PCA 2015: Shark Cage debuts with the oddest table of all

Jennifer Shahade is bee-lining through the loud Coral Tower hallway at Atlantis. She's dressed to the nines in a black number that sets off her hair in just the right way. She is on her way to a TV set.

"That's the reason for all..." She flicks her fingers at the makeup on her cheeks. "This."

She's in a hurry--taping is due to start in 20 minutes--but she's willing to explain. It's her first time on Shark Cage, which can be intimidating enough as it is, but she is also on her way to one of the oddest poker games she'll ever play.

"This is a big moment," she says. "My heat is amazing. It's going to be so much fun."

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Jennifer Shahade

Shahade is a champion chess player and PokerStars' Mind Sports Ambassador. She is also no slouch at the poker table. Nonetheless, she's in for quite a day. Around the table, she will see the likes of Brazilian football legend Ronaldo, Team Pro Jake Cody, and Sam Grafton, the man who is a living, walking reality show of his own. There is also Irish qualifier Conor Callaghan. But then--no, you haven't mis-clicked and ended up on another website--there in that last seat is UFC legend Tito Ortiz.

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Tito Ortiz

If you don't already know Shark Cage, it's a game with a 30-second shot clock and one that requires players to privately indicate whether they are bluffing. If they get caught in the act, they get sent to a cage on the edge of the stage for a timeout. In the event their bluff gets through, their victims end up in the cage. So, take all of that and then add the exceptionally weird line-up and you have...well, you've got a game that's not particularly easy to play for some people. Shahade, however, is ready, because the line-up ensures the conversation will take care of itself.

"I was a little worried that it was going to be hard to think about the poker and also make conversation with people I didn't know. But this is going to be a breeze," she says.

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It's made a little easier by the fact that Shahade is fresh off a huge win in Prague where she won the $10,000 buy-in Open-Face Chinese tournament under the glare of the TV lights.

"I kind of got used the fact the cameras were there," she says.

Nevertheless, Prague didn't necessarily go perfectly. When it was all said and done, Shahade realized she had been playing all day with her shirt turned inside out. Today she's in the black dress, and near as any of us can tell, she has it on right. Still, she concedes a wardrobe malfunction is still not out of the question.

"Getting mic'd up in these little dresses is sometimes not the easiest," she says.

There is a lot at stake. Whoever wins here today goes on to the final in Monaco later this year for the $1 million winner-take-all game.

It would be easy to be a little nervous for Shahade, but upon further consideration, it's qualifier Callaghan I'm most worried about. Shahade could put any of us in checkmate with her eyes closed. Ronaldo can score at will. Cody simply wins everything. Tito Ortiz still looks like he's ready to submit anything that comes within five feet of him. And Grafton could bust anybody with his banter alone. Callaghan, an actuary from Dublin, has quite a day in front of him.

From here, we must let Shahade go on her way. What happens on the Shark Cage stage stays on the Shark Cage stage until it's time for the show to debut later this year. If there is to be a wardrobe malfunction (and, if it happens, our money is on something happening with Grafton's t-shirt), we won't know until it hits the small screen.

And maybe that's for the best.

is the PokerStars Head of Blogging