The last decade has seen tremendous developments in the game of poker. The adrenaline, the money and fame, but perhaps, mostly, the possibility of a small investment generating an extraordinary income, these are some of the things that have made this development possible. Players have gone on to become millionaires after enrolling on dedicated websites where they can hone and develop their skills.
By Dorin Chioţea
13 young Romanians qualified for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) at the beginning of the year, following a complicated online poker game system. The PCA is a tournament festival with thousands of participants and they all gathered this year in the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau, in the super luxurious Atlantis Resort.
The Festival in Nassau
4K cameras, 24 in total, recorded the players’ every move while they were seated at the tables – to put things in perspective, this is basically the same technology used for World Cup matches. Players gathered around 150 tables, focused and silent, exuding calm and confidence. But those emotions, that are famously and mostly held tightly in check, do occasionally boil to the surface.
The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt and actor Jeff Bridges were also present at the PCA, curios about the event playing out.
The main event lasted six days and 750 poker players participated. Their sustained training over the previous six months is what brought them to Nassau, where they further enhanced their abilities and experience. Poker is a game that develops the capacity for mathematical and logical thinking and it requires the ability to make decisions under stress. All these players have spent hours and hours meditating, grooming their flair and practicing probabilistic calculations in front of the computer, playing poker online. Luck is, maximum, only 20% of the road to success in poker.
“The big players are outstanding psychologists. They never rely on luck, but rather on their own personal style. A beginner can win the first one or two games against the big players, but out of 100 games he/she will never win more than three or four.” says Răzvan, a 30-year-old player from Bucharest. “If you get angry you don’t stand a chance. No matter what cards you get and how you play. There are courses out there, online mentoring, books on strategy. You have to listen to other people too if you want to grow,” he adds.
The Poker Portal
PokerStars has an interesting and fair system of finding talent world wide. This dedicated portal is open to anyone who knows the rules of the game. You simply log in and, if you have the skills, you can climb up to the highest peaks of the poker world.
There are many big international events: PCA, Macau, Monte Carlo and Soci – similar in status to the Grand Slam tournaments in tennis (the PCA is like a kind of Wimbledon). Some of the players are honoured guests, the big stars of poker, others are the people who pay for their place at the table with cash and a few dozen are the ones who qualify through online tournaments. That is why the online portal is super popular, with many thousands of players logging in to play against other players from around the world. “In the beginning my parents thought I’d become a bum. By day I was going to my job and by night I would play qualifying games 10 hours straight. I have played thousands of games before qualifying for the PCA in the Bahamas,” says Ştefan, a 25-year-old player from Târgu Mureş.
Qualifying for a top tournament means plane tickets to the event and back, 10 days of all-inclusive hospitality at the Atlantis Resort, with a $500/night room, plus virtual credit of $10,500 that covers the participation fee to the main event. All that potentially with the initial financial expense of a $27 logging in fee. And if you are not among the winners, you still have the invaluable experience of attending such an event.
The American Harrison Gimbel was present this year in Nassau, ending the main event in 56th position, with a $35,000 prize. In 2010, aged 19, nobody knew his name yet but he had qualified for the PCA due to a small tournament where the prize he won was a mere $1,000. He won the PCA that year, taking home the $2.2m first prize and becoming the youngest person ever to win the competition.
This year, the smallest prize was $1,700 for the 112th position, while the first prize was taken home by an Argentinian – she won $1.2m. Some Romanian players finished the competition in the top 120, but Romanians were not there only as competitors. Ştefana from Petroşani is a 35-year-old dealer, with 12 years’ experience in the field and is an elite class “referee”. This means she goes to all the major tournaments in a year, leaving her with an average monthly income of $6,000. The biggest game she worked on was won by a Spanish woman who took home $1.1m prize money.
The Hollywood Image of Poker
Blockbuster films have built this skewed image of poker. The audience believes this world to be taboo, available either to gangsters or the few holding the key to knowledge. The greater public believes that poker must necessarily involve cigar smoke, expensive liquor and guns resting on the players’ laps. Or that the poker tables are strewn with heaps of banknotes.
The truth is the leading players at the PCA were ordinary looking people, wearing plain clothes, no luxurious accessories, not drawing attention to themselves in any particular way. What is out-of-the-ordinary is their ability to remain calm and act under stress.
To date, 60 countries have internationally recognised National Poker Federations. Among the world’s biggest poker stars is Canadian Daniel Negreanu, son of Romanian immigrants. This former “poker-kid” became a living legend, winning the biggest tournaments in the world and accumulating prize money of $35m.
You can read an exclusive and exciting interview with Daniel in the next OZB magazine.