PCA 2013

PCA 2013

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Stephen Bartley reports

The first blast of warm air as you leave the terminal, then a taxi-ride in a 25-year-old Toyota with a homemade brake disk, driven by a 66-year-old local who likes tinkering with automobiles. “I’m saving up to get it fixed,” he says, while hitting the curb at 9 mph. Yes, it can feel good to be back in at the PCA.

The tenth anniversary festival started out as Phelps’s Caribbean Adventure. Michael Phelps, the Champion of Olympic Champions and human cannonball of poker -- attracting people who simply watch him to see if he crash lands.

He entered the room for the main event with Antonio Esfandiari as escort. The pair walked unusually slowly along the central gangway before making a sharp right to find their seats. A camera team, using Attenborough-tactics so as not to scare him, skulked at a respectable distance, making no sudden movements. “Good luck, fish-nuts,” barked Esfandiari, who for the first time in a long time was left to find his seat un-filmed as cameras focused on their richer prey.


Up till now the EPT had seemed the only tour in the world not to feature a final table “watched by Michael Phelps”. The swimming legend is evidently never far away when a poker friend goes deep. All that would change, however, in ten days of poker, during which Phelps, spied on by the wider media all week, would blend in – with goatee and comfortable trousers -- with the hundreds of young poker players who each year make the PCA the best and most compelling series outside the WSOP.

Which is ironic, really, given that Atlantis, a coral-pink bricks-and-polystyrene goliath has hosted the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure since 2005, is not exactly a first-choice resort. It is instead an aging relic built on what was formerly Hogg Island, which, thanks to a marketer’s pen, became Paradise Island in 1959. It dominates the landscape from the highest points “over the hill” in New Providence.

The old lags who come year-on-year ignore the weather, the beach and the $3.50 bananas. They know to expect the bill, the mandatory 15 per cent gratuity on everything from drinks to Tylenol, the high price for a sit down meal or any of the local attractions. It’s all part of the experience. Why worry about the price of restaurants you’ll never eat in, or dolphins you’ll never swim with when there are 40 events to play?

Prince among them was the Super High Roller, a $100,000 capital event with unlimited re-entries to those with limited obligations to reality. The world may be riddled with sub-prime loans and triple-dip recessions, but thank God poker is happily insulated from this by men and women who rise above such petty challenges, chief among them eventual winner Scott Seiver.


Seiver is an unkempt giant of the modern game whose gregariousness at the table contrasts sharply with his soft-spoken approach to interviews off it. Seiver single-handedly made the final table the captivating EPT live spectacle that it was. Hole cards gave a fascinating insight into the minds of the finalists. Or would have, had they decided to show them.

Sands and Seiver, who would play each other heads-up, turned the final into a softcore version of the hardcore show viewers had expected. Despite repeated requests, neither player showed their cards, showing scant regard for the television production that in many ways puts such large sums on the table for them to win. Finally they agreed to show cards at the end of the hand which, given the broadcast was on a 40-minute delay, made no difference at all.

Nonetheless, it was worth watching. Doc Sands held a massive lead at the start but kept out of the early scrimmaging. Meanwhile, Seiver took his game to the others, coming to life when Cary Katz’s fingertips finally gave way and he departed in fourth. It allowed Seiver to go after Nick Schulman, then Sands, demonstrating significant swagger before picking up a cheque worth more than $2 million -- from a prize pool of $5.7 million, made up of 47 entries and seven players who re-entered.

Are those numbers obscene? No, well yes, but no. It is great value for money. Super High Roller events have become jewels in the poker calendar and hark back to days of Doyle, Sailor and Moss. Poker has moved on but the high rollers remain its aristocracy, and most stand on the shoulders of anyone who has ever deposited money online. They take poker to new heights of bewilderment, providing sub-editors with superlatives in the mainstream media, while tossing the money for three years tuition at an Ivy League school to the nice lady on the registration desk.

If that all seems a little too exclusive, the main event is democracy’s equivalent.

With increased numbers in other events, it was odd that the main event should be the opposite. There were fewer than 1,000 players for the first time since 2007, although it was down less than 100 on last year, with prohibition in the US taking effect. Regardless, a first prize of $1,859,000, up on 2011, will buy you a lot in Bulgaria, the second poorest country in the EU, and home of the main event winner Dimitar Danchev.

After a lengthy heads-up against Joel Micka, who brought with him the bulk of the rail (a sports outfitter’s dream), Danchev, who already has a second place at EPT Sanremo, hoisted aloft the trophy as a confetti machine blurted out chaff, covering the stage and the assembled friends who also wanted their picture taken. After the crew did it all again just to be safe, Danchev left the tournament room floating on a cushion of happy alcohol fumes.


That left just the $25,000 High Roller, a three-day contest that shattered expectation. With a single re-entry allowed, it proved impossible to eliminate players on Day 1. The cry of “all-in and call” was as likely to increase the field by one as to reduce it. The prize pool swelled but the number of hours available to play down to a winner did not.

But the PCA is meticulously organised (you can assume the 2014 event is already being finalised) and the final eight, which boasted the likes of Shaun Deeb, Tobias Reinkemeier, Bryn Kenney, GPI Newcomer of the Year Ole Schemion, Michael Watson, and the previous unconsidered Valdimir Toryanovsky, got it wrapped up on time.

None of these names took the trophy. Vanessa Selbst, recently betrothed, simply repeated the finest form of her career. The final went her way (just ask Shaun Deeb), but Selbst can hardly be accused of winging it and her victory crowd was bigger than either Seiver’s or Danchev’s, perhaps rightly so for the player who continues to be universally applauded and who is now officially the most successful woman in the game. Why not set a record to end it on?


If the WSOP belongs in the Amazon room, the PCA is at home in Atlantis’s Imperial Ballroom, with equally long corridors through which you can contemplate victory or defeat. And Michael Phelps? He went deep in the main and only narrowly missed out on the money. Not that the mainstream media cared. They just talked about his beard. The poker media? They were able to report that he watched an EPT final table from the rail.

Tags: PCA 2013, Stephen Bartley