Last time in Life On the Road, I talked about an epic night I had while at the 2012 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Although I must admit it was one of the most fun nights I've had in this industry, what the PCA isn't is the Aussie Millions — by far my favorite stop on tour, hands down.
Over the years, I've learned there are certain trips that generate a type of excitement in me that can only be mirrored by a child on Christmas morning. The anticipation leading up to the day of travel is much like those final days leading up to Dec. 25 and the night before is always a restless one dreaming of what's to come. For me, this time of year comes right in the middle of January as the Aussie Millions approaches.
There's just nothing like walking into the Crown Casino poker room the first day I step foot back into beautiful Melbourne, Australia. It's similar to a homecoming from college where your parents put on a big get together with all of your friends and family. No casino in the world treats the media and players like Crown does, at least from my perspective. Year after year, we're welcomed into a family of open arms and no one forgets your name. In fact, I'm definitely way more guilty of forgetting the names of the people I meet down there rather than they forget mine. It's welcoming and always puts a smile on my face. They make you feel important because you are important. Not just as a member of the media covering a poker tournament for the next two weeks, but you're their friend and a piece of their extended family.
Year after year, Crown finds a way to outdo itself. This year, I was greeted in the poker room by Natasha Stipanov, the Gaming & Corporate Media Relations Manager for Crown Casino, and easily one of my favorite people across the globe. Natasha made sure everything had gone smoothly with my arrival and then went out of her way to offer me a pair of tickets to the night session at the Australian Open that evening.
One thing about the Aussie Millions that makes it stand out from the rest is the time of year you head down to Melbourne for the tournament. It's in the heart of summer and the weather blows away any other weather I've ever experienced on the circuit. Aruba back in the day would be the only rival, but that no longer exists. With summer in Melbourne comes the Australian Open, which is the first big tennis Grand Slam of the year. I've been to a few of these matches over the years and they never, ever disappoint. It's a must that you go to a match or two if you head to the Aussie Millions — an absolute must.
With the extra ticket, I invited my good friend and recent World Series of Poker Europe gold bracelet winner Tristan Wade. Tristan and I have gotten to know each other along the circuit over the years and he's now one of my better friends. It was his first time down in Melbourne for the tournament, so I felt I needed to back up everything I have been preaching about the series of show him a good time. What better way to kick things off than heading to the night session at the Open with great seats thanks to Crown. Although Tristan had just sat down in a cash game, he jumped at the opportunity to tag along. Of course, the decision helped knowing that he doubled up just a few hands in with aces to profit a couple thousand bucks — a win-win in my book.
We hopped in one of the water taxis to the tennis and the match we saw was great. It was Bernard Tomic versus Alexandr Dolgopolov — an Australia-versus-Hungary matchup. We also had the pleasure of sitting next to Danny McDonagh, who is the man behind all that is PokerStars Macau and one of the absolute best tournament directors in the world. Although I don't have any crazy stories about us getting drunk and tossed out of Rod Laver Arena, we thoroughly enjoyed the match where Tomic came out victorious in front of the home crowd and had a solid night.
I arrived in Melbourne on Jan. 20, so it meant that I missed the opening party. From what I heard, it was pretty wild. Everyone kept talking about how they have never seen so many beautiful women at a poker party before.
Given that I missed the opening party, I made it a point to be able to get to the special VIP party held a few nights later. Not everyone could get in, you had to be on the guest list. That's good because it makes people feel important and keeps the crowd under control. Again, there were plenty of good-looking women and not so many poker players. A very solid ratio. Tristan was there along with another great friend of mine Jason Mercier. We had some drinks and chatted a bit, but it was all fairly low key. That was, until Van Marcus showed up.
Van may as well be a legend in Australia. He's a high-stakes player who worked his way up through the ranks in the online realm while also snatching up some big live tournament cashes along the way. One thing Van knows how to do is party and when he shows up, it's on.
Immediately after Van entered Club 23, which is owned by Shane Warne and Joe Hachem, the bartender had the shots flowing. When Van orders shots, he doesn't just order a few. He orders them in 15, 20 and sometimes even 30, lining them up across the bar and grabbing anyone in his close vicinity to join him. Tristan, Jason and myself happened to be close enough that he grabbed us, but I think I may have taken the brunt of it all. Van and I ripped off three shots of tequila in a row before I had to stop. He tried forcing me to do one more, but I knew that would only mean one more after that and then another and another. Need to behave.
Behave? Who was I kidding? The music was rocking and people were dancing and having a good time. Even Daniel Negreanu got into some fun as he started his own little dance party showing off his moves during some friendly battling with others. One thing about Daniel is, he knows how to have a good time. I'm not going to sit here and judge his dance moves, but let's just say he doesn't really care. He enjoys life and lets it show, usually making everyone around him go that much harder.
