Monday, February 13, 2012

My Trip to the Aussie Millions Parts I & II

The following blog entries also appeared on Phil Laak's Unabomber Poker Blog.

Part I -
Part II -

There are a lot of things I have always wanted to experience in life, including a visit to Australia. As a small-town boy from North Freedom, Wisconsin (population 551), I always fantasized about visiting far-away lands, and I suppose the “Land Down Under” was the furthest away I could get, or so I thought. With that said, I was absolutely ecstatic when I had the chance to cross Australia off my bucket list in January.
As it happens, visiting Australia was both a personal and professional goal. Being a senior writer for PokerNews, I’ve always wanted to cover the Aussie Millions, which is the largest and most prestigious poker tournament in the Southern hemisphere. Having the chance to kill two birds with one stone was an opportunity of a lifetime, and while I was going for work, I looked at the three weeks I would be spending in Melbourne as a much-needed working vacation.
Now let me tell you, leaving the cold Wisconsin winter for summer south of the equator is quite exhilarating, provided you can bear the 30 hours of traveling it requires to get there. I won’t lie, going from MadisonàChicagoàLos AngelesàSydneyàMelbourne is a grueling haul, especially the 14-hour leg it takes to get over the Pacific. Nonetheless, I buckled down, brought my PSP and plenty of movies, and zoned out.
When I finally arrived in Melbourne, I was exhausted. I’d ben cooped up in an airplane for more than a day, but I was too excited to sleep. After catching cab to my hotel, theCrown Promenade, I took a quick shower and headed down to the poker room. That’s where I met up with the hostess supreme, Natasha Stipanov. I had never met Tash, but I was told, “She’ll take care of you.” Let me just say, that proved to be an understatement as she consistently went above and beyond throughout my entire stay.
After receiving a tour of the Crown Complex, which includes a casino, food court, movie theater, multiple hotels and restaurants, etc., I went back to my room with the intention of taking a brief nap. About 12 hours later, I was up and ready to cover the Opening Event of the Aussie Millions with a local PokerNews vet by the name ofJoshua Bell. While I had never met Josh before, we hit it off right away. As it turned out, we both have an affinity for comic books, and once that embarrassment was revealed, we got along quite well.
(Josh is seated while Tim Duckworth is a bit camera shy)
I’d like to regal you with numerous adventures from Australia, but as I said before, I was there to work, which is what I spent most of my time doing. In fact, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, there was a period of 11 days when I was outside for a total of 20 minutes (remember, the hotel was connected to the casino). With that said, I did try to make the most of my days off.
The first opportunity I had some time to myself, I tagged along with the camera crew,Andrew Dorn and Nicki Pickering, as they went to the beach at St. Kilda to film a feature. Aside from the fact that I absentmindedly wore shoes instead of sandals, or thongs as they’d call them in Australia, it was a good experience. The weather was warm, but a nice breeze offset the sun’s warmth that was reverberating off the sand. I picked up some seashells along the beach as they went about their work with the idea that one day I'll put them an aquarium. We followed that up with lunch in Nicki’s neighborhood before heading back to the hotel. Here's a look at the beach:
I also had the following day off, which was a Wednesday, and joined Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers and Remko Rinkema at the “Night Market” at the Queen Victoria Market. In hindsight, this was a great decision and one of the best nights I had in Melbourne. You see, the night market features dozens of merchants, food stands, live music, and entertainment. Remko bought us a round of beers and we perused the market alongside hundreds of other tourists, locals, and vendors before deciding to get a bite to eat. There were literally dozens of options, but we settled upon a stand that served ostrich, crocodile, and kangaroo burgers. It was a tough choice, and while Kevmath and Remko went with the ostrich burger (I think . . . they could have had the kangaroo burger), I chose the croc burger. Make no mistake, it was delicious, almost like a sweet and succulent chicken.
Eventually we were joined by poker pro McLean Karr and his girlfriend, poker personality Tatjana Pasalic. The latter actually had a distant cousin who lived in Melbourne, so both her and her daughter joined our ragtag crew of misfits. Together we drank some beers, explored the food options, and just gave way to the festive atmosphere. A couple of hours later, our group doubled as Joseph Cheong and his entourage joined the fun. It was an amusing evening, especially after we shifted from beer to sangria, but alas all good things come to an end. Everyone went about his or her business while Kevmath, Remko, and myself decided to walk back to the hotel (we had taken a tram to get there).
(Left to right: Kevmath, McLean Karr, Tatjana Pasalic, strangers, Remko Rinkema in white shirt)
I had a lot of other memorable experiences during my time in Australia. Just to name a few:
-      Paying $18.50 for a movie ticket and being assigned my seat. I didn’t particularly care for sitting between two strangers. Anyway, I saw three movies during my three-weekstay (remember there was a cinema in the complex) including The DescendantsTailor, Tinker, Solider, Spy, andUnderworld: Awakening. You can check out my reviews on each over at the Buddies Forever Movie Club blog.
