NAPT Retrospective: PokerStars' Entrance Into North America Live Tournaments

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  • PokerNews looks back at the history of the North American Poker Tour.

PokerStars Festival New Jersey wrapped up earlier this month, kicking off with the promise of a week filled with poker, games and PokerStars hospitality in the U.S. market.

While the festival focused on the enjoyment of the players, it's fair to say that some goals were hit and others fell a little short of being met, but it wasn't hard to see there's a lot of potential for success there.

While the main purpose of the week was to regain a foothold in the market and lay the groundwork for future PokerStars events at Resorts Casino Hotel by providing a great experience for those who come to the event, it was also an opportunity to reflect on the history of PokerStars live events here in the U.S.

Back in 2010, the live poker scene in the United States was considerably different. As the regulatory picture had yet to come into sharp focus, both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were still sponsoring a variety of poker TV shows and the game wasn't far from its boom period in the post-Moneymaker years.

The word that comes to mind is robust...The tour was primed for early success.

The World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker were both drawing huge numbers in the United States. The World Series of Poker Circuit and Heartland Poker Tour were battling for the regional markets. Meanwhile, the European Poker Tour was one of the strongest live brands out there and PokerStars had established presences in other regions with the Latin American Poker Tour and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.

A move to the United States market was a natural transition. Garry Gates took on a role as media coordinator for the nascent tour and he recalled how the landscape of U.S. poker appeared at the time.

"The word that comes to mind is robust," Gates said. "Four years prior, Jamie Gold topped the biggest WSOP Main Event field in history and lots of poker content was carried by TV networks. The tour was primed for early success."

To make a big splash and ensure monster numbers at the opening event, PokerStars unveiled the North American Poker Tour with one of the strongest established names in the industry, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, serving as the first event.

Here we'll take a look back at the history of the NAPT with a brief glance at each of the stops in its short history.

2010

PokerStars Caribbean Adventure

PokerStars definitely scheduled a soft launch for their big North American foray, moving their flagship PCA event from the EPT banner to the new NAPT. The $10,300 Main Event was a hit, as usual, with the Bahamian destination tournament drawing its usual strong field of 1,529 at Atlantis Resort & Casino.

A slew of young American players made final table appearances, and when the dust settled, it was 19-year-old Harrison Gimbel setting a record for the event's youngest winner after taking down a $1,000 live satellite. He bested opponents like Ben Zamani and Ryan D'Angelo, both of whom would go on to become regular faces at WPT and WSOP final tables in recent years. Zamani looked like a strong favorite for WPT Player of the Year. Gimbel has since added another $1.5 million in cashes to his ledger, including a WPT title earlier in 2016 at WPT Rolling Thunder.

Harrison Gimbel

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Harrison Gimbel$2,200,000
2Ty Reiman$1,750,000
3Barry Shulman$1,350,000
4Ben Zamani$1,000,000
5Ryan D'Angelo$700,000
6Aage Ravn$450,000
7Zachary Goldberg$300,000
8Tom Koral$201,300

NAPT Venetian

The NAPT then headed from the islands to the mainland, with its first stop in Sin City. At the Venetian in Las Vegas, the NAPT's second stop, the first $5,000 Main Event drew 872 players for a prize pool just over $4 million.

At that time, Tom "Big Cheese" Marchese was little-known in the live poker scene, but he got his career off to a roaring start by making his second cash a victory here for $827,648. Notable pros Sam Stein (second - $522,306), David Paredes (fifth - $184,816), "Miami" John Cernuto (seventh - $104,461) and online whiz Eric "blizair" Blair (eighth - $60,266) also made the final table.

Of course, Marchese has gone on to become a tournament superstar in the ensuing years, piling up more than $14 million in cashes with a number of wins on the high roller and super high roller circuits, particularly at ARIA.

Tom Marchese

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Tom Marchese$827,648
2Sam Stein$522,306
3Dan Clemente$309,366
4Yunas Jamal$241,064
5David Paredes$184,816
6Thomas Fuller$144,639
7John Cernuto$104,461
8Eric Blair$60,266

NAPT Mohegan Sun

From Las Vegas, the NAPT traveled Northeast to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, for another $5,000 Main Event. A turnout of 716 led to a prize pool over $3.2 million and it was another star of modern poker making the tournament hers.

Vanessa Selbst conquered the field for her biggest live cash at the time, banking $750,000. Another young star in the making, Scott Seiver, also made a deep run, finishing fourth for $190,000. Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy, an online legend and member of the 2016 November Nine, got seventh for $85,000, while Jonathan Aguiar finished eighth for $60,244.

Mere months later, Selbst would be added to the roster of PokerStars Team Pros. Her impressive poker ledger includes nearly $12 million in cashes, including three bracelets and a win in the $25,000 High Roller at the 2013 PCA. This wouldn't be her last success on the NAPT either.

