The PokerStars Festival New Jersey at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City not only ushered in the company’s newly minted Festival and Championship events era, it also marked the company’s return to the United States after a five-year absence. The festival was PokerStars‘ first live poker tournament series in the United States since the NAPT Mohegan Sun series in April 2011.
PokerStars Festival events differ from Championship events in that the Festival series is regionally focused, with smaller schedules geared toward recreational players and semi-pro enthusiast types. A big part of that appeal is to host fun, upbeat tournaments and events on the schedule — events that will draw fans and casual poker players.
Poker for a good cause
The Chad Brown Memorial Tournament is a celebration of poker and one of its best ambassadors, the late Chad Brown. Brown passed away from liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2014. Despite a grim prognosis, Brown managed to stay upbeat and positive, and actively played poker until he was no longer physically able — a testament to Brown’s resolve and outlook on life.
The charity tournament in his honor raises money for the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukaemia, Cancer and AIDS Research.
A cocktail reception before the event gave fans a chance to mingle with some of the game’s biggest stars. The event’s host, Daniel Negreanu, and the other Team PokerStars Pros accommodated all of them, taking pictures, signing autographs and chatting.
This type of fan and player engagement is refreshing to see. Guests and visitors at Resorts Casino, many obviously not poker players, showed up specifically to meet Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker, Tyson Apostol, and Boston Rob Mariano from Survivor, who both played in the event.
The pros and celebrities were not only generous with their time, but also with their money, as the rebuys were flying, and the poker pros were peeling off $100 dollar bills for the charity just as easily as they do for a WSOP buy-in. When it comes to charity, poker pros tend to have even more of a disregard for money than usual.
It was also nice to see the larger poker world come together, as several of PokerStars’ rivals donated prizes to the event, with PokerStars singling them out one-by-one for their contributions. At one point, PokerStars even handed the mic off to 888 ambassador Jessica Dawley, who played in the tournament and whose company donated a prize package to the bubble person of the Chad Brown Memorial Tournament.
PokerStars may have sponsored and hosted the tournament, but this was a night to celebrate poker and a man who lived life and played the game the right way. The tournament raised $19,400 thanks to 87 entries and 214 rebuys, and I heard the event as a whole raised more than $70,000, including a $3,500 donation from Resorts Casino.
Another KK hand does me in
I was one of the 87 entrants in the tournament, and if this was the World Series of Poker main event, I would definitely have been at the feature table. I shared the felt with Negreanu, Moneymaker, Mariano, Jennifer Shahade, and Jonathan Little.
The other tables had plenty of known players too: Jason Somerville, Randy “nanonoko” Lew, Jaime Staples, Vanessa Selbst, Jason Mercier, and other PokerStars Team Pros were on hand, along with the two Survivor stars. As an aside, Apostol was utterly fascinated by Lance Bradley’s shirt bet with Antonio Esfandiari.
But my table, Table 2, was where the action was. By the time the dust settled and the rebuy period came to an end, our table had hundreds of thousands of chips on it. There were at least 100 of the blue, 5k chips at Table 2, while an adjacent table had zero.
I didn’t get cards, and I didn’t win my big all-in pot, my ace-queen lost to Boston Rob’s pair of kings, but it really doesn’t matter. I had fun, and I went into this tournament ready to punt off a few hundred dollars for a good cause.
I’m not sure if Negreanu beat his WSOP rebuy record (48 rebuys in a $1,000 buy-in PLO event at the 2006 WSOP), but he definitely gave it the old college try, as each player was allowed to purchase five $100 rebuys at a time. Of the 214 rebuys, it felt like half of them were from our table.
Given the sheer number of chips at the table, it wasn’t surprising to see several people from Table 2 end up at the final table, including Boston Rob (who finished third) and Shahade, who was the runner-up to Somerville. Somerville was moved to Table 2 when I busted.
A great atmosphere
Even if recreational players are unable to participate in the event, being in and around this type of poker, and getting a chance to interact with the game’s biggest stars in a cheery atmosphere, proves that poker can be fun.
It’s fun to see people being loose with their chips and loose with their table talk.
It’s fun to see Negreanu and Moneymaker banter back and forth about the Poker Hall of Fame: Moneymaker asked Negreanu if it would raise his standing in his eyes if he won the tournament, with Negreanu firing back, “Not with calls like that!”
One of the funnier moments was when Moneymaker won a pair of Sully Erna concert tickets and offered them as a bounty on Fatima Moreira De Melo because she drank his chocolate milk.
This is the type of poker and friendly banter to which most people are accustomed when playing around ad hoc poker tables in their dens and basements. It shows poker doesn’t have to be serious, with stoic faces hidden by hats and sunglasses.
Seventeen players cashed in the tournament and each player at the final table received a prize-package in addition to the prize-pool money:
- Jason Somerville: $4,290 and PokerStars Championship Bahamas Main Event seat
- Jennifer Shahade: $3,225 and a PPC Aruba Seat
- Robert Mariano: $2,425 and a poker table
- Kenneth Goodkind: $1,824 and a Poker Academy training course
- Vanessa Selbst: $1,372and a WPT500 seat
- Natasha Barbour: $1,032 and a Heartland Poker Tour Package
- Fatima Moreira de Melo: $776 and a VIP WPT Experience
- Bruce Halliday: $583 and a one-year subscription for LearnWPT.com
- David Floyd: $583 and a WSOP School of Poker