Friday, September 28, 2012

Life on the Road: PokerStars European Poker Tour Barcelona

The following blog appeared on PokerNews' The Muck on September 5 and documented my trip to Barcelona, Spain for the European Poker Tour.

Life on the Road: PokerStars European Poker Tour Barcelona

Life on the Road: Barcelona
As a poker blogger, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some great tournaments across the world. I’ve covered events in South America, the Bahamas, and even in Australia, but despite these great experiences, I always longed to visit Europe. That chance finally arrived in mid-August when for the first stop of the PokerStars European Poker Tour’s ninth season — EPT Barcelona.
Aside from a quick jaunt to England in my college days, I’d never visited Europe, so you can imagine how excited I was to travel to Spain and cover my first EPT. I arrived a day before the start of the €50,000 Super High Roller and took the opportunity to explore the city. I accompanied the lovely Lynn Gilmartin andKristy Arnett, who were filming welcome videos for the PokerStars Blog and PokerNews respectively, as well as two cameramen and my fellow blogger, Emilis. Together we aimlessly wandered the city streets, occasionally stopping whenever the girls fancied a location.
We briefly visited the beach where it was not uncommon for women to bask topless. While this no doubt sounds agreeable to most male readers, you have to remember that the bad comes with the good and oftentimes the former outnumber the latter considerably. In other words, you might see some things you’d rather not at the topless beach. Also, in case you’re wondering, neither Lynn nor Kristy opted to let loose.
From there, we ventured down to the tree-lined La Rambla, a street in Barcelona that is known for street performers, living statues, and kiosks. It was there that Kristy took us all to a tucked away marketplace that served everything under the sun. Meats, cheeses, and nuts were aplenty, but what interested us was the vast array of fresh-squeezed fruit juices. The kaleidoscope of colors offered no easy choice, but ultimately I settled on an orange-peach concoction that pleased. Without a doubt, the best €2.00 I spent the entire trip.
After the girls finished filming at returned to the hotel, Emilis and I opted to take a bus tour of the city. For just €24.00, we got to see vast expanses of the city including the area where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held, the Plaza Monumental de Barcelona bullfighting arena, Port Vell Aerial Tramway, and Magic Fountain of Montjuic, just to name a few locations. The tour allowed us to get off at anytime and explore at our leisure, but given our time frame we opted to stay on the bus and take in a much of the city as possible. There was a lot we didn’t get to see, but I was happy with what we saw in such a short period of time.
That evening, Donnie Peters, who had flown in earlier in the day, invited me out. Our party included Kristy;Garry GatesKyle Julius and his girlfriend, Justine; and Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier and his fiancé, Erica. The dinner, which was at a restaurant at the marina, was decent, but the real treat was the company and conversation. Both Kyle and Jason were set to play the €50K the following day, but that didn’t stop them from having a good time.
While everyone else was enjoying wine, I ordered some sangria. What I didn’t realize until it was too late was that I had inadvertently ordered a large sangria; more specifically, I had ordered a full pitcher of sangria. Of course others wanted to sample, and I was more than happy to oblige. Four pitchers and a couple bottles of wine later, and everyone felt pretty good — except for Kristy, who uncharacteristically abstained.
This was my first time interacting with Jason and Kyle socially, and while I got the sense that they’d be lost without their better halves, both guys proved to be a blast. That part of the group, along with Donnie, extended the night by visiting a hookah bar, while the rest of us returned to the hotel to prepare for the €50K Super High Roller, which I had the privilege of working that event from start to finish.
It was a truly remarkable tournament; in fact, I rank it among my favorite events I’ve ever covered. I say this because of the eclectic mix of players. I’ve covered super-high roller events with Phil IveyDaniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel and the like on more than one occasion, but I’ve never had the chance to cover one with European players. At the EPT Barcelona, I finally had the chance to witness legends like Philip Gruissem, Juha Helppi, and Tobias Reinkemeier; in addition, I observed online legends I had only previously written about in Ilari “Ilari FIN” Sahamies, Terje “Terken89” Augdal and Ignat “0Human0” Liviu.
In my opinion, the lineup of the EPT Barcelona €50K Super High Roller surpassed that of the $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop, and I wasn’t all that surprised to seeDan Smith take down the title. I watched him win a similar event back in January, and the guy is something special. His meteoric rise in 2012 is as impressive, if not more, than Seidel’s accomplishments the year prior.
After the €50K wrapped, it was time to cover the €5,000 Barcelona Main Event. It was a week’s worth of great action, but the highlight for me was watching Sahamies, who had taken fourth place in the €50K, navigate the 1,082-player field and make it to the final table as the chip leader. It was there that a fellow Finn, Joni Jouhkimainen, joined him and together the pair put on quite the show.
I’ve never seen so many four and five bets, and I learned a lot about the sheer power of aggression. The Finns are truly fearless; however, neither Jouhkimainen nor Sahamies managed to capture the title, finishing in third and second places respectively. It seemed to me the duo celebrated a bit too early and overindulged in drinks, which opened the door for Belarusian Mikalai Pobal to swoop in and claim the €1,007,550 first-place prize.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention my first "football" experience. Now if you read football and thought the NFL, then you’re way off track. Outside the United States, football is the common name for what we Americans would call soccer, and believe me when I say it’s a big part of their culture. While in Barcelona, the hometown team took on Real Madrid. Now I know very little about the game, but I was told they were two of the best teams and the electric atmosphere surrounding the game backed that up.
Plenty of poker pros took the night off to attend the game at Camp Nou, which is the largest stadium in Europe with a 100,000 capacity, but at €250+ for a ticket, our gang opted to watch it at the Barcelona Sports Bar on La Rambla. The usual cast of characters were there, but my experience was exemplified by the inclusion of Marc Convey, Chris Hall and Neil Stoddart — three Brits who knew the game well. They were king enough to answer my naïve questions and provide me some background on the clubs and players.
The game started slow but definitely picked up steam in the second half. I got to watch Lionel Messi andCristiano Ronaldo work their magic, and rousing match ended up 3-2 in Barcelona’s favor. It was only one match, but I took away a whole new appreciation for the game — I really like that there were no commercial interruptions.
My trip to the EPT Barcelona was full of great experiences. The poker action was the best I’ve seen, and there was no shortage of things to do in the city. Other than being a bit too hot and humid for my liking, I had an amazing time in Spain. It may have been my first EPT, but if I have my way, it won’t be my last.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Pawn Stars Experience