Vanessa Selbst

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Vanessa Selbst$750,000
2Mike Beasley$428,000
3Michael Woods$240,000
4Scott Seiver$190,000
5Al Melville$150,000
6Derek Raymond$115,000
7Cliff Josephy$85,000
8Jonathan Aguiar$60,244

NAPT Mohegan Sun would also host a $25,000 Bounty Shootout that got 35 players. PokerStars Team Pro Jason Mercier shipped that one for $450,000, continuing his rise as one of the premier poker players in the world.

NAPT Los Angeles

After Selbst's big win, it was back to the Western United States, all the way to California this time for NAPT Los Angeles at The Bicycle Hotel & Casino with another $5,000 Main Event. This one got 701 players for a prize pool of about $3.2 million.

Pro Joe Tehan wrapped up the tour's first season with a win for $725,000. Mercier followed up his run at Mohegan Sun with another final table here but only managed seventh for $84,857. Chris DeMaci got second for $440,000, while Ray Henson (fifth - $145,000) and Mike Binger (sixth - $114,000) also made the final table.

Joe Tehan

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Joe Tehan$725,000
2Chris DeMaci$440,000
3Al Grimes$250,000
4Anh Van Nguyen$195,000
5Ray Henson$145,000
6Mike Binger$114,000
7Jason Mercier$84,857
8Jacob Toole$60,000

2011

PokerStars Caribbean Adventure

PokerStars opened 2011 with the PCA as usual, and also as usual, a big turnout showed up with 1,560 entering to make a prize pool north of $15 million.

Galen Hall, who had all of $6,000 in live cashes entering the event, found himself $2.3 million richer after outlasting the rest of the field. He made a memorable fold against Chris Oliver heads up. Stein also made another final table appearance here, finishing fourth for $1 million. His fellow online star Mike Sowers also made a nice run, finishing fifth for $700,000. Chris Moneymaker notably finished 11th for $130,000.

Hall has since added nearly $2 million more in winnings to his record.

Galen Hall

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Galen Hall$2,300,000
2Chris Oliver$1,800,000
3Ionel Anton$1,350,000
4Sam Stein$1,000,000
5Mike Sowers$700,000
6Bolivar Palacios$450,000
7Max Weinberg$300,000
8Philippe Plouffe$202,00

NAPT Mohegan Sun

In what would prove to be the final stop in the history of the NAPT, the tour returned to Mohegan Sun and got 387 players for its $5,000 Main Event, creating a prize pool over $1.7 million.

In 2010, it was Selbst who came out on top of this event, and as fate would have it, that's exactly what happened once again. Selbst won her second NAPT, enough to forever hold the record of most wins on the tour, getting $450,000 for her troubles.

PokerStars’ live events history and memories could fill many books and our new global tours give us the opportunity to write many more.

She beat old nemesis Dan Shak heads up to do so. Tyler Kenney (third - $170,000), Tehan (sixth - $70,000) and future high roller superstar Steve O'Dwyer (eighth - $32,330) also made final table appearances.

Official Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize
1Vanessa Selbst$450,000
2Dan Shak$254,000
3Tyler Kenney$170,000
4Thomas Hoglund$120,000
5Vincent Rubianes$90,000
6Joe Tehan$70,000
7Aaron Overton$50,000
8Steve O'Dwyer$32,330

Amazingly enough, Selbst wasn't the only repeat winner at Mohegan Sun. This time around, the high roller event was a $10,000 Bounty Shootout. Once again, Mercier took it down. He beat the field of 78 for $246,600 to make it a double for Team PokerStars. Another PokerStars Team Pro finished runner-up to Mercier: Eugene Katchalov.

***

That would be the last event under the NAPT banner. The event at Mohegan Sun ended April 13, and less than 48 hours later, the poker world was rocked by a day nobody would ever forget.

Thus, the NAPT came to a sudden and unexpected end. But, while its history may have been short, it was far from a failure. It drew strong numbers and played a role in helping launch some players to poker stardom. Gates credited its success to three things: huge support from online qualifiers, an accompanying TV show and great host venues.

It was all due to the work of Gates and his colleagues who helped build and shape the NAPT. Gates recalled some of his favorite memories from his time working on the tour.

"Man, it’s definitely been awhile, but for me, the team recruited to launch the NAPT was top-top," Gates said. "We faced a number of challenges working through that first season, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated group of individuals...The $25K bounty shootouts were always fun to watch. Late night dinners at Michael Jordan’s restaurant at Mohegan Sun… and who could forget T-Pain’s performance of 'I’m On a Boat' at our player party in Las Vegas. Definitely some good times!"

While continuing his work for PokerStars around the world, Gates still sees one of the old bright red NAPT backpacks adorning the occasional chair or person. It brings back good memories, but in poker terms, the NAPT might as well represent ancient history given how much has changed in the industry since its 2010 debut.

Gates said that although that ink is dry, he's eager to help write the next chapter.

"PokerStars’ live events history and memories could fill many books and our new global tours give us the opportunity to write many more," he said.

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