After the anticipation the first ever PokerStars Championship got under way at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. A familiar venue for past PCA regulars it was now under new branding, and greeting players by their hundreds looking to write their name into poker history. By the end of nine days of competition, several players had done just that.
It was like any other Super High Roller opening day, except that it wasn’t. The appearance of Kevin Hart, a registration not known about until he walked into the tournament room, transformed a usually high spirited day into the Kevin Hart show. His was a captive audience, whether on the rail or at the table with him. To the delight of everyone, he made it through the day.
The Super High Rollers entered their second day of play, the main feature in the tournament room. Inevitably this got some interest from spectators and fellow players, including two former World Champions Joe Cada and Ryan Reiss, who wanted in on the action, at least from the rail, as the field played down to a final table.
James Martyn (recognisable throughout the day for his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey) started his day watching a Q& A session with Team Pro Daniel Negreanu. He’d put his hand up from the back of the room and asked Negreanu about the virtues of turning up on time vs. turning up late (in the same fashion of many high stakes players). Negreanu’s answer was long and detailed, but he made it clear that the longer you’re at the table the more time you have to win chips. Martyn took this advice to heart, played a blinder, and bagged up the lead at the end of the day.
All of which took place as Jason Koon, one of the gentlemen of the modern game, was winning the Super High Roller for a first prize of $1,650,300. Among the first to congratulate him former NFL legend Richard Seymour, who hugged (nay, tackled?) him in the image in celebration above. Seymour would not be without his own success, going on to cash in the Main Event.
While Kevin Hart had turned heads in the Super High Roller now it was the turn of Hollywood actor Aaron Paul to step back into the limelight. The Breaking Bad actor, impeccably gracious when approached by a seemingly never ending crowd of fans, made it through Day 1B of the Main Event with chips, and played the part of a gloriously enthusiastic neophyte perfectly until his eventual elimination before the money.
There was a joyous spirit to the entire Main Event, on Day 2 and all the way through to the final table. Jason Mercier provided much of the bonhomie, either through his enthusiastic approach to the game (Mercier’s laugh can be heard from some distance), or in the more direct way of buying drinks for his table as they awaited the bubble to burst. Mercier, who insisted on a photograph, would eventually reach Day 5 of the Main Event, departing in 14th place.
By now the Main Event had got a little more tense. With the money bubble now broken the tournament had transformed into either a fight to ladder up, or a fight to establish a stack that had a chance of going all the way. Some, including Michael Gentili, Rodrigo Cordoba and Aleksei Opalikhin were doing the latter. Others meanwhile hung on and, well, hoped for the best.
There comes a time in every Main Event when new faces become familiar ones. It’s usually not until the closing stages, but here it felt like it had come earlier. The likes of Michael Vela, who would go on to finish third was the perfect example. Others, like Rasmus Glaesel and Brock Allison would do the same. For his part Vela had a habit of telling jokes (not exactly the kind you can repeat), which former Bahamas winner John Dibella responded to in kind.
It would be a tough day at the tables and on the rail for some. Friends of Rasmus Glaesal lived through ever up and down court side on the feature table, while Nadya Magnus, almost permanently hidden by a pair of chrome sunglasses, made arguably the best call of the tournament against Brock Allison, keeping her Main Event hopes alive. After dashing to the rail to hug a friend, she returned all smiles.
Meanwhile in the High roller Luc Greenwood was setting himself up for a final table appearance the next day that he would go on to win. At the same time Bryn Kenney was calmly on his way to the fourth of five cashes in the Bahamas, including wins in the $50K single day high roller, and the $25K shot clock event (he also finished second in the 10K super turbo knockout the following day).
The first ever PokerStars Championship Main Event got the perfect winner and the perfect runner up. Christian Harder’s story had come full circle from 2007 when he’d played his first live event in the Bahamas backed… by Cliff Josephy. The esteem each played had for each other was never more evident than heads up, when agreeing to a deal in almost record time. No messing around with unnecessary demands. Once agreed they played out the final in the same spirit, a credit to themselves and the tournament.
For all the other results from this year’s PokerStars Championship Bahamas check out the side events page.
Thanks to official photographers Neil Stoddart and Carlos Monti for the images used above.