You’ve heard it time and again: life is about the journey, not the destination. This weekend’s Run It Up Resorts Rumble turned out to be about both.
To understand why, you need to ask yourself a question: how far would you journey for a $30 poker tournament? To your bedroom? To a buddy’s house? A half hour to a local casino?
Would you travel for 13 hours by car?
At least one person did just that, one of 124 people who traveled from far and wide to play a $30 poker tournament, meet their hero Jason Somerville, and be a part of PokerStars’ five-year journey back to the United States.
On any normal day, Brandon Turner would be rebuilding the inside of Wendy’s restaurants. He owns a remodeling business with his dad, and they travel all over the state of Indiana for their work. This weekend, Brandon decided he would drive even further. He left Greenwood, Indiana and started driving east.
“It took me almost 13 hours with traffic,” Turner said. “I’m just a huge fan of Jason (Somerville). I’ve always wanted to meet him. I love poker. I’ve missed PokerStars since it went away on Black Friday, and I just wanted to get back to playing again.”
So, there he sat in a ballroom full of players in one of Atlantic City’s most storied buildings, home of its first Boardwalk casino and a hotel where Sinatra used to play.
The moment marked the intersection of several different journeys: of players looking for a chance to play legal poker in the United States, of Jason Somerville’s Run It Up empire creating a new live event, and of PokerStars’ first steps to rebuilding itself in the regulated parts of the USA.
“Doesn’t it make you angry?” Somerville said at one point during the day about his American fans’ inability to play legally outside New Jersey. “Isn’t it so dumb?”
It was part motivational speech, part Q&A, and part political rally led by one of poker’s most charismatic young heroes.
“Let’s use this angst,” he said. “We can use this passion…for change.”
Watch the PokerStars Blog later this week for an in-depth feature on Jason Somerville
Again, all of this–the day of poker, Q&As, turkey burgers, chess matches, corn hole, and a beach party–was undeniably part of a destination for many; you don’t drive 13 hours without having somewhere you’re meant to be going. Nevertheless, the event itself felt like a first step for many people in the room, perhaps more so for Chris Young than anyone.
Two years ago he lived in Boca Raton, Florida when an Audi made a right turn on red. It slammed directly into Young and his motorcycle.
“I flew 200 feet and landed on a Mazda,” Young said. “I shattered my right femur, lost six pints of blood.”
In the two years since, he went through multiple surgeries and bone grafts, all of which left him unable to work a regular job. Take one guess how he spent his time recovering.
Young buried himself in NLHE theory, read everything about poker he could get his hands on, and started listening to Somerville’s broadcasts. Finally, after two years of getting better, he was ready to start his new job with the Local 486 in Baltimore. He’s in plumbing and pipefitting, and he started work first thing today.
But before that, he took his last weekend of a very long two years, to drive up from Baltimore and play poker among his heroes. Along the way, he got them to sign his cane.
Every story in the room that day was different, but the common thread among them was how happy the players were to be back on PokerStars, even for a simple $30 poker tourney.
Throughout the day, they heard from the likes of Liv Boeree, Barry Greenstein, Vanessa Selbst, and Chris Moneymaker. Some of them played–eight at a time–in chess games against Jen Shahade (she won every game).
The tournament itself, despite only costing $30, was tough by any measure. A majority of the people playing it have spent more than their fair share of time watching Somerville’s countless hours of Twitch streams. The players are, in a word, good. Because they share the same training and talent, some of them found themselves pondering the poker physics behind equal talents clashing at the table.
“Everybody playing has been trained by carver (Somerville’s pseudonym),” player Colin Byerly said while looking in amazement around the room. “Everybody knows what is happening, but there is nothing you can do about it.”
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Meanwhile, the man with the cane had a mission in mind.
While the craziness played out around him, Young won one of the first big hands of the tournament, and a few hours later he sat around the final table with the other eight finalists.
It was a turbo event, and the final table went fast. Young managed to place fourth and watched from the sidelines as Dan Sewnig (aka monkeyman067) took the first Run It Up Resorts Rumble title. Sewnig had qualified for $1.50, won his buy-in, $200 in cash, and two nights at Resorts. It also gave him the chance to meet Somerville.
“He’s very professional. He’s very outgoing. He’s exactly what poker needs to keep this rolling,” Sewnig said of Somerville. “When I saw that he was going to come to New Jersey, I was very excited, because he is going to bring people in.”
By and by, the players shut down their laptops, asked Somerville questions for an hour, and then retired to the beachside Landshark Bar and Grill for the VIP Club Live party where…well, we don’t tell all of the stories now do we? (But, we do have photos!)
There is no telling exactly where all this will lead. Somerville has his eyes on more Run It Up Events. The Americas Cup of Poker is coming to Resorts next month. And there will be more. The PokerStars staff spent all of Saturday signing up new accounts for people, and there appears to be a bright future in New Jersey. As for the rest of the USA, that’s still a matter of time.
Even still, as the VIP Club Live party began Saturday night, a light rain had started to clear off the Atlantic City coast. As the revelers shook off the rain and dove into the food, someone screamed “Rainbow!” and just as sure as it was captured on Lee Jones’ cell phone, there it was above us.
Somehow, people had come from far and wide just for a chance to play on PokerStars again, and by the end of it, they all stood at the end of the rainbow.
It felt fitting in the best possible way.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.