The following blog appeared on PokerNews' The Muck on august 2, 2012.

Pawn Stars Shoot During the World Series of Poker

AUG 02
Pawn Stars

Preface: I had the opportunity to film for an episode of the History Channel's Pawn Stars over the summer. Although I can't reveal too much of the experience because of a nondisclosure agreement, here's everything I can tell you.
I’ve always been a fan of history and poker. I majored in the former while in college and almost went on to teach high school history, but my passion and career lies with poker. With that said, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to combine the two. This past summer, I found the perfect opportunity — taking vintage poker memorabilia to the hit History Channel program, Pawn Stars.

Over the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to piece together an extensive collection of old poker memorabilia, most notably some one-of-a-kind photos from old Las Vegas and past World Series of Pokers. I’ve managed to do so through different outlets including online auctions, antique stores, and by contacting a few individuals who were looking to part with their collections.

In 2011, I applied to be on Pawn Stars through its website and was fortunate enough to get a call from one of the producers. I then had to submit more information on my items including what they were, how I obtained them, and how much I was asking. In this case, I had three unique photos from the 1972 WSOP featuring “Amarillo Slim” PrestonPuggy Pearson and Doyle Brunson. Upon showing the photos to WSOP Media Director and noted poker historian Nolan Dalla, he informed be that he had never seen the photos; in fact, he couldn’t recall seeing a single photo from that particular final table.

Unfortunately, production fell behind in the summer of 2011 and my filming appointment got pushed back further and further until I had to leave Las Vegas. It was a missed opportunity, though not to any fault of my own. Not to be deterred, I decided to reapply this past summer before heading to Sin City for the 2012 WSOP. Much to my delight, the producer remembered me and made another appointment for me to go in and film.
Here’s a part of the e-mail I got from the producer:

Just a reminder — You are on the schedule to film with Pawn Stars Friday June 1st from 7-9am. Filming runs according to schedule, so do not arrive any earlier - it will last approximately 1 to 3 hours. Sometimes the crew may run late, so let us know if there is a time you definitely need to leave the shop by.

