PCA 2014: Rules and regulations before players are set free for life
It was 1.15pm in the Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Resort and four people were on the main television stage. That was all right, but none of them were poker players, much less any of the eight men due to be starting the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event final table at 1pm.
In short, things were running late.
The four people on the stage were from the tournament staff and were ripping open bags of chips. It seemed as though these were the final preparations before today's play got under way, but even that was optimistic. There was still the small matter of a photograph, or several hundred, to navigate.
Neil Stoddart, the PokerStars photographer, had set up two light screens (technical term: "Soff Box") behind his tripod on the catwalk leading up to the stage. And so when the players did eventually emerge, after a whirlwind of television interviews, they were still a long while away from starting play.
The players made the mistake of occupying their starting seats and began to riffle chips and to chat, but Stoddart told them to get up and come around the front of the stage, where he manhandled them, like oversized chess pieces, into their correct positions. Knight to E4, check.
They were then instructed to smile a lot. Then again. And then congratulated on their control of their zygomaticus major muscles. "That's the most difficult part of the day," said Neil Johnson, the PokerStars live events specialist, who would be assuming compere duties for the day.
Johnson's own preparations included a quick round of the table and a chat to each of the players, asking for how to pronounce their names. "Is it Faabian or Fabiaaan?" he asked of Fabian Ortiz. "Is it Orteez or Ortiz?"
There then followed an interesting exchange with Madis Muur. Johnson: "How do you say your last name?" Muur: "Muur." Johnson: "Muur?" Muur: "No, Muur." Johnson: "Muur?" Muur: "Muur." Johnson: "Muur." Muur: "Muur." Monty Python, this script is available.
Mike McDonald was then separated from the pack. The obvious star of this show, he has been tracked by at least one camera all night and all day and was brought down to the end of the catwalk by the television producer and asked to walk along it, up to the table, alone.
The other players were instructed to glare at him, giving him the evil eye. "Look moody, like you're going to win," the producer said. However the first take failed because clearly no one felt sufficient animosity. They broke out into spontaneous applause as McDonald arrived to the table.
"Don't act like you don't like it," said Pascal LeFrancois, and McDonald scarcely tried.
"Don't clap him, you're mad at him," the producer said. "One more time, Mike." McDonald was escorted back to the front of the catwalk to do it all again, and this time only the supporters of Fabian Ortiz clapped his arrival, which was apparently satisfactory for the TV crew.
"Nice walk-up," chirped Griffen Benger from the rail.
In a Team Pro Q&A a few days ago, Daniel Negreanu mentioned that one of the biggest attractions of poker is the freedom it offers its participants. Top players are their own bosses and can set their own schedule. But the rules and regulations came thick and fast for the players who had made the PCA final table today, from the instructions on how to place their cards on the card readers to the news that they wouldn't be getting a break at the end of the current level. They would need to wait for more than two hours.
Everyone was, of course, amenable. Many had probably been doing little bit peeing all night anyway, and could hold on. But they still couldn't play poker. Another television producer appeared, inviting them to leave the stage to the right, this time in preparation for all of their walk-ons to the stage.
Johnson stood in front of the camera and, one-by-one, invited our finalists on to the stage for what would now become the final time. LeFrancois allowed himself a slight fist-pump; Dominik Panka stayed calm even as his supporters whooped.
Shyam Srinivasan clenched both of his fists, then clapped his way to his seat. He put on his glasses and was ready to go. Isaac Baron followed, biting his lip, but no such restraint from Ortiz, whose face smiled broadly, particularly when his supporters began banging the hoardings.
McDonald, now approaching the table for at least the fourth time, received at least his fourth round of applause, including an ovation from his parents on the rail. There was whistling for Muur and some "Vamos! Vamos!" for Daniel Gamez, and, finally, the cards were in the air.
Here's how you follow it all at PokerStars Blog. The Main Event is on the Main Event page, where there's hand-by-hand coverage and latest chip counts in the panel at the top, and feature pieces below. We'll be reporting with a one-hour delay as the action is also being screened on PCA Live.
The High Roller is on the High Roller page and that is happening in real time. There's no live stream, but there will be some good words and some better pictures.