Five Thoughts: Recapping the 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure

Five Thoughts

The 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is in the books, and despite the crippling polar vortex in North America last week, the festival was once again a great success.

The $10,000 Main Event cracked the $10 million guarantee, attracting 1,031 players, and the $25,000 High Roller had a record-breaking 198 unique players along with 49 reentries. A total of 46 players entered the $100,000 Super High Roller, and 10 players ponied up another six figures to reenter after busting.

There were also dozens of side events. Shaun Deeb won the second-annual open-face Chinese poker event held at the PCA, defeating fellow American Paul Volpe heads up to earn $32,380.

Our focus will be on the Main Event first, where we nearly had our first two-time champion on the European Poker Tour. It was not to be, however, and instead we crowned the first ever Polish champion, Dominik Panka.

1. Panka Denies Timex

Mike “Timex” McDonald, winner of EPT Dortmund in Season 4, wasn’t the chip leader heading into the final table of the PCA Main Event, but all eyes were on him.

The 2014 PCA marked the 95th stop on the EPT — EPT Barcelona, the first stop in Season 11, will be No. 100 — and no player has ever won more than one Main Event. The year after McDonald won EPT Dortmund, he returned to the final table and finished fifth. The following season, he finished third in the EPT Deauville Main Event.

Estonian Madis Muur had a small chip lead over McDonald entering the final table, but the two butted heads early, and McDonald six-bet shoved over Muur with ace-king. The Estonian tank-folded queens face up, and McDonald took the chip lead. The Canadian didn’t run over the table from that point forward, but he secured a spot in the final three with Dominik Panka and Isaac Baron. The trio agreed upon a deal that guaranteed each player at least $1 million, and they set aside $100,000 along with the title and the SLYDE watch.

McDonald started three-handed play with the shortest stack, but managed to take the chip lead in less than two hours. Panka eliminated Baron in third place, flopping the nuts after calling the American’s three-bet shove with the {a-Spades}{9-Spades}, and the Pole held a slight advantage at the start of heads-up play. Once again, McDonald came roaring back, and at the first break he had a two-to-one advantage.

Finally, after 95 stops, there was going to be a two-time champion. Or so we thought.

The two battled back and forth during the next level, but McDonald remained ahead of Panka — until the final hand before break. Panka opened for a min-raise on the button with the {9-Diamonds}{9-Hearts}, McDonald three-bet with the {k-Clubs}{j-Spades}, and Panka moved all in for enough to flip the stacks.

Isaac Haxton, who was on EPT Live at the time, confidently explained why McDonald was about to fold. Then, to the Team PokerStars Online member’s amazement, the Canadian called.

“That is crazy,” Haxton said after McDonald called.

It was still only a race, and any king or jack would seal the deal for Timex, but the flop, turn, and river all produced bricks. Panka doubled, extended his lead after the break, and won shortly thereafter.

Despite the heads-up loss, McDonald still earned over $1 million, and when he passed the media room on his way back to the Cove around 6 a.m., he gave a wave and a smile. The curse lives on, however, and we will see if anyone can buck the trend in Deauville.

Panka played terrific throughout the final table, and received a little bit of luck when he eliminated Shyam Srinivasan. Here is his interview with our own Kristy Arnett, where Panka admits he ran well, especially against McDonald:

2. Selbst and Schemion Final Table Both High Rollers

Vanessa Selbst and Ole Schemion are really good at tournament poker.

At the PCA, both players cashed in the Super High Roller, Main Event, and High Roller. They also both reached the final tables of the Super High Roller and High Roller.

TournamentVanessa SelbstOle Schemion
Super High Roller3rd for $760,6407th for $277,080
Main Event42nd for $32,000144th for $17,600
High Roller3rd for $607,5807th for $216,040

Schemion was the 2013 Global Poker Index Player of the Year, and he had a nice PCA, but Selbst will clearly be a front runner alongside McDonald to start 2014. Unfortunately for poker fan boys like yours truly, I doubt she will be in contention at the end of the year.

That’s not to say she isn’t deserving of the award — Selbst very well could be the best no-limit hold’em tournament player in the word — she just doesn’t put in enough volume. With an extra $1.4 million, Selbst could easily retire to Brooklyn for a few months to work on side projects or just relax. Conversely, if 2013 is any indication, Schemion will be playing in everything, including his first World Series of Poker.

Selbst was the recipient of a massive cooler from Fabian Quoss, the eventual winner, during three-handed play in the Super High Roller. The Team PokerStars Pro turned top two against her German opponent, who turned Broadway, and all of the money went in the middle on the river. Shortly thereafter, she open-shoved with the {k-Hearts}{9-Clubs} and Quoss called in the big blind with the {a-Hearts}{4-Hearts}, holding as the board came {6-Diamonds}{2-Clubs}{3-Clubs}{4-Spades}{3-Spades}.

Three-handed play was unkind to Selbst in the $25,000 High Roller as well. She immediately lost two big pots and was again busted by the eventual winner. Jake Schindler moved all in on the button, covering Selbst who called with {a-}{9-}. Unfortunately for her, she was crushed by Schindler’s {a-Clubs}{10-Hearts}, and the dominating hand held up.

