There is an unmarked line between the Rio Casino and the Rio Convention Center in Las Vegas. It's the line that separates the jingle-jangle of the slot machines from the long, quiet walk to the WSOP caverns in the convention center. It's the border between the place you'll hear T.J. yelling at a craps stickman and the place you'll hear the bee-buzz-clacking of shuffled chips. It is, my friends, the international date line between negative-EV and positive EV.
The various tribes of the Rio territory have long debated where the actual line sits. Some place it under the smell of fried eggs at the Sao Paulo Grill. Other factions claim the video roulette table and the infamous Hooker Bar mark the line between good and evil. For me, a longtime resident of the Rio, it's Buzio's, a fish place with glass walls, the fishbowl to the Rio's soul, and the de facto "nice place" to eat for people who can't be bothered to stray too far from the WSOP tables. It's the first reasonable place to sit down for a meal after the long walk from the Amazon Room.
It was here I found myself during the 2011 Main Event this summer surrounded by five men, every one of them worth a million bucks or more (my meal was comped). I barely felt like eating. Though the food looked good, there is something rather emasculating about sitting at a table full of people who have this one thing in common: they've just won a WSOP bracelet. All in the same year. No other team of WSOP players had performed so well.
That was the case in Buzio's this summer when Andre Akkari, Eugene Katchalov, ElkY, Max Lykov, and Jason Mercier got together for a bite during the Main Event. They were either days or weeks removed from winning WSOP bling. It didn't change the way they ordered their food or how they noshed on their steak and fish. After all, they were all members of Team PokerStars Pro. Winning bracelets was just part of the job.
Though it has existed under a few names and in many forms, the foundation of Team PokerStars Pro is made of gold. Look back over PokerStars ten-year history and you'll see the cornerstone of Team Pro in Chris Moneymaker, the first online qualifier in the history of the WSOP to win a Main Event bracelet. He was joined shortly thereafter by 2004 champ Greg Raymer, and 1983 winner Tom McEvoy. Before long Joe Hachem was part of the Team's first string. Though Team Pro is today about a lot more than bracelets, there's no denying its roots.
This year, 2011, was Andre Akkari's first bracelet. With the whole of the Brazilian poker community behind him, Akkari realized a career-long dream when he took down a $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em tourney. He became only the second Brazilian in history to win a bracelet. Along with Mericer, ElkY, Katchalov, and Lykov, Akkari and the Team won nearly $2.4 million in first place purses.
ElkY is a legend all his own. Katchalov is well on his way to becoming one poker's historic greats. Lykov's emergence from the Russian poker community marks him as the best since Team Pro Alex Kravchenko made the final table of the Main Event in 2007 (the same year he won his bracelet, incidentally).
All of them are a story by themselves, but they are all in the chase pack behind Jason Mercier's bracelet-winning. The year Mercier was born, Berry Johnston won the WSOP Main Event. That was 1986. For those of you who lived in the age of cassette tapes, you'll recognize 1986 was not very long ago at all. Yet, in the short time since, Mercier has managed to win two WSOP bracelets. His first came in 2009 when he took down the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha bracelet. His second came this year in the $5,000 PLO event.
This year, all of these men continued the bracelet-winning work of other fellow Team Pros like Daniel Negreanu, Dario Minieri, David Williams, Vanessa Selbst, Humberto Brenes, Angel Guillen, Jonathan Duhamel, Ville Wahlbeck, Joe Cada, and newly-Hall-of-Fame-inducted Barry Greenstein.
Now we turn our eyes to Las Vegas once again. Just down the hall from Buzio's is the Penn and Teller Theater where, early this morning, newly-signed Pius Heinz finished the day with the chip lead with three players remaining in the November Nine. Will he win?
I think we all know what PokerStars history--all ten years of it--tells us.
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We are publishing these daily review articles throughout November as PokerStars gears up to celebrate its 10th Anniversary.