PCA 2013: Behind the scenes of the Super High Roller with Garry Gates

January 06, 2013

For a man who has helped coordinate the biggest $100,000 Super High Roller in history, there probably isn’t enough room in Garry Gates’ pockets for actual cash this week. At any given time, you can find the young man carrying two cell phones and a walkie talkie. He uses them all at once like a street performer might juggle flaming bowling pins.

Gates stands in the middle of the Imperial Ballroom with a certain hyper awareness that you see only in Secret Service agents and people responsible for guiding space capsules back into the atmosphere. There are almost no easy jobs at the PCA, but Garry Gates has one of the toughest. He is the PokerStars VIP Player Host, and he is largely responsible for making sure the 47 people who showed up for this $100,000 event made it here and made it here happily.


Garry Gates in action

There aren’t many gigs in the world like Gates’. It’s his job to find people who are interested in an event this big, convince them that it’s worth playing, and make sure nothing goes wrong in the middle of it all. He does it with what seems like complete confidence and poise. He’s been a poker writer, a manager, a media coordinator, and a successful player. Now, he’s the man who has the richest poker players in the world on speed dial.

As the Super High Roller event made its way toward a final table today, we got Gates to give us just a few minutes to understand how his job works.

You’ve transitioned your life several times–player, reporter, media coordinator, and now this. If you had to describe the job to someone who isn’t in the business, how would you do it?

My role incorporates three primary functions: First and foremost, building relationships with players who are likely candidates to enter big buy-in PokerStars events, then marketing select events to those players on a personal level. I make sure they know when are where they are. I let them know what, if any, incentives are available for participating. I field any questions they might have about a given event. Finally, once a player commits to playing an event, I provide a personalized customer service experience during the planning stages of their trip, and most importantly, during their trip.

You know hundreds of poker players. What makes the $100,000 players different?

Simply, their personalities, bankrolls, and skill levels are collectively bigger than those of the larger majority of PCA attendees. There’s no easy table inside the ropes of any $100,000 event, and no table lacking a good story.

This is a record-breaking event. From your perspective, how did that happen?

You are I are lucky, in that we are backed by the greatest brand in poker. I’ve learned over the years that PokerStars’ events tend to grow themselves, largely due to the quality of our product, and the world-class service and professionalism of our global events teams. I would love to sit here and take credit for the growth of this event, but at the end of the day, nobody is ponying up $100,000 because I told them they should. The success of the SHR event falls on the shoulders of everyone, from the cocktails servers on the floor, to our registrations team, to the amazing staff of our event partner Meridican, to the dealers, et cetera. The list goes on and on.

I know you’re largely responsible for recruitment, so you’re a pretty familiar face among the players. Who else makes sure this goes off so well?

Our event partner Meridican plays a huge roll in the organization and execution of the event. Most of them are probably sick of seeing my face by Day 2 of the Super High Roller, but without them our VIP operation wouldn’t be nearly as efficient as it is. On the surface, booking a car or changing a hotel reservation may seem like a trivial request to most players — and certainly, it’s our goal to make them feel that way — but a lot of work goes into making those things happen, and we’re much better off for having Kyra, Jocelyn, Amalia, Mary, Richard, Melodie and the rest of the Meridican team on our side. And last, but certainly not least, our master event planner Hilda Bramley never bats an eye when we need to make something happen on short notice to accommodate a player.

How many emails, phone calls, and conversations have you had to have to make this happen?

The months and weeks leading up to any Super High Roller event are like one big communicatory crescendo. Poker players have very abnormal sleeping habits, so it’s not unusual for me to field phone calls, texts, and e-mails at any hour.

I can’t imagine my friends with regular office jobs would even begin to understand what you do, let alone handle the swings.

When you prep for an event like this, you have to game plan for a myriad of logistical scenarios related to player buy-ins, accommodations, travel, transfers and, any special requests that might come up. Without fail, things almost never pan out the way you’d planned, so you have to be flexible and willing to adapt to any circumstance. That said, our day-to-day operations would probably appear slightly maniacal someone not familiar with our business, but to me, it’s just another day on the job.

The first time I ever saw you, you were wearing a toga and fanning somebody at a poker table at the WSOP. You’ve come a long way since then. Remind me of the story behind that.

Sure. Five or six years ago I was the Live Reporting Manager for PokerNews, covering the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. I had been a Guitar Hero aficionado, fairly confident in my abilities, and a friend of mine–well-known poker player Evelyn Ng–was rumored to be one of the best Guitar Hero players around. So, my then-boss John Caldwell came up with the idea to set up a battle with the two of us with the winner earning the right to donate $1,000 of the loser’s money to the charity of his or her choice. I came up with the brilliant idea to sweeten the pot and add the following side bet: had I won, Evelyn would’ve had to wear a PokerNews patch for the duration of the Main Event. Needless to say, I lost and had to wear a Caesar-like toga and fan Evelyn with a palm frond for an hour during the Main Event while feeding her grapes. I think there’s a video floating around somewhere, but don’t count on me to find it for you.

Registration is now closed and made this the biggest field for a $100,000 event ever. How big of a relief is that?

Every time we embark on a new Super High Roller event, I keep a secret target number that I don’t share with anyone. Let’s just say we’ve exceeded that number and then some this year, and I couldn’t be happier.

Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging


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