PCA 2012: Looking for your big break


Well done. You've made it unscathed through the first two levels of the PCA main event. You now have a 15 minute break. Ironically, you're about to find out that the break can be more exhausting that actually playing as you compete with 700 other players to make the most of it.

First you'll have to mill around the tables as everyone heads for the same door at the same time. There's a lot to talk about in 15 minutes so catching up with friends between tables is commonplace. That's if you're not still involved in a hand, one of those intellectual battles lasting several minutes, dividing players at the table into those who stay and see what happens and those who leave, assuming everything will take care of itself.

As long as you're not that well known you'll then be free to leave. If you are the cameras will be after you. Like certain mammals that only come out at night, or traffic cops, TV crews emerge from out of nowhere at the breaks to pounce on unsuspecting players who really just need to pee. Ivan Demidov, still tired, was one. Sergio Garcia, a few feet away, was another. William Thorson, not in demand today, walked by smiling on his way outside.

The rotunda outside the tournament room, before the storm

If you're like Thorson a cigarette is your main priority right now. Thorson has been here before and knows the shortest routes, so follow him. If not, try the doors along the corridor outside. One of them should open. Then, light up.

Their door back in is adjacent to the large bank of tables on which are stacked sandwiches, chafing dishes powered by Sterno, and buckets full of carbohydrates. It's all yours, but only if you know how the system works, which some lining up for a meatball sub weren't aware of.

First you decide want you want, then you go line up at the cashier's desk, then you buy the required number of tickets worth a dollar each (exactly the same as the dollar you're buying them with). Then you take your tickets to the food counter where someone will exchange these tickets for food. There's a middle man in their somewhere but it's a system we've grown accustomed to.

Next to the food counter is the alcoholic drinks counter, behind which a man is waiting for someone, anyone, to get thirsty in front of a bank of pretty bottles. None do. For now at least.

Other players rush in the direction of the bathroom. Felipe Ramos is one. Among the nicest guys in the game, Ramos reached out to touch fists with me, and I awkwardly wrapped my hand around his fist like we'd agreed on a game of Roshambo. I explained, pointing at my tie, that I don't really do anything but an old-fashioned handshake. He replied, wearing a baseball cap and the trinkets of youth, that he can only really do fist pumps. We parted amicably, wishing each other happy new year.

The tournament room at the PCA

By now you're running out of time. You've only got fifteen minutes and the line for the gents is getting longer. Then there's the food. You're not allowed to bring it back into the tournament room; you have to think about it, pay for it, collect it and eat it before they'll let you back in. It rules out an appetizer.

Before you know it play has restarted. You've had your cigarette, your bladder is relieved, and you managed to eat a hotdog without getting ketchup on your shirt. Good job. See you at the next break.