PCA 2015: Could the PCA be poker's most important series? It just may, says Jesse May
It started on a luxury cruise ship way back in early 2004 amid the first months of the soon-to-ignite poker boom. Over the next decade it flourished here on Paradise Island, finding a home at the Atlantis while growing ever larger and more significant year by year. By now the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure has become something much more than just another poker series.
Not only has the PCA grown in size and stature over the years, but as we're seeing play out once again it routinely attracts the game's best and brightest. Sure, it's the first major poker series of the calendar year. But for many the PCA has evolved into the most important one, too.
Has the PCA moved into a place of central significance on the poker calendar? Is the PCA the best place to go to find poker being played at its highest level, by the game's best players?
Spotting long time poker commentator and writer Jesse May making his way through the tournament floor today, we found an excellent candidate to help us with such questions. The author of the great poker novel Shut Up and Deal (1998) -- inspiration to many a poker scribe -- has been following the game closely since well before that aforementioned boom, commentating on the groundbreaking Late Night Poker and other programs while constantly chronicling and reflecting upon the evolution of the game.
"When you look at the fields here, the size of the buy-ins, and the quality of people who come, you realize that it really is an elite group of players that are here," May begins by way of response. "By and large the 'Who's Who' of tournament poker is here."
He's right. And they're playing in every event, too, not just the $10,000 Main Event.
"You look at the events on the schedule here, and most of them wouldn't be considered huge [in terms of buy-ins], but you do nonetheless have a high quality of players in the fields. I think there's a statement here about who are some of the better players.... For people who like me are always interested in finding out who the best players are in the world right now, the PCA does that. For whatever reason -- maybe it's the way the schedule is put together and how it appeals to the ones who make a living at tournament poker -- when you start looking at who's in the fields, who's going deep, and who's winning the titles, you realize there's something unique and special about the PCA."
There has been a lot of discussion of late about how best to quantify poker talent. The effort to "sportify" poker being championed by the Global Poker Index and its leader, Alexandre Dreyfus, has contributed significantly to that discussion. Dreyfus is here as well at the PCA. But then, as May was saying, everyone is.
For May, the PCA provides something that even the WSOP doesn't necessarily do over the course of its lengthy, 60-plus event schedule of preliminary tourneys -- a consistent, start-to-finish demonstration of the best poker has to offer, playing out not just in the $100K Super High Roller and $10K Main Event, but over the course of the entire schedule.
May points out how the Super High Rollers do tend to attract high quality fields, they're also often frequently populated by the non-professionals who enjoy playing poker only for such large sums. "It makes a weird dynamic," he explains, often making those events a less obvious illustration of poker at its finest.
Of course, this week's SHR event won by Steve O'Dwyer was dominated by top players, something May found himself pointing out to one of them -- Christoph Vogelsang (who finished fifth) -- when meeting him for the first time earlier in the week before the tourney had begun.
"I'd never met him, but had heard about him," said May of Vogelsang who collected third-place finishes in both the EPT/UKIPT Super High Roller in Season 10 and the Big One for One Drop last summer. "I said something to him about how from what I could see, this Super High Roller field at this year's PCA was tougher than some of the other SHR fields on the circuit."
"'God, I hope so,' he said to me. 'I just want to play against the best.'"
"I love that attitude. Is it smart financially? Well, it's probably easier when you've just gotten third in the One Drop... but I love it. And I'd love to find ways to encourage that attitude. My dream would be to figure out ways to make the poker economy feed that attitude."
The PCA, May believes, does provide that sort of encouragement, a place where many of the game's best players believe there's something more to play for -- that is, the chance to compete against the best there is.
"I like to think of these things from the players' perspective. Say you are a professional tournament player. Aside from the cost of travel and the value in tournaments, what is your raison d'être for going to tournaments? At the end of the day, what's it all for? For a professional tournament player, it's nonstop -- no one can play everything.... I do feel like tournament poker players need some kind of reason besides money to travel and play."
"I think you've got it here at the PCA. For a poker junkie/fan like me, you like to be a little google-eyed when you walk into that room. There's a high percentage of really good players in every event. Even the people you don't know by sight are top players, too -- there are a lot of SuperNova Elites here and top online guys for whom this is the only live series they play."
We chatted a little further about the sports analogies. The NFL playoffs are in full swing, with the first of today's games just having gotten underway and a tailgate party cranking up here in the Imperial Ballroom to mark the occasion. For the players and teams playing down to next month's Super Bowl, there's little ambiguity about how the sport is culminating with an obvious demonstration of football's highest achievers.
Such a demonstration is generally harder to find in poker.
"Without a doubt, the way the best players are playing right now is light years ahead of how the game was being played five years ago. It's way above even what was happening two years ago, or one year ago. There are things going on right now in tournament poker that are incredible. Are we finding the places that exhibit that? Does the average poker fan get to witness that?"
"For a basketball fan it's easy to see the best basketball being played on the planet -- just watch the NBA Finals. But you can't say the same about poker. For the fan, where can you be guaranteed to see the absolute best, the cutting edge, the most exciting poker on the planet?"
May's answer to our question had circled around to another question. But as always happens when we read or talk to May, we'd learned something along the way, edging closer to understanding where the PCA stands at present, and where it might be headed.
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.