The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is located at 713 Las Vegas Boulevard South Las Vegas, NV 89101. When you arrive at the shop bypass the line if there is one, and let security know you are there for filming - they'll let you know where to go.
The director prefers that you bring sunglasses with you as some shots are taken outdoors. Please do not wear anything white as it does come across well on camera; dark solid color shirts are preferred. Hats and shirts with large patterns, prints, stripes graphics or labels of any kind are also not permitted.

You are required to be consistent with the item's asking price as per what we discussed. Unrealistic asking prices and/or raising the price immediately prior to filming for purposes of being on TV will result in cancellation of the scene and will never be aired on Pawn Stars. If you have previously posted an online auction listing for your item please remove it immediately. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that your item will be sold to the shop.

You will be required to fill out some paperwork prior to filming that will include an appearance release and a nondisclosure agreement.

Please note that you will be the only person to appear on camera. If you do not wish to be the seller, let us know the name of the person that will be appearing on camera. You are welcome to bring a friend or family member into the shop with you during the filming, but they will not appear on camera. They can stand off camera, near the production crew, only you will appear on camera during the taping.

The main focus of this is the hopeful sale of your item. We ask that you treat the guys as normal employees and hold off on any requests until after the scene has been completely filmed (e.g., photographs).

Lastly, but most importantly, be sure to bring your A+ personality — don't be shy or afraid to crack a few jokes in the scene, we want you to be comfortable and have fun with it!

By this time I had added some more great photos to my collection, including those from the estate of Frank Cutrona, the former tournament director of the Golden Nugget. Back in the 1980s, the Golden Nugget was a hotbed for poker, and Cutrona had dozens of photos from celebrity poker events that featured poker pros alongside stars like Dionne WarwickMr. T., and Willie Nelson, just to name a few.

The Pawn Stars' Rick (left) with PokerNews' Senior Writer Chad Holloway.
The Pawn Stars' Rick (left) with PokerNews' Senior Writer Chad Holloway.

On the day of filming, which was postponed just once this year, I arrived and made my way to the door. The shop was busy that day, but an intern found me with ease and escorted me to the back. While the storefront is fairly small, at least compared to how they make it look on TV, the back area is huge. There are offices, storage shelves, garages and closets abound. Surprisingly, I was taken to a small area with no windows that was more akin to the set of a snuff film than anything else.

I may have been unenthusiastic with the holding area, but I was quite excited to film for the show, especially when one of the producers came in and informed me that I’d be filming with Rick Harrison and Chumlee, perhaps the two most well-known stars on the show. Eventually the store was cleared out, with the exception of a couple of dozen customers who were allowed to stay and serve as extras, which basically meant they browsed in silence and didn't look at the camera.
Sadly, I can’t tell you too much more about my experience because, as the e-mail indicates, I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Rest assured that when the episode does air, which will likely be during the upcoming new season this fall (they don’t give you an exact date), I will write a more intimate recap of my experience and break down just how the negotiations went.

Get all the latest PokerNews updates on your social media outlets. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook now!

*Lead photo courtesy of Pawn Stars.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Travel Journal: Viña del Mar, Chile

This is a copy of my PokerNews' Travel Journal: Viña del Mar, Chile that appeared in The Muck on April 14, 2012.

Viña del Mar

In late 2010, I had the opportunity to attend my first Latin American Poker Tour event, the Grand Final in Rosario Argentina. A year later, Colombia became my second LAPT. I had a great time at both events learning new cultures, covering top-notch poker tournaments and meeting new people. That’s why I jumped at the chance to cover the LAPT Chile event when it was announced as the first stop of Season 5.

In order to get to the tournament venue, the Enjoy Casino & Resort, I had to fly into Santiago and take an hour ride, graciously arranged by LAPT Travel, to Viña del Mar on the Pacific coast. If you’re unfamiliar with “The Vineyard by the Sea,” I recommend you check out the PokerStars Travel Guide for some background. Speaking of which, it’s worth nothing this was the same stop that was cancelled in 2010 after a massive 8.8 earthquake rocked the region, damaging infrastructure and killing approximately 500 people.

