The Call For Action Online Celebrity Poker Tournament was streamed live on the PokerStars Twitch channel on Saturday night (May 9), and the PokerStars Blog team were shocked to see one of our own amongst the star-studded line-up.
We weren’t invited to play, so how the heck did a humble poker writer find himself playing with Hollywood A-listers and sporting legends in one of the sickest online tournaments ever?
Here’s the story of how PokerStars Blog’s Jack Stanton gatecrashed the final of arguably the most star-studded poker tournament of all time (and won $10,000 for charity).
The next time there’s an event like this, maybe you could do it too.
It’s approaching 5am at my home in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I’m down to the final ten in an online tournament on PokerStars. A new player joins the table and types “Go easy on me, I’m old” into the chat.
His screen name? “ImBryanCranston”. Yep, the Bryan Cranston–Heisenberg himself–is sat on my six-handed table.
And Cranston isn’t the only celebrity who began this 23-player tournament. Hollywood stars including Macauley Culkin, Edward Norton (Worm!), Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, David Costabile, Micheal Ian Black, Thomas Lennon, and sports stars Douglas Costa, Mike Tindall, and Nelson Figueroa were all in the field.
They’d won their heats in a celebrity-only shootout event, the full line-up of which is quite astonishing to look back on:
Now, this may come as a shock to you, but I am not a celebrity. So how on earth did I manage to pull up a virtual chair at such a glamorous virtual table?
It all started on Thursday night (May 7).
When I saw that Lex Veldhuis was going to be streaming the $10,300 buy-in Progressive Knock-Out event (#33-H) of the Spring Championship of Online Poker live on his Twitch channel, I decided I’d stay up late (the time zone in Thailand is five hours ahead of Europe) and watch some of the best in the game do battle.
I wasn’t intending on playing on PokerStars myself, but unfortunately, Lex’s $10K came to an abrupt end when he ran pocket kings into Simon “C.Darwin2” Mattsson’s pocket aces 50 minutes into the event.
I started to flick around Twitch and tuned in to Fintan “easywithaces” Hand’s stream. I quickly saw that he was running a “Call For Action freeroll” in his home game club (there was a “!freeroll” in his stream description), and without really knowing what the prize was, I decided to sign up. Half an hour later I was playing.
Around 300 people also took a shot, including many US players (it was great to see the American flag in the lobby). The top 10 finishers would win a “Call For Action Players Invitational” ticket, and I was fortunate enough to bink one.
Now, I knew what the Call For Action event was, but I had no idea PokerStars were actually giving Average Joe’s like me a chance to get in the mix (I guess I didn’t read the fine print).
Yet here I was, in with a shot, all thanks to getting lucky in a Twitch freeroll.
Fast forward to 1am on Sunday morning (Saturday afternoon/evening for most of you) and the next phase kicked off. The “Players Invitational” saw around 80 or so entrants including plenty of PokerStars Ambassadors.
It was a fun, fast-paced event, and the field dwindled rapidly. As expected, play tightened up as we approached the six-player bubble.
If I’m honest, though, I still didn’t realise that if I binked a seat I’d be playing with the celebs. Nor did I know I’d win five figures for charity.
As they say, ignorance is bliss and I continued to apply pressure (looking back, I probably would have played tighter as the experience of playing in the final was too cool to miss out on).
Thankfully things went well and I made it through to the final of a tournament which saw $1M donated to charity, and one whereby making the final meant I had already won $10K for Care International. It felt great.
My fellow “Players Invitational” qualifiers were Arlie “PrincePablo” Shaban, Felix “xflixx” Schneiders, Nicholas “OP-Poker Nick” Walsh, “Raksha26,” and “pienososas.”
While we waited for the final to start, I tuned in to watch the celebs finish their heats on the live stream. Cranston was heads-up with his Breaking Bad co-star Aaron Paul, and Heisenberg came out on top.
He is the danger, after all.
There were 23 players in total in the final, all of whom had already won $10K for their charity of choice. The top six would win more, with the winner receiving an additional $100K for their chosen charity.
When my table was set, I quickly clocked the screen name “TheDonDaDaDA”. Turns out it was none other than actor Don Cheadle. We also had “KimCarmele”, who I’d later find out is comedian Amy Schumer’s sister, and Nick “OP-Poker Nick” Walsh was on my left.
As the live stream jumped from table to table, it was only a matter of time before mine appeared on camera (much to the delight of my friends watching at home). Nobody at the table knew who I was, nor did the commentators, and that suited me just fine.
“Who is that player?” James Hartigan asked on stream, and that’s when I received messages from friends saying I should out myself. I introduced myself as “Jack from PokerStars Blog” in the chat, and thankfully Lex Veldhuis picked up on it, no doubt remembering me as the guy in the corner with the laptop from his Lex Live events.
With my cover blown, it was time to play. Cheadle was my first victim, as reported by my PokerStars Blog colleague Martin Harris:
From there I got to play with Juventus superstar and Brazilian international Douglas Costa (who was incredibly aggressive) and enjoyed the aforementioned encounter with Cranston, who joined my table just a hand or two before I’d depart in ninth, busting to Jen Shahade who held a better two-pair than my own.
The whole experience was pretty surreal, but it’s one I’ll always remember.
The answer is easy:
Tune in to Twitch.
Lex Veldhuis, Fintan “easywithaces” Hand, Ben Spragg, the OP-Poker team, Arlie Shaban, GJReggie, Pyefacepoker, Majincast, Felix “xflixx” Schneiders – all of them not only produce entertaining streams, they give away some great prizes in their home games.
Right now, as SCOOP 2020 is in full swing, there are giveaways of tournament tickets every single time any of them are streaming.
When special events like Call For Action take place, you’ll no doubt find similar giveaways too.
I wasn’t a hand-picked competition winner. I didn’t win a special ticket. I simply got in through an open Twitch freeroll.
So keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground, and who knows? Next time it could be you busting Don Cheadle.