HORSE-ing Around for the First Time at a PokerStars Live Event

By Robbie Strazynski
February 16, 2023

My recent trip to the 2023 PokerStars Players Championship was actually my third visit to the Bahamas. Having attended the first PSPC in 2019, as well as the 2016 PCA (my first ever live poker event), I was quite familiar with just how well run PokerStars live events were. Obviously, I was present on all occasions in a media capacity, there to provide coverage of the goings on in and around the tournaments. One thing that had been lacking from my previous two trips, however, was the ability to actually play in any of the events or cash games. This time around, that would change.

While the poker world’s attention was dutifully focused on the $25,000 buy in PSPC, from a player’s perspective there was only one event on the schedule that particularly caught my eye, namely, the $550 H.O.R.S.E. Anyone who knows me knows that while I enjoy playing Texas Hold’em, mixed games are really more my bag.

Thus, it was with, ahem, unbridled excitement that at “high noon” on Wednesday February 1, I traded in my media badge for a Player ID and bought in to my first PokerStars Live tournament.

While I’ve played in higher buy-in events twice before, I had all 100% of myself in this one, making it the most I’d ever shelled out of pocket to play in a poker tournament.

Visions of Mixed Game Poker Glory

This obviously sounds presumptuous — maybe even preposterous — but I genuinely envisioned myself winning this event. If I didn’t fully believe it could happen, I wouldn’t have plunked down the buy-in.

I know what you’re probably thinking; this from a guy who doesn’t even have a HendonMob profile?! Plus, however many players enter a poker tournament, only one can actually win. Just cashing and making it into the money of a poker tournament is unlikely, winning it far less so, even for a professional — much less a serious recreational player.

But I actually have a couple legitimate reasons why I don’t have any recorded tournament results:

  1. The nearest land-based poker rooms are accessible to me only via international flight.
  2. I’ve always had to prioritize work over play on my trips abroad.

As such, I’ve only played in about a dozen tournaments over the last 20 years. I’ll note that apparently no record exists of the one tournament I did cash in, a 4-way chop for $495 (apiece) of a Harrah’s Atlantic City $80 NLHE daily back on my 28th birthday in November 2009, but I digress…

I woke up on the morning of February 1 fully intent on heading to sleep that night after having my winner’s photo taken with a PokerStars “Spadie” in hand. While I might have been under illusions, my vision was not delusional. I’ve been a lifetime winner over thousands of hours of mixed cash games and have butted heads with decorated pros in stakes as high as an $80/160 mix.

Moreover, in poker we’re not supposed to be results-oriented; we’re supposed to be process-oriented, and I believe I’ve got enough experience under my belt as well as the skill and patience to win. Even so, at the end of the day, if you don’t actually compete at the felt you’ll just never “have concrete proof” of said skill.

As it turns out, for at least the first six hours, my premonition was actually spot on.

In Championship Company

Lest one think that a $550 PCA mixed game side event would be “full of random recs”, I recognized a decent percentage of the field. At one table I noticed PokerStars ambassador GJ Reggie, who had just won a Spadie for taking down the Ladies Event. Seated next to her was 2004 WSOP Main Event Champion Greg Raymer.

At my table on my right was Mihails Morozovs (2nd on Latvia’s all-time money list) while seated three to my left was none other than Phillip Hui, winner of the 2019 WSOP $50K Poker Players Championship.

To be sure, the ambience was plenty friendly, especially with the delightful Keith Becker on my immediate left, but the competition was certainly tough!

It’s pretty safe to say that a $550 buy-in tournament was likely a mere drop in the bucket of the aforementioned pros’ respective bankrolls. For me, by contrast, this was a pretty big deal and a not insignificant chunk of my bankroll that I’ve painstakingly built mostly at sporadically occurring $0.25/$0.50 home games over the years.

Again, though, bankroll doesn’t necessarily equal “poker aptitude”. And when you’ve got the chip lead, one of the greatest poker players of all time on your virtual rail, and you’ve been consistently building your stack and “holding over” your table for six hours, you start feeling pretty damn good about yourself and your poker game.

Hellmuth on rail

After the dinner break, the field suddenly ballooned from 8 to 15, as some players rebought — must feel pretty great to be able to just rebuy carefree, eh? — while we were also joined by some very notable late entries. These included Adam Owen (and his $3.6 million in lifetime live tournament winnings) and Anthony Zinno (and his 4 WSOP bracelets, 3 WPT titles and over $11 million in lifetime live tournament winnings).

Who Moved My Chips?

The next 90 minutes or so were a bit of a rollercoaster, chip bleeding away about one-third of my stack due to escalating blinds, only to build all the way back up to just over my dinner break chip count. My confidence that I’d win never wavered; not even for a moment.

Then, utter disaster struck as I lost half my stack in a Stud 8 or Better hand with multiple streets of me leading the betting. A complete brick of a Queen of diamonds on 7th street did absolutely nothing to improve my 2-3 | 4-5-J-9 with four spades.

A pair of sevens gathered up all my chips. His chips, now. His chips and his f***ing pair of sevens!

If I scoop that hand, I’m coasting; perhaps towards that winner’s picture, but almost surely towards making the money.

If I chop, great; no harm, no foul.

Alas the poker gods had other plans, as they so often do.

I managed to hang on tight and make the unofficial final table of eight players, but my decimated chip stack needed help and sadly found none.

And so I busted just three spots short of the money, with nothing but a bad beat story to tell.

Oh, to have been that close to my first official tournament cash, a Bahamian (first) flag on a brand new HendonMob profile, and (at least) $650 extra in my bankroll.

Cash amounts HORSE 2023 PCA

For everyone else either busting out or still jockeying for position at the table, it was “just another tournament; on to the next one.” For me, this was my PCA main event; my PSPC. I don’t really know when the next one will be. At the very earliest, we’re talking months…

Now, a couple weeks removed, I can make do with sighing at the utter disappointment I felt in that moment. But let’s just say you wouldn’t have wanted be anywhere near me within the first 30 minutes of my bustout. I was in pain, and “raw Robbie” was feeling every bit of it.

All’s Well that Ends Well… Really Well!

Yet, some bad beat stories have a silver lining.

Emerging from the pain, still wandering aimlessly about the tournament area a bit shell-shocked, I realized that it would be my last chance to play poker for a while. The upside of hopping into a low-stakes NLHE cash game for what would hopefully be a calming experience outweighed heading back to my room to lick my tournament wounds, even if I’d lose a little bit more money.

My instincts proved right as Bruce Buffer soon pulled up a seat, his presence quickly helping me find my smile again.

Bruce subsequently left the table, but I still found myself surrounded by some extra-friendly Canadian Platinum Pass winners, including Chad McVean, Chris Robinson, and Jennifer Carter.

Over the next four hours, while having the time of my life, I could seemingly do no wrong. I might primarily be a mixed game guy, but thankfully this hold’em session was kind to me. Extra kind.

The game broke just after 1:30am, which was good because I had to get to sleep and wake up for work the following morning. I didn’t have a Spadie to take back to my room, but my wallet did have $150 more in it than when I woke up that morning.

I wrote all of this up because I suppose that at this stage of my (poker) life, every tournament I get to play in still feels “story worthy.”

And that’s a pretty damn good feeling, especially when you’re just HORSE-ing around.



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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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