PCA 2015: From pub league to the big leagues, the TPL returns to the Bahamas
Every year at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, certain rituals are upheld. We look at Starbucks and mourn the passing of Jamba Juice, we eye the dolphin statues in the fountain and remember when someone tried to ride them, and we try to describe the Imperial Ballroom carpet without using the word "puke".
It also now seems to be a tradition to write about players from the Toronto Poker League (TPL) who first came to PokerStars Blog's attention last year and have been prominent in our sights this time around too.
On Day 1A we witnessed June Jenkins take Team Online to the cleaners in their HU4ROLLZ promotion, and during much of the Main Event we have been in eyeshot of both Kim Kilroy and Elizabeth Bennett-Martin, whose runs continued into Day 2.
Another battalion of the TPL, including its founders Michael LeFrank and Ken Lo, arrived in the Bahamas today to keep a close eye on Bennett-Martin and Kilroy, as well as play a few side events themselves. They have good reason to be proud of their players, many of whom would have never even learned how to play the game, much less be able to compete at this level, without the tournaments organised and hosted in pubs around the Toronto district.
The TPL started life in 2007 as LeFrank's home game, but then one of their number -- an accountant named Darus Suharto - did rather well in the World Series the following year. Suharto, you may remember, finished sixth in the inaugural November Nine, earning close to $2.5 million. It gave LeFrank ideas to expand.
"Darus had never won our home game," LeFrank revealed this afternoon. "We always said, 'Here's this guy who can win millions off pros but can't win a hundred bucks of us.' So we thought we could do better too, and we thought we could expand the league. So we turned our home game into a bar league, and it's grown from one table in my house and now we're at 800 members in the league."
The TPL now holds its games on Sunday through Wednesday nights, with a Home Game on PokerStars on Thursdays. Only tournament points are available, rather than cash, but it means nobody needs to drive two hours to the nearest casino and the competition is no less fierce. In a series of "final" tournaments towards the end of the year, the TPL offers packages to a number of live events, including some tournaments at the PCA, which are donated by PokerStars.
"This is actually a good chance for people at a recreational level to play, because it's free," Lo said. "But we actually have a really wide range of skill levels, including some very experienced people, and it gives people the chance to practice live skills so that when they come here [i.e., to the PCA], they're not scared."
For all that, the emphasis is very much on fun, and the league's mission statement describes and environment in which players can "socialize with like-minded people" and "provide(s) an opportunity for the development of skills which fosters better poker playing - and ultimately more winning!"
It worked for Jenkins, who joined the league after being introduced to Texas hold'em while taking her mother to a seniors' centre and meeting a poker nut there. "He said, 'Why don't you go and play at the pub for free?'," Jenkins said. "I said to him, 'Are you kidding me? I wouldn't be caught dead in a pub playing poker.' But the next thing I know, I'm playing five nights a week, just because I love the game."
Few Canadians need much persuading to head to the Bahamas in January -- the scheduled high for the coming week in Toronto is 30°F (-9°C) and the city today issued an "extreme cold alert" - but players from the TPL make sure they make the most of the jamboree. Approximately 25 are here this week, and tournament organisers are laying on a tournament for them this evening, so they can get their poker fix as well as some sun.
"It's great what PokerStars is doing, reaching out to more grassroots level initiatives," Lo said, referring to the packages donated to the TPL. "It's not all about the pros. Poker in general is kind of levelling out and I think people are looking for an overall experience, it's not just about poker itself.
"I've been coming here almost every year, and that's one of the nice things about here. Everyone is really laid back and super, super friendly, and it's very encouraging for people who are maybe not WSOP players or anything like this, but they can come here and PokerStars runs a great event. The pros get out there and interact. You can take pictures with them, we send pictures home. All of that together adds to the excitement."
Jenkins said she has been to the World Series, to the WPT in Seneca and twice to the PCA with friends she met through the TPL, and she has been a regular visitor to her friends' tables in the Main Event this afternoon. Kilroy was unfortunately knocked out during Level 12, but is still loitering close to Bennett-Martin's table, hoping she can double her short stack and push into the money.
"This is one of the nice things about community level poker," Lo said. "In general, we're all really supportive. And it's nice to have people around if you're playing, and it's nice if you're cheering too."