Of course, Van kept ordering shots and things got pretty out of control. One thing about poker parties is that the topic of conversation usually comes back to poker. Somewhere along the line, I was in the middle of a poker conversation between Jason, Daniel and Nacho Barbero. When I'm not working, I tend to try and forget about work, but there's still a giant fanboy inside me who loves hearing the great minds at work. I also have a ridiculous amount of thanks and respect for these guys who allow me, as a member of the media, to sit in on these conversations and even partake in them. This is certainly a luxury of my job, but I'll never take it for granted. When will I ever have the chance to sneak in some strategy tips from Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu and Nacho Barbero all in one sitting? Probably never again.
After another couple of hours of running around like a mad man trying to avoid — although not really — Van, it was time to head to bed. I don't really remember too much about how I got back to my room, but I do know that my roommate Remko Rinkema wasn't too thrilled to see me. Usually when I stumble in early in the morning, lots of yelling is involved that keeps him from sleeping after a long night of work. Much of the same happened again I'm sure, but I'd have to wait until the morning to find out how crazy I was actually acting.
A couple of nights later, I got a message from Jason asking me if I wanted to tag along with his fiance and Daniel to the finals of the Australian Open. How could I say no, right? I met up with them a few hours later and we hopped in a cab over to the stadium. Now, I've hung out with Jason plenty of times before. Sure, there's been the occasion when a fan stops and asks him for a photo or an autograph, but this is usually around a poker event somewhere. Being with Daniel is a completely different animal. He's easily one of, if not the most recognizable face in poker. Wherever he goes, people know him. Within five minutes of entering the stadium, fans in the concession line were high-fiving him and yelling “Go Canada!” Daniel's always a great spirit and never turns his fans down. He took some photos during the night, signed an autograph or two and had fun with it. All while giving the fans a moment they'll remember forever.
The finals match was epic. It was Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic and it didn't disappoint. Back and forth they went in an amazing battle of wills. Arriving late to the match was Patrik Antonius and his wife. They took the two seats to my right, which meant I was sandwiched between Jason and Daniel on one side with Patrik on the other. I was pretty much in poker heaven, but this wasn't time for that.
All the conversations were about the tennis. As many of you probably know, Patrik used to play and was very good before he hurt his back. What many of you may not know is how animated Patrik is away from the poker table. When he's playing, the guy is like a statue. Even in interviews he rarely opens up. Here, at the Open finals, Patrik was standing and cheering, vocally rooting for Djokovic and awe inspired at every point the two played. Knowing his background with the game, it was awesome to hear some of the things he had to say about various things the two did on the court. Heck, Patrik even got involved when the crowd got the wave going around the stadium, if you can believe that.
The beers were purchased by the dozens and before you knew it, one of the members of our party was huddled over in his chair passed out. I won't say who it was, but I will say that it wasn't me. I'm sure if you take to Twitter, you can find out who it was, but for now, we'll let you do the digging. I hadn't planned on drinking heavily, but I guess as the saying goes, “When in Rome.” And with Jason and Daniel, well, I was in Rome.
Djokovic went on to win the match in five sets with the final score 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5. From there, we all wandered home in the rain while involving ourselves in conversation that included topics about the amazing match we just witnessed, how great the Aussie Millions has been and the state of online poker and the poker industry itself.
When we got back to Crown, Phil Ivey was walking towards us as we walked in. I'll admit, I'm probably the biggest Ivey fan known to man. He walked right up to us, chatted with Daniel and Jason before heading off to do whatever it was Ivey does when it's in the early hours of the morning, but I will say one thing about the encounter.
Getting to know many players over the years, Jason and Daniel especially, there's a mutual understanding that a lot of what is talked about or what happens is off the record. For one, I want to keep people who are my friends, my friends. I don't want them to feel like I'm abusing our relationship by plastering everything they say in the news or forums. It's just not my style. They also understand that and it's what allows them to be themselves around me and a lot of the other media members they've becomes friends with. But for Ivey, it's a bit different. He's always on the lookout it seems and this encounter was much of the same.
All in all, it was another great night had at the Aussie Millions. Both Jason and Daniel seemed to have a good time during their stay and having the opportunity to see such a historical match between Nadal and Djokovic really put the icing on the cake. For me, being able to kick it with two of the biggest stars in the game outside of the poker room where we're all on equal levels is still something I plan never to take for granted and I'm so thankful for all the opportunities this career has given me. Now, if only all my slight picking at their poker minds could help me make a million bucks one day then I'd be all set.
Hey, a guy can dream, right?