PCA 2014: first-timers welcome
This is it. I've made it. As the plane's engines cool on the tarmac, and the snaking passport control queue disappears behind me, I weave through the bag-dragging and the jet-lagged towards awaiting taxis. Outside, the weather will be hot, the air humid, and I've stuffed my case with trunks. Here we go. The wait is over. It's... it's... IT'S... Slightly overcast.
Que sera, good weather does not a good poker tournament make, and I've got 10 days to slip, slap and slop under the sun. As the PokerStars Blog's newest recruit, I've joined the masses of PCA virgins taking their first steps on Paradise Island in 2014. And as the Atlantis Resort appears on the horizon during the short drive from the airport, the overwhelming first impression is that size matters.
The hotel is really six different hotels, each with their own rooms numbering in the hundreds. The pools are really, well, there are too many to count. And nestled within all this are more restaurants, shops, staff, couples and happy families than seem feasible. In all likelihood, if one hundred versions of me visited 100 PCAs at the Atlantis Resort, each would be drawn to a different initial detail.
"Oooo, check out that massive Royal Towers building. It looks like someone's cut the middle of it out with an lollipop-shaped cookie-cutter," one of me might say. "Wow, those sting rays in the pool outside my bedroom window are having the time of their lives," another me could add.
To onlookers, the PCA's image is one of poker on the grandest of scales. The reality confirms that assumption. And then exceeds it.
Today, the action began in earnest with the $100,000 Super High Roller. Yesterday, the exploration for many was hindered by post-flight yawns.
All the excitement of arrival left me running on empty, and even after a zip through some of the Atlantis Resort's busy bars (of which there are many), aided by a few alcoholic beverages (of which I had, um, some), early bed was an inevitability. Good job, because the main tournament room is not best seen with blurred vision.
From the mind-boggling design of the Technicolor carpet, to the huge PCA banners that adorn the walls, there's a lot about the Imperial Ballroom that demands your attention.
Neatly lined by 30-foot high black and velvet curtains, it houses 148 tables - only five of which are initially alive with activity. Like loose change in a washing machine, players flow through the room, while those rail birds dedicated enough to get here early are treated to Daniel Negreanu's rendition of hip-hop classic "Gin and Juice", sung by the decade's best player in the style of Willie Nelson.
There's a sense of calm. You know, the kind of calm only generated when poker's best are in for $100,000 and continuously riffling Super Higher Roller stacks.
Behind Negreanu, Ole Schemion tucks an orange skate board under his chair, while ElkY's disco-ball-come-t-shirt shines under the over-hanging lights. Listen closely and you can hear James Hartigan pacing the floor, practising his lines for a trip in front of the cameras.
The tranquillity is only disturbed when a new Super High Roller arrives, the PokerStars TV team shuffling in front of them with their many cameras and booms and headsets and clipboards. And in the middle of all this sits the PokerStars main stage - a glowing neon circle connected to a runway like some gigantic yo-yo. As poker settings, it's undoubtedly memorable.
But the current atmosphere is temporary. On Tuesday the room will take on a different feel. The green chairs parked round those now empty tables will be occupied by players of all shapes, sizes, experiences and creeds, each with one overriding ambition: to lift the PCA 2014 Main Event trophy and to pocket a greedy share of the $10M guaranteed prize pool.
By then, my impressions, and those of the many others lucky enough to experience the PCA for a first time in 2014, will have morphed into lasting memories. Swimming trunks will have been worn (hopefully), water slides will have been hurtled down (definitely), and maybe, just maybe, we'll all know our way round the Atlantis' many nooks and crannies. Although, considering I wasted 45 minutes of the day trying find the toilets, no one should hold their breath.
Click through to live updates, features and interviews from the $100,000 Super High Roller.
Keir Mackay is a copywriter for PokerStars.