Every step around Paradise Island is an assault on the senses: vibrant colours dazzle from the sea, sand and bartenders' shirts, while the sound of calypso music pipes through the undergrowth 24-hour a day. Strangers are greeted with warm handshakes wherever they go, and the smells and tastes of the Caribbean are served from countless grills, bars and restaurants at every corner.
This pattern of sensual overload continued this afternoon at the final table of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, where the yellows and greens of Brazil glared off against the orange of Holland and the reds, whites and blues of the United States. The Latin Americans sambaed through the bleachers to a song of their own singing, as the Dutch oompah-ed and the Americans bellowed from the side. (It's best not to mention the aromas.)
But when the dust cleared and the bands had packed up their instruments for another day, it was the quiet, mild-mannered figure of Poorya Nazari from Canada who had the most to sing about. Three million dollars, to be precise. And the title as 2009 PCA champion.
"I can't believe it's happening," Nazari said. "My brain has been fried from playing all week. I was fortunate to come out on top. It hasn't sunk in yet."
Nazari had taken an up-and-down ride through this vast tournament field--a huge stack on day one, a short stack on day four--but the fluctuations balanced out to bring him to the final table second in chips and ready to battle for his place in the winner's enclosure.
The denouement was reached at around 9.45pm today at the end of a tense final table that threatened initially to break records for its brevity, before becoming a more contemplative affair of dogged chipping and scrapping. The final hand was dealt early in level 30 of tournament play, representing the full scope of these players' achievements. Each had already played four days; this was the fifth.
To emerge victorious from a field of such number--1,347 players anted up $10,000--and such strength--the field was peppered with World Champions, frontline professionals and online phenoms--took exceptional spirit, graft and skill. Nazari earned every penny of his bumper pay-day, and had done so with a rare focus and determination.
Watch PCA 09: Poorya Nazari wins the PCA Main Event on PokerStars.tv
At the start of the day, all eyes were on Alexandre Gomes, who also happened to have most of the chips. He won a huge pot against Kevin Saul yesterday evening to catapult to the top of the overnight leaderboard and the Team PokerStars Pro was in the boss seat to add the PCA crown to his World Series bracelet from last summer.
But whereas pocket aces gave Gomes that huge, crucial pot yesterday, the same hand sent him to the rail today, and in remarkably similar circumstances. After some pre-flop action against the other sizeable stack at the table, Benny Spindler's, the two players saw J-J-J on the flop. All the money soon went in but Gomes's jacks full of aces was behind to the fourth jack in Spindler's hand. They were two huge hands and the two biggest stacks, and Gomes was magnanimous in defeat.
"It was a cooler of a hand," Gomes said. "Benny played it very well. I put him on nines or tens. He's a very good player."
Watch PCA 09: Gomes Bust Interview with Kara on PokerStars.tv
By that point, we had already lost four others. Saul never recovered from the critical hand against Gomes last night and his K-J never threatened Nazari's pocket queens today.
Then Dan Heimiller's dogged resistance finally crumbled when his pocket fives came third in a three-way all in against Tony Gregg's pocket nines and Nazari's eights.
Dustin Dirksen, who had doubled up twice early on today, couldn't manage it for a third time when his suited A-K couldn't catch up with Spindler's pocket tens.
Then we were forced to say goodbye to the orange bobble-hat brigade that had been following Pieter Tielen. Over and above all the accolades heaped on Tielen for his fifth-place finish in such a prestigious tournament, he deserves special mention for the manner of his qualification. A self-confessed micro-stakes player on PokerStars, he was on the mother of all spin ups in the Bahamas, having won a $3 online satellite to another $30 tournament to earn his passage across the Atlantic.
Tielen ended up taking more than half a million bucks away from his week in the sun, and a story to inspire many others. We'll probably see most of them here next year.
The departure of Gomes in fourth left three millionaires: Gregg, Nazari and Spindler. The German had the huge majority of the chips as a result of those quad jacks, but during the ensuing passage of play, when the breakneck pace slackened, anyone might have busted next, and anyone still might have won.
Gregg doubled up a couple of times to get back into contention, while Nazari also assumed the chip lead from Spindler and the three players' stacks levelled out. It couldn't, however, last forever and once Spindler lost a huge chunk doubling up Gregg - Spindler's A-K outdrawn by Gregg's A-8 - the writing was on the wall for the German.
Nazari applied the finishing touch to Spindler's terrific tournament. Spindler was all in with Q-J against the Canadian's A-J and this time there were no miracles.
Nazari had a two-to-one chip advantage as the two players returned for their heads-up duel. And it wasn't long until the wrecking ball blew through Gregg as well.
A raising war broke out on the third hand of mano-a-mano combat and Gregg's Q-7 couldn't beat A-10, silencing a vocal American contingent as their man came up second, good for $1.7m.
"I'm pretty happy," Gregg said. "It hasn't really set in, but I'm not really disappointed at all. We played three handed forever so I'm kind of happy it's over. I'm ready to have a good night."
So too Nazari, who also qualified in a $33 triple turbo rebuy on PokerStars, investing about $700 in a frantic tournament to earn his seat here. That too is a pretty good investment, you'd have to say.
And with that, the adventure is over for another year. More than a thousand players made their way across the oceans seeking the treasure of the Bahamas. And although three players plundered fortunes of a million dollars or more, the big X marking the $3m spot was planted right at the feet of Poorya Nazari from Canada.
Tonight we raise a glass of rum to him, as he continues to look to a future as a PCA champion and continuing poker player.
"I was planning to play poker," he said. "I guess I'll continue to do that."
Take a look back at the blow-by-blow coverage of today's final table action with any, some or all of the following links:
A full list of winners from this year's PCA can be found on the prize-winners page.
Video blog coverage from this week at Atlantis, as well as an archive of all previous televised PokerStars tournaments and a host of interviews, advice and feature pieces, can always be found on PokerStars.tv, which is completely free.
Adieu from paradise. See you next year.
All images © Joe Giron/IMPDI and Neil Stoddart