PCA 2014: Paul Johansson, from One Tree Hill to Paradise Island with help from a Soprano

"We're in a situation where everyone involved knows the stakes. And if you are going to accept those stakes, you've got to do certain things." - Tony Soprano.

Today's PCA Main Event players can easily relate to the quote above, especially Paul Johansson. In April last year, Johansson -- best known for his nine-year role as bad guy, Dan Scott, in TV drama "One Tree Hill" -- won his entry for today at the LAPD Memorial Foundation at Beverly Hills' Saban Theatre. The grand prize was a $10,000 PCA seat donated by PokerStars, and the host was one James 'Tony Soprano' Gandolfini. Tragically, he won't be there to host the next one.

"It was heart-breaking," says Johansson of Gandolfini's surprise death last June. "He was one of the greatest gentle giants I've ever know: a big man with an even bigger heart. He gave so much to charity. I would love to win this for Jimmy and make a big donation in his name."

Given the way Johansson's approaching Day 1B, and the company he keeps, that could become a reality.

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Paul Johansson: actor, writer, director and wannabe PCA Main Event champ

"Antonio (Esfandiari) is a friend of mine, and Daniel (Negreanu). Their advice to me on the first day is to really play it like a cash game: don't risk it unless you know you've got the nuts," he explains during a break in play on Day 1B. "Right now, people are being really tight so I'm going to wait for some top pre-flop hands. There's no point in being that aggressive. And I've made a mistake already... I just didn't think he'd got there."

"He" is Mike 'Timex' McDonald, and Johansson's mistake was not thinking that the Super High Roller had made a higher straight than him on one river in the opening levels. "It cost me a fourth of my stack, and was a risky play on his part," he adds. "But I guess that's the fun of the game."

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Mike McDonald bringing the pain on Day 1B

By his own admission, Johansson is not "an exceptional player". A busy life of directing, acting, writing and fatherhood means he hasn't got the time need to dedicate himself to poker. Yet his intensity shows he's not here to waste that PCA reward. The Timex-induced mistake dropped the actor's 30,000 starting stack down to a "still lethal" 26,200, and while the route back to parity has been a bit "up and down", he's here to make an impression.

"I want to find out how good I am," he adds. "I've played against the best players many times but I still have a lot to learn. I think I can make it into the cash, but I've got to do a better job a reading my opposition than I did this morning."

Should he sort out those reading skills, the LAPD Memorial Fund might be adding a few more zeroes to the $125,000 he and Gandolfini helped raise last year. On that day, Johansson battled past a long list of poker pros and celebrities, including Carl Weathers.

If you can beat Apollo Creed in any discipline, you should be able to handle a Timex issue.

To see how Johansson, McDonald and the rest of the Day 1B field are faring, click through to live updates, features and interviews from the $10,000,000 guaranteed PCA Main Event.


Keir Mackay is a copywriter for PokerStars.