Sunday, January 04, 2009

Welcome to Hog Island

By Pauly
Paradise Island, Bahamas

I sat on my terrace in the swanky Atlantis resort on Paradise Island overlooking the azure tinted water of the Caribbean. The world around me is imploding, but I'm hunkered down in Paradise. A cover band next to the pool performed melodious reggae versions of classic Motown tunes along with several hit songs from Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet. They butchered a version of Margaritaville but I don't think anyone cared or noticed.

The Bahamas have always been the playground for the filthy rich including European royalty and the uber-wealthy American aristocrats such as William Randolph Hearst who frequently vacationed on Paradise Island. That's what it's called now, but many moons ago, this same place was known as Hog Island before it was purchased by the heir to the A&P supermarket fortune who promptly changed the name from Hog Island to Paradise Island.

Over the last couple of decades, Paradise Island was a hot potato. It has changed hands several times. The supermarket heir sold the island to Donald Trump for almost $80 million. Trump flipped the island for almost five times his buying price to TV guru Merv Griffin, who eventually sold the island to Sol Kerzner (the South African version of Steve Wynn). Kerzner envisioned a Las Vegas style property at the Bahamas and he built the mega-resort Atlantis.

Hog Island. I prefer the original name. It's fitting consider that every January, Hog Island becomes the number one destination for online poker players. And poker players are often the epitome of the Seven Deadly Sins particularly gluttony, greed, and pride.

Young online poker players flock to the Bahamas to play in the Caribbean Adventure because you don't have to be 21 years to buy-in. The remainder of the pros on the tournament circuit dig the Bahamas since it's a welcomed change of locale instead of the same dreary stops on the tour.

The PCA started out as a cruise and evolved into the land based event that we see today. Originally part of the World Poker Tour, the PCA is now a stop on the European Poker Tour, which means that the 2009 PCA will feature schools of fishy North American online qualifiers sharing the same shark infested waters as the menagerie of Eurodonks that escaped the harsh winters of their continent for a sunnier and much warmer climate.

Although I have been to the Bahamas before, I had never been to the PCA. This will be Otis' fifth straight event. I spent the last two Januarys in Australia covering the Aussie Millions for PokerNews. This year, I'm covering the PCA for Poker Stars Blog and joining a roster of some of the best scribes in the business including Otis and the two Brits; Howard and Bartley.

The journey to the Bahamas was a lot easier than heading Down Under since it was a quickie flight of less than three hours from New York City. When I first arrived at JFK, I stood in line at security and overheard a page on the intercom. There was a flight to the Bahamas that was being held up. They called out two names that happened to be names of pros. I recognized both; Pearljammer and his girlfriend.

Of course, getting out of New York City proved to be a troublesome task. I sat around the brand new JetBlue terminal reading a book about John Coltrane's sound awaiting to hear the status of my delayed flight. We were told it was mechanical failure and after ninety minutes, they couldn't fix the plane in time and we were given a new plane and a new gate and a new departure time.

Instead of arriving in the Bahamas in time to watch the NFL playoffs and catch the sunset on a beach, I was stuck on an airplane cruising at 38,000 feet somewhere on the edge of the Bernuda triangle. Luckily JetBlue has inflight TVs and I viewed the first half of the Atlanta/Arizona game. I liked all of the road teams in the opening weekend of the playoffs. I love hammering home dogs especially in the playoffs. I went with 3 out of the four dogs. Two of them hit on Saturday and as I'm writing this post, Baltimore has a commanding lead over Miami.

Immigration is notoriously long at Nassau airport. It's because of Island Time. Things go at such a slower pace that tests the patience of a Zen monk. Benjo arrived a day earlier and said that there was a steel band playing in the immigration room to entertain everyone while they waited and waited.

I survived immigration and breezed through customs. Matt from PokerStars' PR firm was also on my flight and we agreed to share a cab. We headed outside to the taxi stand. Airports can be tricky especially in places where all of the locals are trying to hustle the tourists. I negotiated a fare to Atlantis with a driver before we got in the cab. I got a decent deal for the both of us and we sped off into the darkness of Nassau. By the time we arrived in the Bahamas it was night time. I could hear the waves crash but barely saw them.

We arrived at the swanky Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. I patiently waited at the front desk to check-in. I was sweaty, jonesin', hungry, and eager to find out the score of the football game. My room was located on the other end of the sprawling Atlantis complex. It took me several minutes just to locate my tower as I wandered down lengthy corridors with cheesey carpeting featuring images of crustaceans and other tropical fish.

My room was freezing because the AC was jacked up. The room included a king size bed and a safe. Half of the lights did not work but I had a terrace with an ocean view. I was starving and ordered room service. With the exception of Monte Carlo, the food prices in the Bahamas are the most expensive on the tour. $22 for a Mayan cheeseburger (not including fries). I also drank an iced tea. With a surcharge in addition to an automatic 15% gratuity, my bill came to almost $40. Sweet Jesus! I have a $100/day per diem and within five minutes of my arrival, 40% was gone on just a simple snack. But, at least I had an ocean view.

I joined Otis downstairs at the closest bar and we watched the end of the San Diego/Indy game while we drank the local beer called Kalik, which looked a lot like Corona. I picked San Diego but missed most of the second half. There was a party for PokerStars staff and we caught the tail end of the festivities. I mingled among the staff and we swapped stories about our New Years Eve festivities. Otis inquired about the results of the game. We almost forgot and bolted towards the casino. We stood at the Atlas Bar and watched San Diego come from behind to tie the score in regulation. We decided to skip the overtime and returned to the post-party which had migrated to a different bar.

I blew the rest of my per diem buying rounds and rounds of overpriced beers at $7 a pop with a built in 15% tip. When it was time for last call, I rushed to the bar and waited ten minutes to get acknowledged by the listless barkeep. I ordered a six pack of Coronas because that bar ran out of Kaliks. Odd, I thought. How could they run out of local beer?

Isabelle stopped by and gave Mad a kiss but forgot to bestow Otis with one. Within seconds, he slipped into the depths of Mega-Isabelle Tilt (MIT). Whenever Otis hits MIT, it's time to encourage him to get into some prop betting hijinks. Sadly, we were warned by the powers to be that we could not engage in any type of gambling including prop betting (and specifically lime tossing) during the duration of the PCA.

I woke up early on Sunday, shrugged off my slight hangover, and migrated to the terrace. I read more about John Coltrane and wrote with the waves crashing up on the beach before me.

It's now Sunday afternoon, and I'm losing connection speed by the minute as more and more online poker players check into the hotel and log onto PokerStars to play in the Sunday tournaments. The lobby of Atlantis is where everyone will be hanging out tonight as they play the Sunday Million.

The PCA officially kicks off on Monday and I'll be providing coverage over at Poker Stars Blog. And if you happen to be playing in the PCA, stop by the media desk and say hello.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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