Strand Street runs north to south along a cobblestone walk just a few steps from the Irish Sea. It’s where you go if you need a cup of coffee, some Chinese take-away, or a new plan for your cell phone. When the sun is out, it’s a bustling and vibrant place that can make even an outsider feel right at home.
At the north end of the street sits a little place called Star Pizza. It’s the same type of pizza and kebab joint you could find almost anywhere in London. A few booth seats, a line of soda cans in the cooler, some meat already strung onto a skewer, a man with a thick accent behind the counter. It was here–the most unassuming of places in a place already known for being unassuming–that something sort of remarkable happened.
I hadn’t eaten in a day or so and needed sustenance. I ordered some food and sat down to review some notes after a long day of work.
“You’re with the poker?”
The man behind the counter had leaned over and seen a badge on my chest that gave me away. I said I was.
“Are you winning?” he said. The man had to be 50 years old, but I saw wonder in his eyes.
I explained I was working here, and that I wouldn’t have time to play the Main Event.
“But,” I said, “when it’s all over, somebody is going to win around £100,000.”
“Wait,” the man said, and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
Moments later, another man was there. He was younger, and smiling. The counter guy had pulled him out by his shoulders and was now pointing at me.
“He’s with the poker,” the counter man said.
The questions started and didn’t stop for some time: How much did it cost? How long will it last? How much can you win? Can anybody enter? I answered them all, and each time it seemed like their smiles got bigger. A shy young woman peeked around the corner and looked at me. I smiled (it was contagious), and she smiled back. I was a spectacle at Star Pizza.
It occurred to me that these people were excited. They were excited about the idea that a major poker tournament was happening just down the street. They were thrilled with the idea that anybody could get in. This was their home. This was a place not many people know and even fewer know much about. Here, in the middle of Douglas, Isle of Man, some of the world’s best poker players were battling for big money.
“We like poker, too,” said the counter man. He might have felt like he needed to explain himself, but he didn’t. I understood. Even though I’ve seen poker in countless countries, there is something special and exciting about seeing it happen for the first time in a place that hasn’t seen a major poker event since European Poker Tour founder John Duthie won the Poker Million here 15 year ago. I wasn’t just excited for the poker tour. I was excited for the people here, even the guys at Star Pizza.
“You should come down and watch,” I said.
The smile never faded as the kitchen man reluctantly went back to his post. “I will,” he said.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging