Without question, it is one of the most popular tournament stops on the global circuit. Whether it is because of the exotic beach locale of the Atlantis Resort and Casino in the Bahamas, the massive prize pools and notoriety that goes with winning the event, or its occurrence as the first major tournament of each new year, the PokerStars.Com Caribbean Adventure (PCA) is well-attended and highly anticipated each year. This was no different.
In fact, the 2009 PCA was better than ever before. The 1,347 entrants to the $10K buy-in main event set a record for the PCA; moreover, it made history for the most players ever to enter a European Poker Tour (EPT) event. And with that number came a prize pool that was just astounding and created a first prize of $3 million -- exactly $1 million more than only one year ago.
The PCA got underway on January 5th with the first of two starting days, so that final number wouldn’t be made known until the next day. But the first day was impressive in and of itself with 660 players coming to the felt for Day 1A, and among them were a plethora of Team PokerStars Pros like Daniel Negreanu, Greg Raymer, Barry Greenstein, Joe Hachem, Gavin Griffin, Tom McEvoy, Vanessa Rousso, Steve Paul-Ambrose, Chad Brown, Alex Kravchenko, Vicky Coren, Lee Nelson, Luca Pagano, Marcin Horecki, Dennis Phillips, Ylon Schwartz, Darus Suharto, and Scott Montgomery. Other recognizable names and faces included Chris Ferguson, Bill Edler, Jeff Madsen, Gavin Smith, Antonio Esfandiari, Steve Zolotow, Amnon Filippi, Michael Binger, Jason Mercier, and Evelyn Ng.
Action was fast, as more than half of the 660 starting players were gone to the beach by the dinner break, and only a total of 188 survived the evening after eight levels of play. When the unofficial chip counts were reported, it was Filipe Ramos in the chip lead with 360K and David Baker over the 200K mark. Also near the top of the leaderboard were Madsen and Courtland Twyman.
The second starting day was the one that put the 2009 PCA in the record books. With 676 players on Day 1B, it put the grand total at 1,347 and set a prize pool of $12,674,000 with a $3 million first prize. In fact, the top three finishers in the tournament would make at least $1 million, and 199 of the entire field would take home a piece of the pool. Amongst those aiming for first place were some well-known players like Carlos Mortensen, Chris Moneymaker, Noah Boeken, Peter Eastgate, Bertrand Grospellier, Phil Ivey, Alex Gomes, Andre Akkari, Humberto Brenes, Isabelle Mercier, Hevad Khan, Gus Hansen, Dan Heimiller, Mark Seif, Nenad Medic, Kevin Saul, Ivan Demidov, Dario Minieri, Katja Thater, Boris Becker, Orel Hershiser, and Robert Mizrachi.
When the eight levels of the day were done, only 192 players were left standing with Chris Fernandez atop the leaderboard with 280K in chips. Seif, Heimiller, Brad Henry, Alex Longobardi, Scott Bateson, and Eric Liu were also near the top of the chip counts as they prepared to head into the next day of action.
Day 2 began with the nearly 400 players at the tables, but eliminations came quickly as nearly two-thirds of those in the field were not destined to make it through the day. Players like Akkari, Ramdin, Brenes, and Thater were among the 295 who were eliminated during the fast and furious action. The money bubble burst amidst the chaos, which was just that as the official count of players didn’t match up with the actual number left at the time that tournament officials were ready to go to hand-for-hand play. Actually, they realized, the bubble had already burst, and once they caught up with the exited players, normal eliminations resumed. But it was clear when the day ended that there were only 102 players remaining. Among those with the most in chips were Dan Heimiller, Christopher Bush, and David Baker, the latter with 925K and the chip lead.
Similar to the day before, Day 3 moved quickly, surprisingly so as it only took a little more than three levels to reduce the field from 102 to 32. Whether players were anxious to spend some time on the sunny beaches of the Bahamas or the cards simply fell fast, it was a remarkably speedy day that ended with Kevin Saul and Benny Spindler riding high with well over 2 million-chip stacks and Benny Chen chasing with about 1.9 million. Other big names still in the running included Heimiller, Coren, Gomez, and Kathy Liebert.
Day 4 was to be an important one when the final eight players to sit around the EPT PCA final table on January 10th would be determined. The starting 32 players were in for the opposite of the third day’s short length, as this ended up being a semi-marathon of twelve hours to reduce the field to eight.
Some of the early exits included Vicky Coren in 30th place, Filipe Ramos in 22nd, 2008 PCA runner-up Hafiz Khan in 21st, and David Baker in 16th place. Benny Chen could only make it to 14th place, and Kathy Liebert made a solid run but had to settle for 12th place and $120K in prize money.
After Andy Fitzpatrick was eliminated in 11th place, the final ten gathered at one final table to look for two more eliminations. Ryan Karp did the honors of busting in tenth place, and then a big hand went down. Kevin Saul, who had been holding the chip lead and seeming fairly confident of taking it to the final table the next day, got involved with Alex Gomes. The betting was reasonable before the flop came . Gomes bet and Saul called to see the on the turn. More betting led to the on the river, and Saul led the betting, followed by a check-raise all-in by Gomes. Saul called with for the full house, but Gomes flipped over for the bigger boat, and Gomes took the 8 million-chip pot and the chip lead.
Finally, it was Jan Collado Fernandez who put his stack on the line with pocket jacks, but he was called by Poorya Nazari and his . The flop gave it to Nazari with , and the turn and river made it official Fernandez was out in ninth place with $175K, and the final table was set for the following day as listed here:
Seat 1: Tony Gregg (2,245,000)
Seat 2: Alex Gomes (8,080,000)
Seat 3: Pieter Tielen (2,510,000)
Seat 4: Dan Heimiller (1,440,000)
Seat 5: Benny Spindler (3,352,000)
Seat 6: Kevin Saul (1,640,000)
Seat 7: Dustin Dirksen (765,000)
Seat 8: Pooyra Nazari (6,790,000)
The final table began on January 10th with action right from the start. Five minutes after the shuffle up and deal order, Dustin Dirksen pushed all-in from the small blind with , and Alex Gomes called with . Dirksen doubled up to stay alive, and he did it again not twenty minutes later, that time with pocket jacks against the A-8 of Benny Spindler. Suddenly, Dirksen had more than 3.5 million in chips and was making a serious run. Dan Heimiller also had some luck early on when he doubled through Gomes. No one seemed afraid to put their chips at risk at that table.
In less than an hour, Kevin Saul decided that it was time to move his 1.2 million chips into the pot preflop with . Nazari called with pocket queens, and though Saul got a jack on the flop, it wasn’t enough to save him. Kevin Saul was dejected and eliminated in eighth place with $234,000.
Despite Heimiller’s luck at the beginning of the action, he wasn’t able to maintain any type of momentum. He finally moved all-in but got two subsequent all-ins from Nazari and Anthony Gregg. Nazari was the largest stack and had the others covered, but his pocket eights weren’t the best hand. Gregg had pocket nines, which made Heimiller uncomfortable with his pocket fives. The board started with , a six came on the turn, and a seven hit the river. Heimiller was gone in seventh place with $300,000, and Gregg had some make-up work to do.
Dirksen started the final table with some great energy, but he lost some of it as the hours went on. Pieter Tieman doubled through him, and about 30 minutes later, Dirksen got involved in a major pot for his tournament life. It was Benny Spindler who made the all-in move on top of Dirksen’s preflop reraise. Dirksen called all-in for approximately 3 million chips with , and Spindler showed . The board came , which pushed Dirksen out of the tournament in sixth place, worth $400,000.
Then it was Tielen’s turn versus the roar of Spindler. Tielen pushed all-in from the big blind in response to Spindler’s initial raise, and Spindler called with . Tielen turned over , and the cards came . Another pair held up for Spindler, and Pieter Tielen was sent away in fifth place with $550,000.
The next significant hand started innocently enough, with Gomes raising to 305K and Spindler calling. The flop came an interesting , which prompted a 535K bet from Gomes. Spindler pushed it up to 1.35 million, and Gomes called to see a on the turn. It was Spindler who made the first bet, which was 2 million, and Gomes eventually check-raised all-in with . Spindler, however, turned up for quad jacks. Spindler jumped up to nearly 17 million in chips, while Gomes left the tournament in fourth place with $750,000.
Play slowed. That is an understatement. Though three-handed action began with a double-up for Nazari to take over the chip lead, there wasn’t a great deal of action after that. About an hour later, Tony Gregg doubled through Nazari, and did it again minutes later through Spindler. But no more action led to hours of no more action. It was literally five hours before Gregg doubled again and another elimination occurred.
Spindler had become the short stack at the table and pushed all-in for just under 5 million chips with . Nazari called quickly with . The board came , and Benny Spindler was eliminated in third place. For that feat, though, his reward was a cool $1.1 million.
Heads-up play began with the following chip counts:
Poorya Nazari 17,685,000
Tony Gregg 9,210,000
Possibly due to sheer fatigue and exhaustion from a day and week of long hours, the tournament was over four hands later. Nazari took the first three hands, which led to the fourth that started with a raise from Gregg. Nazari came over with a reraise to 3 million, and Gregg immediately moved all-in with . Nazari called right away and showed for the edge. The board brought outs for the short stack, though they never materialized with , ending the PCA main event. Tony Gregg would settle for a second place finish and the corresponding $1.7 million.
Poorya Nazari became the 2009 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure champion and won the trophy, a seat into the EPT Grand Finale in Monte Carlo in April, and the massive $3 million first prize.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Nazari told PokerStars reporters. “My brain has been fried from playing all week. I was fortunate to come out on top. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
When it does, he’ll realize the magnitude of what he accomplished.
(Thanks to PokerStars Blog for detailed tournament information.)