The first thing that struck me in Chile actually happened before I even set foot on ground. On our approach to Santiago, I peered of the window of my airplane and was taken aback by the view. The Andes Mountains, the longest continental mountain range in the world at 4,300-miles long, literally took my breath away. I’ve seen the Rocky Mountains during my various forays to Vegas, but they just don’t compare. I caught a glimpse of Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain in the Americas at 22,841 feet. While it’s technically located 15 kilometers across the Chilean boarder in Argentina, it’s pure mass made it indistinguishable. Truly breathtaking.

The massive vineyards that lined the highway between Santiago and Viña del Mar also impressed me. Even though I’m not a wine connoisseur, I couldn’t help but gaze at the endless fields that resembled Nebraskan cornfields, seemingly going on forever. Sprinkle in some mountains, small towns and the first glimpse of the ocean, and the ride ended up being quite enjoyable.

I ended up staying at the Ankara Hotel, a cozy little hotel located just down the street from the venue. The rooms were on the smaller side, but they made good use of the space and featured free Internet access. I’ve stayed at a lot of bad hotels in my day, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. Even so, I didn't plan on spending much time in my room; in fact, after unpacking, it was time to explore the city.

Usually when I’m on assignment, I rarely have time to sightsee. That’s because our schedule tends to be fly in, cover the tournament, and fly out. This time, I made it a point to experience the new land; as such, I flew to Chile a day earlier than normal, and thanks to an early flight, I basically had two days to investigate Viña del Mar.

That first night was pretty subdued as everyone was jet lagged. We grabbed some dinner and walked the nearby coastline, before everyone went back to the hotel. Even though I was exhausted and should have went to bed, I decided to go to the beach with PokerNews cameraman extraordinaire Will Thomas. The beach was beautiful, but it wasn’t meant for swimming as the waves were way too strong, though it didn’t stop us from wading in a bit and getting out feet wet. Speaking of which, that was the first time I've ever stepped foot in the Pacific Ocean.

The following day was when the real fun began. Mickey Doft and I tagged along with Kristy Arnett when she shot her Welcome Video. I could regal you with all the cool sites we visited, but you'll no doubt find the video more entertaining:

Later that same evening, we took a taxi to Playa Reñaca, a 1.3-km beach that is one of the main attractions near Viña del Mar. The water was a little choppy, but it was a fun day out in the sun. I even made a cameo in a video Kristy shot, which turned out to be hilarious. Be sure to pay attention to the infamous "Bird Shirt."

The next few days were dominated by tournament action, all of which you can catch up on by reading the PokerNews Live Blog. It was during this time that I got to experience my first earthquake. It wasn't a big one, just enough to make my hotel room shake, but it was an interesting and intimidating experience. I'm glad everyone was safe, and obviously never want to be a part of a big one.

Speaking of which, on our last night in Viña del Mar, there was a 7.1 earthquake about 400km away. We were sitting at a seaside restaurant at the time and our table shook ever so slightly. A few minutes later, the waiter came and informed us that they were evacuating the area as a precaution for a possible tsunami. That was surreal to say the least. Watching hundreds of people, both in vehicles and on foot, head for high ground made us all uneasy. We followed suit, and luckily the tsunami warning was soon lifted. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Here are a few photos I took while in Chile for your viewing pleasure:

A funky picture of myself taken in the lobby of Hotel Ankara.
A funky picture of myself taken in the lobby of Hotel Ankara.
Out to eat with the PokerNews crew and other media friends.
Out to eat with the PokerNews crew and other media friends.
Playa Reñaca beach
Playa Reñaca beach
Evacuating to high ground after the 7.1 earthquake up the coast.
Evacuating to high ground after the 7.1 earthquake up the coast.

