daughter played her first live sit and go yesterday," Joan said. "And now she's out on the water slides with Humberto Brenes's son."

Only at the PCA.

This is Joan's first live tournament, but she's made a few forays into the casinos of Fort Lauderdale, so knows a fair bit about live cash play, enjoying the chance to take longer over decisions and pick up tells. She's sitting opposite Sorel Mizzi this afternoon, another who has made a successful leap from the virtual to bricks-and-mortar world. It's not going to be an easy table, but so far Joan is up, with a couple of thousand more than her starting 20,000.

One more thing: don't expect Joan to be intimidated in this male-dominated environment. Although there are only a handful of women in the entire field, it's hardly new to Joan, who is a real estate investor and used to taking on a 99 percent male field in the auction houses of Florida. Just like there, brain beats brawn and Joan's ambition at the PCA is remarkably clear:

"I want to win!" she said.

All photos © Neil Stoddart