In the second half of 2003, the reverberations from Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP Main Event were just starting to shake the poker world. The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure set sail on board a state-of-the-art cruise ship at just the right time, before landing in Atlantis on Paradise Island in 2005.
The ingredients were perfect. Look beyond the sun, sea and sand, and the PCA offered live poker to anyone aged 18+ and a journey that was just a short hop from the States. For these two reasons, it attracted hordes of young internet whiz-kids, often playing live for the first time. Some of them were among the very best players in the world, although chances are you’d never have heard of them. The PCA was their coming-out party and some of the biggest names in the poker world today made their mark in Atlantis.
The good news is that after a one-year hiatus, it’s back. The 2018 PCA plays out January 6-14 and it boasts nine days of off-the-chart action, with the $10,300 Main Event promising to take poker players back to the glory days. To whet your appetite, join us as we countdown the 10 greatest PCA moments of all time.
The very first PCA was the only one that didn’t play out on dry land. 221 runners boarded a special cruise ship, which took in Miami, Florida, Jamaica, Mexico and the Cayman Islands, and paid $7,500 for a shot at the trophy and the $455,780 first prize. The final three served up a feast for sun-shy spectators, with Daniel Negreanu busting in third, leaving Gus Hansen and Hoyt Corkins to battle heads-up. Hansen came out on top, which was no surprise – the Great Dane was unstoppable at that time. It was only his sixth recorded cash, but the first five included two WPT Main Event wins and another third-place WPT finish.
The inimitable Gus Hansen was the first ever PCA champion, and the last to win it on a boat too
The PCA needed a permanent home and in 2005 it moved to Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where it’s been ever since. The final table was played outside and was won by the UK’s John Gale, who came through a field of 461 runners to scoop the $890,600 first prize. Incredibly, it was his first recorded cash, and while Gale has gone on to win almost $4m and two WSOP bracelets since, it all started for him in a breezy and slightly surreal outdoor setting.
724 runners at the 2006 PCA created a prize pool of $5,647,200, with almost $1.4m up top. It was the first time the winner of the PCA would scoop a seven-figure score, and Steve-Paul Ambrose beat Brook Lyter in a heads-up battle that was worth an incredible $707,100. Amazingly, it was Ambrose’s first recorded cash and Lyter’s second. Now that’s pressure.
Isaac Haxton and Ryan Daut played out a spectacular hand heads-up at the 2007 PCA. The fact that neither player had a live cash at the time made it even more remarkable. Both players made it to the river with nothing – or as Mike Sexton said on commentary, “absolute Garfunkel”. Daut had the best of the Qh-4h-Ac-Kd-Qc board with 7c-5s. Haxton had 2d-3d for the nut low. That didn’t stop him betting out and then jamming over Daut’s raise with his tournament life on the line. Daut insta-mucked but got the last laugh by closing the tournament out for his career-best win of $1,535,255. For Haxton, it was the springboard to a stellar career that has netted him in excess of $15m.
Isaac Haxton on his way to a memorable runner-up finish in the 2007 PCA
2008 was the first time the PCA played as an EPT event. It was also the first time since 2004 that the final table was played inside, and one man ensured it was one of the most memorable. Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier had already gone close to a major, finishing second in the 2007 EPT Copenhagen. At the 2008 PCA he started the final table second in chips behind monster leader David ‘The Dragon’ Pham. ElkY quickly built up his stack and started using it to devastating effect, dispatching Pham when he called an all-in with Ad-2d against Pham’s Qc-5c on a Kh-Qh-5d-Jd board. The 7d river knocked Pham out and gave ElkY an unassailable lead. He pocketed an incredible $2m first prize - a record payout as the PCA field soared over 1,000 runners for the first time.
Numbers continued to soar, with 1,347 runners smashing the previous year’s record and creating a monster first prize of $3,000,000. Poorya Nazari chose the right time to go on a heater, qualifying through a $33 triple turbo rebuy on PokerStars, before coming out on top of a stacked final table that boasted Kevin Saul, Benny Spindler and Tony Gregg. Nazari’s biggest cash before or since is $29,616, but this was enough to shoot him up the Canada all-time money list, where he’s still sitting in 23rd, just ahead of high-stakes phenom Haralabos Voulgaris.
It seems absurd to suggest anyone would be miserable after winning $1,750,000, but here’s the proof. Tyler Reiman was heads-up with Harrison Gimbel in the PCA Main Event when he made the nut straight with 8h-7d on the 5d-6h-4h flop. Unfortunately, Gimbel hung around through the Tc turn and 7h river, and then jammed over a huge bet from Reiman, repping the flush. A call would have given Reiman a 3-1 chip lead but he folded face up. Gimbel won shortly after and it’s rumoured that Reiman cried when he heard about the bluff. You can understand why.
The 2011 PCA was the biggest of all time, with an incredible 1,560 runners creating a prize pool of $15,132,000. Galen Hall had recorded a couple of minor cashes prior to the PCA, but this was the win that catapulted him into the big time – and this hand heads-up against Chris Oliver is one any pro would want on their highlight reel. It’s hard to make a hand heads-up and making a straight with 8c-4h on a 5d-3d-2c-2h-As board would normally be cause for celebration. After seeing Oliver jam over the top of his bet though, Hall folded and saved his tournament life – if he’d called he would have been crushed by Oliver’s A-2. He fought back to wrest the chip lead from Oliver, before taking the trophy and the $2.3m first prize.
Rumour has it that if you cut a Mizrachi, poker chips bleed out. Michael Mizrachi has over $15m in live winnings and three WSOP bracelets. Incredibly, his older brother Robert has four and that’s who Jake Cody decided to run a huge bluff on at the 2013 PCA. Cody had mischief in mind when he three-bet Mizrachi’s open from early position with Kc-Js. Mizrachi made two pair on the river and decided to bet small, only to see Cody jam over the top with second pair. Mizrachi was tortured. He squirmed, shook his head, stared at Cody, stood up and talked to himself for eight minutes, before finding the call. Props to Cody too though, for sitting impassively for eight minutes before tweeting, “Lesson learnt #nevertrytobluffamizrachi”. (The hand starts at the 15 minute mark.)
The first ever EPT Main Event was held in 2004 in Barcelona. Almost 10 years later, Mike McDonald nearly became the first two-time champ when he got heads-up at the 2014 PCA. Unfortunately for him, Dominik Panka stood between him and history. The two put on a world-class display, with McDonald eventually falling short after being crippled in a monster flip. Victoria Coren would become the first two-time EPT champ in San Remo later that year.