PCA 2014: Atlantis through a child's eyes

I have seen John Juanda with his shirt off.

I'm not the first to achieve this distinction, but I'm certainly in a very small subset of the man's more casual admirers. Juanda, one of poker's winningest players in history, is here on Paradise Island this week. He's spent at least $210,000 on tournament entries in the past five days.

And I've seen him bare-chested.

Like a lot of things in poker's snow globe, the importance of this moment is a matter of context.

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He put his shirt on for the poker game

This is my tenth consecutive PCA. I've spent more than 120 days of my life at Atlantis, and until this week, I had not been down one water slide, ridden on one innertube, or sat poolside for more than a few minutes. I've spent the past nine festivals walking between my hotel room and the tournament area (with occasional stops at the Coral Lobby bar for ...um...business meetings). That is to say, not one of my PCA colleagues (well, except for that one time we don't talk about, Howard) has seen me with my shirt off.

But on this past Saturday, there I stood--shirtless--next to a similarly shirtless John Juanda, up to our knees in warm pool water under a Caribbean sun. Per whatever code governs half-naked multi-millionaires and half-naked bloggers, we pretended we didn't see each other.

It's almost guaranteed we wouldn't have been there but for one thing: our kids.

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One of the things a kid will drag a 40-year-old man to do

Here's the thing: Atlantis' marketing arm is huge, and for the whole of my older son's life, he's seen TV commercials featuring the place where Daddy goes to work. When my four-year-old was asked by his teacher what his daddy's job is, he replied, "Daddy works at the Bahamas." There hasn't been a year in the past five when my children hadn't begged me to come with me to the Bahamas. Listen, there's guilt, and then there is parental guilt. This year, I relented.


My older son with his new mentor, Lamorn Rolle of Kings Taxi Service

That's my son with the man who brought us from the airport. We weren't 30 seconds into the ride to Atlantis before my nine-year-old had made a friend for life, jumped neck-deep into Bahamian history, and fallen in love with a place he'd never been. Two hours later, we were neck-deep in the salt water, dodging fish, and having a beach vacation when it was 15° Fahrenheit at home.



My kids at sea

If you think this is just an excuse to put my children into a PokerStars Blog post, you're right. But it's more than that, because this week I learned how to have fun at Atlantis.

This may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, because based on the pictures we've posted, videos we've recorded, and stories we have written, you probably have a pretty good idea of what's on offer here. I knew it was all here, but I didn't know how happy it could make me until I experienced it through my kids eyes.

Whenever they bounded into the ocean, they screamed with a kind of excitement you don't hear in a poker room. When they walked through The Dig aquarium, they giggled at the big rays with a kind of happiness that doesn't exist at the felt. They were happy in a way I simply didn't know...or perhaps, better put, a way I'd forgotten how to be.

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My kids have gone back home now so I can focus on the task at hand--a poker tournament that will pay the winner $1.8 million. I miss the boys, and I have to admit, it's less fun without them around. That said, they did me a favor, because after a decade of PCAs I think I finally may have enjoyed the PCA the way it's supposed to be enjoyed.

And how is that, exactly?

It's to be enjoyed wholly, with abandon, with a willing soul, and through the eyes of a child. It's to be enjoyed with such a carefree spirit, there is no choice but to end the day like my kid did on his first day here.

That is how you do the PCA.


Our coverage of the 2014 PCA is comprehensive on PokerStars Blog, and it is simple to follow. The PCA 2014 Main Event page has a box at the top in which you'll find hand-by-hand coverage and chip counts after the action commences at noon. Below that are feature pieces, interviews and analysis updated throughout the day. You can also follow the action on PCA Live.

Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head Of Blogging