We will keep tabs on Selbst, Schemion, and McDonald, throughout the year, and see if their hot starts can propel them to the top of the GPI POY come December.

3. Merson Chops High Roller; Plans to Grind WSOP

Greg Merson traveled down to The Atlantis with his good friend Tony Gregg for the PCA, and the 2012 WSOP Main Event champion finished runner-up in the High Roller for $948,996. He and Schindler agreed to put $200,000 aside for the winner when they made their heads-up deal, but there are two reasons why I believe they also split the leftover money evenly.

First, there’s Merson’s tweet:

I’m fairly certain he knows the difference between “a mill” and less than $900K.

Second, there’s the final hand, where the two agreed to go all in blind. Merson is a boss (he’s not the End Boss though, that’s Tony), but he isn’t going to jam 39 big blinds without looking if there is $200,000 on the line. Use some common sense, folks.

The most interesting part of Merson’s exit was his quote: “I don’t play poker to collect trophies.”

Five Thoughts: Recapping the 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure 101
Greg Merson on the PokerNews Podcast

A few days earlier, on the PokerNews Podcast, Merson told us that one of his goals for 2014 is to play in 20 WSOP bracelet events. He said that it’s really hard to get a worthwhile cash game going in Las Vegas during the series – he documented the issues with private games on a podcast over the summer – and it seems like he understands the power of a WSOP gold bracelet.

“I don’t play poker to collect trophies.”

The WSOP bracelet is, pardon the pun, gold standard. Phil Hellmuth is who he is because he has 13 bracelets. Phil Ivey is a legend, yet he only has one WPT win and zero EPT titles.

Merson is a cash-game grinder, so “money earned” is his most coveted poker statistic, but a few bracelets here and there can be vital for a player’s longevity. Sponsorship money may not be available right now in the United States, but if the climate changes in the near future, a young, American, Main Event champ like Merson will be a highly coveted player going forward.

4. Riess Fails to Cash

Speaking of a young, American, Main Event champ...

He only played in a handful of events, but 2013 WSOP Main Event champ Ryan Riess failed to cash at the PCA. Riess got off to a really nice start in the Super High Roller, then slipped a bit before receiving a huge cooler from Paul Newey. Both players flopped a flush, Newey an ace-high flush and Riess a king-high flush, and Riess hit the rail.

He chose not to reenter, per his Twitter account:

In the Main Event, Riess made Day 2 with half of the starting stack and was unable to run it up. In the High Roller, he was one of the first players to bust when he lost a 133-big blind all in with {a-}{q-} against Chino Rheem’s {a-}{j-}.

His exit hand in the High Roller reminded me of his exit from the World Series of Poker Europe High Roller, where he was all in and at risk with {k-}{k-} against Erik Seidel’s {a-}{k-}. Riess’ kings were cracked, and instead of having a top-ten stack, he was eliminated.

I’m confident that Riess will bounce back, but I am starting to worry about my prediction that he will win $500,000 before the end of the Aussie Millions. He will have to put together a deep run in either the $100,000 Challenge or the $25,000 Challenge, or better yet, make the final table of the Main Event.

There’s also a chance that he could head to Borgata for the start of the Winter Poker Open before heading to Melbourne. Prior to the start of the Super High Roller, he informed the PokerNews team that he was undecided as to whether or not he wanted to relax a little or grind.

The PCA is a large festival, but it’s the equivalent of playing a full schedule of Sunday tournaments online, and even great players brick a Sunday here and there.

5. Newey Grabs a Six-Figure Score

In case you missed it, Paul Newey and I sat down for an interview during the PCA Main Event. You can check that out here.

Newey loves poker. Flat out. He revels in the fact that he has a big enough bankroll to play against the best players in the world, but at the end of the day he simply loves the game. During his stay at The Atlantis, he played poker around the clock. Side events, cash games, you name it.

After bubbling the Super High Roller and failing to cash in his fourth straight big buy-in tournament, Newey was excited about his progression, but really wanted to secure a min-cash.

“It’s a matter of time,” he told me, smiling. “The luck will come my way.”

About a week later, the luck did come his way, and he finished 11th in the High Roller for $110,740.

According to my colleagues on the PokerNews Live Reporting Team, when the bubble burst in the High Roller, Newey and his friends ordered a few drinks. And then a few more drinks. And then a few more. It was a bit of a celebration, and it was well-deserved for the self-taught businessman turned poker player.

On his final hand, a very short-stacked Newey moved all in for less than 10 big blinds with the {k-Spades}{10-Spades}, and he was called by Aleksandr Denisov in the big blind. Denisov had him dominated with the {a-Diamonds}{k-Clubs}, and held.

I have a feeling this won't be the last time Newey records a major cash in 2014. He is headed to New Zealand for a bit of a holiday, then he’s heading to the Aussie Millions. He also plans to play a full schedule at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino EPT Grand Final, and wants to head to Las Vegas for all six weeks of the WSOP.

Newey is very excited for a second go in the Big One for One Drop.

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