On terror, fear, and perseverance in Barcelona

August 18, 2017

On a Friday, we’d normally be shouting at you about the upcoming weekend and all the action ahead. We’d be pushing you to coverage of the PokerStars Championship and telling you about promotions and other fun stuff. That would happen on any normal Friday.

This isn’t a normal Friday by any stretch of the imagination.


Las Ramblas memorial. Photo by Neil Stoddart

It happened again.

It happened again in another one of the world’s beautiful cities. Blood and terror in a place where you’d normally find laughter and love. It happened this time in Barcelona.

In what police describe as a terror attack, a van plowed through crowds in Las Ramblas killing 14 people and wounding dozens more. Those victims came from at least 34 different countries. That attack happened in Barcelona, but once again, terror victimized most of the planet.


In Las Ramblas today (Photo: Alex Villegas)

On any scale that matters to the world at large, it was of no consequence that just a few kilometers away, hundreds of players were kicking off a poker championship. That fact had no place in the news stories or the investigation. It was just something that happened to be.

But…and I can’t think of any way to say this that doesn’t sound selfish…that fact mattered to me a whole lot.

This time last year, I was part of the coverage team at the Barcelona event. I walked freely through the city for hours at a time feeling just as safe and free as I would in my hometown. This year, I couldn’t make it there. Instead, yesterday during my lunch break, I was in the middle of a volunteer shift delivering meals to the elderly. On my third-to-last stop, I stood on the front steps waiting for a woman to answer her door. Through the glass I saw her TV wasn’t on a soap opera or a game show. It was a national news network. At the bottom of the screen, the words read: TERROR ATTACK IN BARCELONA.

I stood there in the sun and felt the first familiar pang of mourning for the world, but I couldn’t ignore a more overwhelming fear: What if one of my friends was on the street when the attack happened? What if they hadn’t lived to see another Barcelona sunset? What if they were gone?

Yes, that’s almost the very definition of selfish. But it’s real.


Sunset over the marina

No matter how much poker players and poker companies compete against each other, no matter how fractured and sometimes broken the relationships in the community can become, no matter who wears the black hats and who wears the white ones in the continuing drama of modern poker…the community remains in most ways one big dysfunctional family. It’s made up of people who live together, play together, and travel together all year.

And a lot of those people are my dear friends. Many of them are as close as family.

Anyone who has spent any significant of time on tour has that same family and those same friends. All of them likely felt just as I did yesterday. They sent messages. They watched the news for victims’ names. They scoured Facebook for safety check-ins and breathed a little deeper each time they learned their loved ones were safe.

We’ve felt it before at various times. Our team of friends has experienced earthquakes, tsunami warnings, and violent robberies. Each time, we’ve gone through the minutes and hours of worry that someone we care about might have been hurt or killed.


Photo by Neil Stoddart

That is exactly what terror aims to achieve. It sets out to make everyone feel as the poker community felt yesterday. It’s an impersonal attack that nevertheless feels very, very personal. Terror is never so successful as when it makes you feel like you might lose something that matters to you.

That same fear gripped countless other groups of people around the world. People who had friends vacationing. Families who had kids on backpacking trips. University basketball teams traveling for international exhibitions…each one not connected to the attack, but each one feeling it on a personal level. For every college point guard in Barcelona yesterday, there were countless people at home wondering if he was still alive. That’s terror, pure, simple, and debilitating.

As a traveling circus that goes almost everywhere in the world, it was probably just a matter of time before something as terrible as this happened much too close to a lot of our people. Anyone who travels as much as we do already knows how different it feels to travel in 2017 than it did in a more innocent part of our lives. Yet, we continue to go, live our lives, earn our livings, and hope we aren’t in the wrong place.

Why? Because of just that: it’s our lives. It’s what we do. We choose to continue living even when everything is terrifying. That may not necessarily represent bravery, but it signals a certain perseverance we have to maintain, not just as a poker community but also as a world community.

It’s important to not forget how this feels. When the next attack happens, it likely won’t be anywhere near our people, but we owe it to the world to remember how the terror gripped us on Friday. If we do that, we’ll find a greater and more lasting empathy with the cities, communities, and people who are suffering. That empathy, bravery, and strength may be our greatest weapon against terror’s goals.


Photo by Neil Stoddart

Our poker tournament will continue this weekend. The casino and hotels have increased their security. Our private security is monitoring all warnings and keeping our people as safe as they can be. For those players who don’t feel comfortable staying in Barcelona, buy-ins can be refunded. Nevertheless, our team isn’t leaving. We have a job to do.

Against the backdrop of a terror attack, playing games might feel frivolous. That’s okay, because against the backdrop of terror, playing games is frivolous. And that’s okay, too. Because, playing this game, running these tournaments, and writing about the people is our lives. It’s what we do, and if we stop doing it, we will lose a part of ourselves. I can’t help but think the people who plan these terror attacks would be very happy to make that happen.

Instead, we will mourn the dead, hope for the wounded, and work for a day when not only our family but no family has to wonder, “Did it just happen to us?”


Photo by Neil Stoddart

is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis.


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