PCA 2013: The storm before the storm

In about a week, the tenth annual PokerStars Caribbean Adventure ("PCA10") will arrive at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Some of the earliest people to arrive will also be some of the heaviest hitters in the bunch since the event kicks off with the $100,000 buy-in super high-roller tournament on January 5th. Obviously only a relative handful of people will participate in that, and the tournament room may seem strangely quiet.

But by the time we close the books on PCA 2013, a couple of thousand poker players, family members, observers, reporters, and the occasional goggle-eyed walk-on will have participated in the festival in one way or another.

If you've only been to the Atlantis during PCA, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a year-round operation and that the systems you see in place, the games going on, the staff running around - they're all part of the day-to-day activities at the Atlantis. In fact, when our advance teams roll into the Atlantis (basically as you read this), they find a massive empty convention space staring back at them. Their job is to prepare it to be a beehive of tournament poker, cash poker, broadcasting, banking, blogging, back office operations, and various other activities.

Most of the first group in are battle-scarred veterans of multiple PCAs, such as project manager Hilda Bramley (who has worked at more PokerStars events than even she could count). We also have a team from the event company Meridican. Keeping to our policy of concentrating on what we do best, PokerStars handles the poker and we let Meridican concentrate on their specialty - the "event" aspects that are similar to many other gatherings which they manage. For instance, they coordinate the justifiably famous closing party, which will be on January 13th, and they get all of our players, guests, and staff situated in hotel rooms. Speaking of hotel rooms, the PCA will eat up 9000 room-nights at various Atlantis properties during the course of the event.

Getting back to our staffing, tournament personnel will begin to filter in as opening day nears. Tournament director Mike Ward, who has been with the PCA since the beginning, coordinates over a hundred dealers and floor staff who will make the poker operation run smoothly for ten days. Many of these people are essentially itinerant poker professionals who travel around the world dealing poker and working as dealer coordinators ("DCs"), floor staff (mid-level tournament management), and various other poker room roles. The PCA is considered a prime gig among poker dealers so Mike is able to draw the very top talent for this event; you'll see it when you sit down at one of the poker tables.


Mike Ward

Simultaneously, the next wave of PokerStars employees will arrive. These people have responsibility for specific events or promotions going on at the PCA. People to run the Zoom Challenge (a $1K buy-in tournament to see who can run up the most of number of play money chips in Zoom), look after our VIPs, and manage the World Cup of Poker. Bloggers, led by nine-PCA veteran Brad Willis, will report the showdowns, the throwdowns, and the celebrity sightings. They'll tell you who is playing open-face Chinese poker where, and if Elky goes swimming in the shark tank (which he won't), they'll be the first ones on the scene with their Nikons.

The last wave of worker bees is the PokerStars "working holiday" team. These are PokerStars employees who have been recognized by their colleagues as exemplifying the PokerStars spirit (which is difficult to define but easy to spot). These fortunate folks are sent on an all-expenses paid "holiday" to the PCA, with the small caveat that they have to put in a certain number of hours each day working. They may assist the blogging team by finding interesting stories at the tables. Or maybe they'll work at the Bank of PokerStars, which is headed up by long-time PokerStars security maven Leonard Geylikman. One of the most important job assignments these folks get is at the reception desk, where they direct players, guests, and random lost people to the right game, the right meeting room, the right event.

Which wraps us around to the point of all this preparation. There is a well-known (potentially apocryphal) story told about a businessman visiting Disneyland many years ago in the company of a Disney vice-president. At some point during the tour, the Disney VP bent down to pick up a food wrapper or some similar piece of trash. The businessman noticed that the park seemed extraordinarily clean and asked, "So who picks up the trash at Disneyland?" The VP replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "Everybody."

Similarly (and this is most assuredly not apocryphal), these are the opening two sentences of the guidelines sent to all PokerStars staffers at the PCA:

"Our players are the most important people in our business. It is our goal to serve them with the highest degree of courtesy and professionalism."

All this work, all the preparation, the meetings, the conference calls. Late nights and long hours inside a hotel building when a warm blue Atlantic Ocean beckons from a few hundred yards away. Rushed meals and missed meals. Breakfasts of coffee and granola bars and kids thousands of miles away tucked in via Skype. It's all so that our players and guests have the best possible experience at PCA, whether they win or lose at the tables.

Every single PokerStars staffer, from the top guy on down, will be ready to answer a question or direct a lost guest. It's simply how we do the job.

So whether you watch the PCA via our live streams or you're fortunate enough to be there with us, stop and notice the people and the work that make the magic happen. Realize that tens of thousands of people-hours have gone into planning this event and when it's all over on January 14th, those people will hoist a beer in a well-deserved toast.

And then they'll start planning the 2014 PCA.

Lee Jones first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker world for over 25 years.

Lee will also be at the PCA presenting a poker seminar, hosting Q&A sessions with PokerStars Team Pros, and answering any questions that our players and guests have. Follow him on Twitter (@leehjones) to get information about what he's doing at PCA and where you can meet him.


Lee Jones at the 2007 PCA working among piles of boxes