I do not know what my home looks like in the first half of January.
I’ve lived in this house for going on nine years, and I’ve never seen how the light hits the dining room or the shadows fall in the den during the first weeks of every year. Before I moved in, I missed the same experience at my old house six times.
It’s going to be weird being home.
But that’s what’s happening. You likely read it today in Lance’s Bradley’s article about PSPC 2020.
The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure will not return to the Bahamas in 2020.
Sunset on Atlantis
After spending its first tour in 2004 on a cruise ship, the PCA moved into the Atlantis Resort in 2005, and it took up residence for a couple of weeks every year. Last January, the debut of the PSPC, was the last PCA we’ll see. There aren’t many events in this world that can live and thrive for that long, but the PCA did it from 2004 to 2019.
The clichés that ache to come out of my fingers want to type, “I can’t believe it’s over,” but that’s not entirely true. I can believe it. It sort of makes sense to me in a way. I look at myself in 2005. My hair wasn’t gray. I could drink Kaliks in the Coral Lobby Bar until 3am and then report the tournament for 17 hours the next day. Back then, in that first year, the thing I couldn’t believe?
I couldn’t believe it was all actually going to happen again. I couldn’t believe I was going to get to be a part of it. I never would have guessed I’d watch every PCA champ from 2005 to 2019 win the title. And people called it my job!
I look at myself today, and I’m a different person. A hangover could require hospitalization. The hair I have looks like my grandfather’s did. The walk from the Atlantis Royal Tower to Beach Tower requires three months of advance training.
That’s me. I don’t age well. If I were a wine, I’d be Mad Dog 20/20.
Gallery: Blog teams of the PCA’s past
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2008 PokerStars Blog team
Grinding the updates with lifelong friends
Unlike me, I think the PCA aged just fine. Sure, it had its ups and downs. The industry shifted. Player expectations changed. PokerStars management and strategies changed. The branding changed. Even if the Atlantis food and prices stayed the same (how many people heated up ramen noodles in their coffee pot? It couldn’t have been just me…), the PCA evolved around it. The 2019 event may have been the finest of them all.
If the PCA had to go out, that’s how to do it. Like Bodhi walking into the 50-year storm at Bell’s Beach. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with guns blazing in Bolivia. The PCA went out its own way. On its own terms.
Good game. Quick handshake. Backpack on. Onto the next hand.
I spent 15 Januaries in the Bahamas. Count up the days I spent at the PCA, and that’s nearly 30 weeks. That is more than 1.2% of my life. It’s almost ridiculous.
When I left this year, I looked back at the stage, and though I didn’t know, I think I knew. Of all the grainy, blurry, off-kilter snaps I took over my 15 years at Atlantis, this is the last picture I took.
I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks agonizing with everyone else as Hurricane Dorian demolished the Bahamas.
I thought of the many people who greeted us there every year.
The gruff lady at the Poop Deck who served us giant red snapper and cold beers.
The bartenders at the Coral Lobby bar who stayed open three, four, five hours longer than planned just to accommodate the night owls.
The ladies who turned our bath towels into swans.
The security guy who didn’t hassle us when he should have.
The cab driver who introduced my son the Bahamas.
Those people watched their home country get torn apart. You can’t help but hurt for those folks who were part of your life every year. I hate we won’t be there to hear their stories in January.
Nevertheless, the universe has some sort of order to it, even if that order is sometimes wrapped in chaos. And no matter how odd it feels to not have those two weeks blocked off on my calendar, I can’t help but admit, it feels right. This is the right time to move on and see what else is out there.
When Lee Jones invited me to the 2005 PCA, I was at the very first gathering of—don’t laugh…it was a thing—poker bloggers in Las Vegas. That gathering repeated itself every December from 2004 to 2018. This year…the organizers finally said it was time to move on. It’s funny how life lines up.
I’m grateful for the time I had in the Bahamas. I’m grateful for PokerStars allowing me to travel this road with them since 2005. And I know the diehards who did the trip every single January are grateful they were along for the ride.
I’m left remembering a story from another part of my life.
About seven years ago, my kid had a baseball coach. I loved the guy. Taught fundamentals both on the field and in real life. Really cared about fostering good young men. His son was a bit older, and I lost track of them as they moved on.
Fast forward a few years, I’m at my kid’s All Star game, and I look up to see the coach there. He’d come back to watch some of the kids he coached and support the team. We get to talking about life and such, and almost misty-eyed, he says (and I’m paraphrasing pretty liberally here):
“One thing I’ve learned is this: life gives you chapters. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some are hard. Some are the most fun of your life. But, if you are going to make it to the end the right way, you gotta read them all. And when you move on to the next one, you have to appreciate that you’re there not just because it’s the chronological order of the story, but also because you lived those previous chapters. We’re all building toward who we are. So, enjoy those amazing chapters, and appreciate them as you would if you knew someday you’d be looking back on them and wishing you could live them again. Because you can’t, so you won’t. So, live them with all you’ve got, and then be grateful for the next chapter.”
Maybe that’s a little too sappy for you in a piece about the end of a poker festival. That’s fine for you. But for me, it’s different.
The PCA was where I met many friends I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
It’s where I watched my friend Kristin win a Women’s Event.
It’s where I learned my friend Gavin had died.
It’s where my wife came with me to work on her time off from her real job.
It’s where we took our kids to help them get over my father’s death.
It’s where I worked on a team with people who are as much family as they are my co-workers.
It’s where a woman named Emma took care of me like I was her son and where I spent weeks with my band of brothers.
Good, bad, hilarious, and hard…the PCA was 1.2% of my life. I’m grateful for it.
And I’m grateful there’s another chapter.
Gallery: Just a few of my memories from 15 years on the PCA
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Team Blog trying to create a typical winner's shot
My wife and the second-worst shirt I ever wore at the PCA
Stephen Bartley, PokerStars Blog editor and a dear friend
Rum left for me by a grateful PCA family member
"You drink that beer, it's all over, baby."
Testing the lights, being stupid
My son in the sea
Kristin on her way to a title
Emma, the woman who can get anything done
My boys at The Dig
Coral Libby hijinx
Remember the Shark Cage?
Bubble time is the best time
We had a different name for him, but you can call him Alex
The only celeb photo I ever posed for at the PCA (my son's request)
My family on the beach