First, cue this tune up in a separate window so you can listen while you read…
It’s Saturday night, May 11, 2013 at the PokerStars and Monte Carlo Casino EPT Grand Final, and poker history is unfolding before us. At about 5:00pm this afternoon, six men settled down to play poker for what one observer called “stupid money”. No-Limit Hold’em with €1,000-€2,000 blinds and a minimum buy-in of €500,000. Almost certainly the largest cash game ever broadcast on TV or the Internet.
It’s neither my place nor my intent to give a blow-by-blow description of every hand, every raise, or every pot. Some of the game was webcast on EPT Live, Tweets were flying in every direction and (as my colleague Hass Peymani put it) “the Internet is melting.” If you care enough, the details are out there, but I am here to paint a picture.
It’s after midnight and half our field, three players, has left. The remaining three have settled into a groove that is strangely drama-free for a game of this size. The dealer quietly announces the action, “Raise to seven.” “Re-raise to 22.” The chairs out front are empty except for PokerStars VIP Host Garry Gates, who refuses to leave until the last hand is dealt.
The webcast has ended for the night, the monitors are off, the game looks and feels no different than the other twenty cash games cruising into the wee hours.
Then a new dealer pushes in and he’s a bit more literal than the others. “Raise to seven thousand.” “Re-raise to twenty-two-thousand.” “Bet forty-five-thousand.” With that dealer in the box, it’s a more apparent that moderately nice houses are being wagered on the turn.
I admit it – I’m a cash game junkie. Have been since the get-go and probably always will be. Not a lot of short-stack shoving and “Yippee, 99 vs KJ all-in!” No, they’re playing four streets of poker and, like hammerhead sharks on a National Geographic Galapagos documentary, the levels of poker thinking extend far beyond my visibility.
But if these players are high-quality and high-stakes, they’re low maintenance. “Could I have a Diet Coke, no ice, please?” Yeah, we can do that. Monte Carlo Bay hostess Marilyn sends waiters scurrying but mostly we stand off to the side, with me struggling to explain poker to her in French.
At 2:30am, I spot a familiar face watching on the mostly empty rail. PokerStars Team Pro Vicky Coren is in that netherworld of a 6:30am hotel lobby rendezvous for a transfer and plane home. “I couldn’t decide whether I should sleep or just play straight through.” Victoria (as she’s known in legit circles) is rapidly becoming a superstar in the English broadcasting scene, but there on the rail of the Absurdly Big Game, her true colours shine through. She should have been sleeping, but instead is playing poker all night, but instead of playing poker all night, she is glued to the rail, watching the high-stakes action. At her core(n), she’s one of us – a night owl poker junkie – and I couldn’t be more proud.
The action goes like this: button folds, small blind completes, big blind checks. Flop: check, check. Turn: check, check. River: check, check. SB flips up high-card ace, BB mucks. SB gets four chips – a pot that I can say (without embarrassment) is larger than any poker pot I’ve ever won.
Garry Gates sips cappuccinos and plays waiter on the rare occasion that the players want caffeine. Frank Op de Woerd blogs the entire thing, hand by hand, blow by blow, refusing to quit. I stand by to act as arbiter, floor person, timekeeper, but I’m wasting my time – these guys run the game themselves. Isaac Haxton is on the button and tosses out a $5,000 chip – it’s not clear if he said “raise”. The dealer raises an eyebrow, but Talal Shakerchi, in the small blind, knows it’s a raise; Ike hasn’t limped on the button since the dawn of the century. No table lawyers here
And then it’s 5:30am. They’re going to deal three more hands throughout the cash game room (probably a dozen tables still going) and then turn off the lights. In a twist that I couldn’t make up, a big (even relatively) pot breaks out on the penultimate hand and two players get almost €100,000 in the middle, with the threat of an all-in confrontation. It doesn’t happen (the river goes check-bet-fold) but it shows the explosive nature of what’s been happening all night.
Then the chips are racked up and returned to the cage. The players bid each other a gracious goodnight and I head out into the pre-dawn grey to find a taxi to the hotel. Last things I hear are Garry Gates coordinating the re-start of play tomorrow and Frank Op de Woerd interviewing Ike.
“Gonna be a long night; It’s gonna be all right; On the night shift…”
Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980’s.