-       Being introduced to Tim Tams, which is the best chocolate bar that I have ever had. They reminded me of a Kit Kat, but so much better. I ended up bringing back nine packs of all different flavors to give away as gifts, and they went over quite well.
-       Being treated to numerous dinners by the Crown folks, most notably Natasha and Jim Preston. This also included a night out after the last tournament had wrapped. Let me tell you, being treated to drinks at a beer garden is something I’ll never take for granted.
-       Using the hotel gym. I don’t know why, but I grew to love that place. I guess spending 14 hours a day in the poker room really allows you to appreciate other places in the complex.
As far as poker went on my trip to the 2012 Crown's Aussie Millions Poker Championship, I played cash games a few times, basically breaking even in the end. I also had the chance to play in Event #14 $550 NLHE Terminator, which featured a $100 bounty on every player’s head. There were about 220 entries, including Kevin "Kevmath" MathersLance Bradley, and Lynn Gilmartin. We all managed to do quite well actually. Bradley exited about halfway through, while Gilmartin busted around 32nd place after a nasty beat. Only 20 players were slated to get paid, which made my elimination in 23rd place all the more heart wrenching. I could have grinded to the money, but in my defense, there was a flat payout from 10th-20th, so I was more focused on putting myself in contention to win. Unfortunately, a bad read cost me about half my chips, and then the other half disappeared when I got it all in preflop with ace-king of diamonds against pocket eights. I picked up a royal-flush draw on the turn, but the river was a blank. Luckily one of the crew managed to break through as Kevmath finished in sixth place for $6,233. He was extremely excited and it was nice to be there for his accomplishment.
(I know I don't meantion her in this post, but this is PokerNews hostess Nicki Pickering, who happens to be ridiculously good looking)
The other big poker highlight, at least for me, was covering the $250,000 Super High Roller event, which is the biggest buy-in tournament in poker. I was the main person blogging the one-day event, and it was the most prestigious field I've ever covered. Sixteen players ponied up $250K including Daniel NegreanuErik Seidel,Jason MercierDan SmithSam TrickettGus HansenPatrik Antonius,Winfred YuTom “durrrr” DwanSorel MizziJohn Juanda, and a slew of Chinese business men. It was awesome watching these titans of poker battle it out, even if it was a Turbo format. To read exactly what happened, be sure to peruse thePokerNews blog.
The most exciting part was when action was four handed between Ivey, Antonius, Hansen, and Negreanu. I mean seriously, here are four of the most famous and skilled players in world battling it out for a $2 million first-place prize, and I get to cover it. What’s more, only three players would get paid, meaning it was an $800K bubble. Talk about intense. The air was palpable, especially when Negreanu unexpectedly busted as the bubble boy. If you want to read more about that, I recommend you check out his blog on the Aussie Millions.
As you probably known, Ivey went on to win that event, which was extra impressive considering he had just finished 12th in the Aussie Millions Main Event earlier that day. All told, the $250K took just over 12 hours to complete, and while it was grueling and tiresome, I was glad to be a part of something so special. I was there when Ivey won his eighth World Series of Poker bracelet, and now I was there for this. I like Ivey, and he’s every bit as good as people say.
By this time, my trip was winding down, though I had one last day off before having to fly back to the States. I woke up extra early, despite a very late night, to take full advantage of the day, which included Josh Bell taking me on a foot tour of downtown Melbourne. We hit up a couple of comic shops, bought some souvenirs, and took in some sights. It was a blast, though the sun and walking wore me out. We followed this up with a movie before I went out for dinner with Randy Dorfman, who is one of my favorite players on the circuit. He invited me to join him, his wife Joy, and his daughter Kim as a pretty fancy restaurant. The food was good, the conversation great, but the best part was the people. It was a great dinner and Randy and his family are among the most welcoming and kindhearted people I’ve ever met.
(Iconic Finders Street Station in downtown Melbourne)
The next day it was off to the airport for the long trek back home. I was in a chipper mood and happily agreed to a questionnaire at the airport by a woman from the Australian Tourism Bureau, or some such organization. I like to think this gave me some run-good karma, which I soon redeemed. You see, the flight from Melbourne to L.A. is around 13 hours, so imagine my excitement when, on a near-full plane, the middle seat next to me was open. Since I was seated on the isle, I had a lavish amount of elbowroom, and wouldn’t you know it, the same thing happened on my four-hour flight from L.A. to Chicago. I felt like I was flying first class and the trip back went as smooth as possible. When it comes to air travel, you learn to appreciate the little things.
All in all, my trip to Australia was everything I had hoped. It was a great professional opportunity, and personally fulfilling. I felt completely rejuvenated after I returned home (funny how traveling has the effect). I didn’t get to do everything I would have liked (i.e. visiting the countryside, seeing some wildlife, traveling the Great Ocean Road, spending time in Sydney, etc.), but if I’m able to return next year, I’m going to be sure to stay an extra week in order to experience it all.
*Lead picture courtesy of PokerNews.

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