Stay up to date on all the latest news by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

PokerStars Blog Travel Diary: LAPT Colombia

I realized I forgot to put this up. It is my travel diary from the Latin American Poker Tour Colombia stop back in October 2011. It appeared on the PokerStars Blog on October 24: 


lapt-promo.gifOn Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, the Latin American Poker Tour paid its first visit to the country of Colombia; coincidentally, this was my first trip to the South American country as well. The event took place at the Allegre Casino in Medellin, the second largest city in the country. While traveling to Colombia may seem intimidating given its reputation, I was immediately awestruck upon seeing both the city and the venue, both of which were unique in their own right.
After traveling from Wisconsin to Medellin, via Dallas and Miami, I arrived at the airport and was promptly met by a driver who was to take us to our hotel, courtesy of LAPT Travel. Neither my companion, Mickey Doft, nor I spoke much Spanish, so it was a blessing that our third mate, Dave "F-Train" Behr, knew enough to get by. He was instrumental in helping us check-in, order food, and generally just function in the foreign country.
The drive from the airport to the hotel took about half an hour, and the drive there was stunning. Medellin, known as the "City of Eternal Spring," is settled in the foothills/mountains of northwest Colombia. The ride in took us up and over a mountain, which to me seemed as big as Mount Everest.
As we crossed the summit, a view unlike anything I had ever seen unfolded before my eyes in a spectacular show of city lights. As the road wound down the backside of the mountain and weaved its way through swaths of trees, we caught glimpses of a society nestled in the valley, throughout the foothills, and sprawling up the sides of the surrounding mountains. Aside from being in a helicopter, I'm not sure there is a city in this world with a view like Medellin.
We ended up arriving at our hotel at around 10 p.m., which meant we were too late to attend the LAPT Colombia Welcome Party, which was a pity as I was later told everyone who attended had a great time. Luckily, I was able to live vicariously through our video team, who snapped some great footage of the revelry.
After a good night's sleep, it was off to the Casino Allegre, which was directly across the street from our hotel in a mall, one you might expect to find right here in the Untied States. The venue was extremely convenient; the plaza had a food court, grocery store, and shops containing anything a traveler might require. A plethora of options is not something I had become accustomed to while on the road, so I did my best not to take it for granted.
As far as the actual casino, it was smaller than I was used to, but it was intimate and cozy. One half of the casino was cleared out to harbor 33 tournament tables, which was complimented by a side room for the media. As it'd turn out, I'd be spending the majority of my trip in this room, as Days 1a and 1b drew a total of 681 players, making the event the largest in LAPT history. For me, this translated to 12 to 14 hour days and meant I was unable to experience the city as much as I would have liked, but sometimes that's just what the job entails.
For obvious reasons, the event attracted hundreds of Colombians, who were joined by players from all over South America. In addition, a number of Team PokerStars Pros were in attendance including Andre Akkari (Brazil), Leo Fernandez (Argentina), Angel Guillen (Mexico), Christian de Leon (Mexico), Freddy Torres (Online), and Humberto Brenes (Costa Rica). Unfortunately, the only one to cash was Brenes (53rd - $1,868), despite Torres beginning Day 2 as the chip leader.

As always, the tournament was well run and everyone seemed to be having an entertaining time. The biggest challenge from my perspective was the language barrier, so you can imagine my relief when I discovered someone from the United States in the field.
I first met Jason Sudol on Day 2 and learned that he was an American who had relocated to Medellin with his identical twin brother a few years prior. I actually met Sudol's brother, who came to sweat his deep run, and believe me when I tell you they're the spitting image of each other. Heck, they could have switched off playing in the tournament and I guarantee no one would have noticed.
As I got to know Sudol, I learned that he qualified for the Main Event through a satellite at the Allegre Casino, but what was especially interesting was the fact that at one point in that tournament he was down to just half an ante and came back to win a seat. It was a lot of fun to watch Sudol's remarkable run, which ended up coming to a halt in 16th place for $5,294.
At the final table, the final six players ended up cutting a deal; however, they still played it out for the championship, along with some money they had set aside. I expected the action to explode after the deal was struck, but it quickly became evident that the money wasn't what mattered. Each of the players wanted desperately to be a LAPT champion, which was reflected in their play. I was especially impressed by Jessica Bedoya, who ended up finishing in third place, the best finish by a woman in a LAPT Main Event.
In the end, it was Julian Menendez of Argentina who took down the championship. Remarkably, he had received the lowest amount in the six-way chop, but battled his way back from the short stack to take down the title.
While my trip to Colombia was dominated by work, I still had a great time. It was a blast being a part of LAPT history, and I soaked up every bit of culture that I was able, no matter how small. Colombia surpassed my expectations in every way, and I'd be surprised if it doesn't become a regular stop on the LAPT schedule. I know if it does, I'd be happy to go back.