PCA 2012: The welcome face in the crowd

PCA-2010-thumbnail.jpgIt's not unusual for people to want to watch events like yesterday's main event or today's high roller final. A certain breed can happily spend a couple of hours glued to the action, and might rush in from the beach, the bar, or wherever, to see the heads-up conclusion and the crowning of a new champion. But not many will spend all day here, every day, just for the love of the game.

That is except for Joseph Levy who has become a familiar face in the Imperial Ballroom, not to mention everyone's new friend.

He certainly doesn't look like the type to be enamored by poker. Tall and thin, with long white hair and a face that could tell some stories, Levi has spent his life travelling, looking for things in life to love rather than hate, an ideal that led him to find his wife and family, and also poker.

"I've loved playing poker for many years," said Levy, taking his spot in the bleachers. It marks the end of a unique experience for Levy who won his seat to the PCA as part of PokerStars' Tenth Anniversary celebrations in the "Class of 2001" freeroll; a fairly exclusive event.

"There were only 96 players registered and 12 of them didn't play," said Levy. "I didn't even know it was for the PCA."

"We were all talking about how we all had old names," said Levy, pointing out that there were no numbers, modern slang or bravado. Levy's user name on PokerStars is 'Trousers'.

Joseph Levy (in grey), aka 'Trousers'

Levy went on to win it, landing in the Bahamas as a PokerStars online veteran, but a high stakes rookie. He made it through the first day but found it rough going on Day 2, finally moving in with pocket queens, only to run into pocket kings.

"I was disappointed," said Levy, "but only for five minutes."

Levy's trip here had been far from certain. First he had to get a new passport, replacing the one that was about to expire. Then he had to arrange flights and the paperwork, hassle that would tempt some to just take the money.

But even after a short time talking to Levy you sense this isn't really his style; the spirit of adventure strong in this citizen of the world, who would probably point to his upbringing to explain why he sees the world as one big place to make friends.

It's not hard to understand why.

Levy's parents had moved to Israel after the war from Bulgaria, where as Jews they were among a lucky few to escape the horrors of deportation. Levy's father was Professor Morris Levy, who went on to become a pioneer of open-heart surgery, performing the first heart transplant ever in Israel.

His family's history is a sensitive subject, far removed from the comparatively trivial world of poker, although perhaps you could point to Wanderlust as being an ideal attribute for poker players.

So far though Levy gets all he needs from just watching.

"I've played ten years of poker. I'm not great. I'm still a Bronze Star," said Levy before beaming: "I was Silver last year."

For Levy poker means a place to play tournaments for a few dollars on PokerStars. Walking into his local card room in Blackpool, England, was also a way to integrate into his adopted country.

To some, Blackpool might seem an odd place to settle, but it was on the coast, it was affordable and had enough charm for Levy to call it home in 1997. It also had a local card room.

"I knew no one, but I played backgammon so I looked around for a place to play. Then a friend said there was more money in poker."

Levy would play low stakes tournaments in deserted casinos, the type where staff would have to scour the roulette tables for enough players to play.

"I loved the atmosphere, the people, the excitement," said Levy, an atmosphere magnified so powerfully here, making this unlikely trip the experience of a lifetime. "I play every week on PokerStars for the past ten years," said Levy. "I never play the Sunday Million - but I will now. I'll try to qualify for other events as well."

For now though it's back into the bleachers where Levy, usually chatting to someone nearby, can watch the finale to another great PCA. A first visit for this now familiar face but certainly not the last.