Wendall’s PokerStars Adventure!

All the stars were out for some poker

Leading up to the 95th edition of the CFL’s Grey Cup Championship this past Sunday were a variety of events and festivities throughout the week that celebrated the return of the Grey Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1992. One of these events was the PokerStars Grey Cup Poker Tournament which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Thursday, November 22nd, and included CFL stars like Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris, Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray, Argos’ pivot Damon Allen and none other then world-renown poker superstar Daniel Negreanu.

The atmosphere was fun and relaxing with many celebrities mingling with the fans, and some even playing in the Pigskin Classic, a tournament-style flag football event in which teams matched professional quarterbacks with fans. While the tournament was enjoyable, there was a tremendous amount of anticipation for the Canadian poker champ Negreanu. After greeting the many fans amid cheering and shouting, Negreanu and the other CFL stars made their way to the 2,500 square foot poker hall. While inconveniences (namely exam preparation) prevented myself from attending the event, my younger brother Wendall was delighted at the last-minute opportunity of attending the event while possibly earning the chance to enter into a million dollar tournament to be held at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas including an all-inclusive paid seven day stay. Wendall, like many, is an avid poker player, as he even reads and watches online, but the main drawback is that he is clueless when it comes to the CFL and his recognition of the players.

Nonetheless, the environment was incredibly friendly and Burris stated his belief in the interactive environment: “This event was the best possibly way to do this. The fans and players help contribute to a great atmosphere.” Burris was also quick to offer some quality advice for those young football players: “I went from a college star to the CFL. I was back at square one and I had to grind it out and learn the game…my best advice is to work hard, be yourself and stay humble.” After talking with several players, an announcement was made that the tournament would be starting. Wendall was approached by a PokerStars representative who escorted him passed all the tables and onto a stage. He was at the main table with CFL stars and celebrities! A feeling of uneasiness roamed in his stomach as Wendall would be playing with professionals. He was just a 1st year university student who was at his first Excalibur event ever! And playing across from him was none other than his poker idol, Daniel Negreanu.

The poker tournament continued to be fun, albeit there was very high tension with many talented and experienced players. ET Canada’s Rick Campanelli was extremely easy-going and talkative and dished out everything from gossip on Britney Spears to the poor performance of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Negreanu joked about the players on the World Poker tour he found annoying.

While the players were all easy-going, well-known and friendly, Wendall felt awkward sitting beside a large football player whose anonymity was shared by all at the table. None seemed to know who he was. Only after the tournament was concluded did he find out that former McMaster football superstar, 2004 Hec Creigton (awarded to CIS’ best football player) and former NFL player and current Hamilton Tiger-Cat, Jesse Lumsden was sitting next to him.

Lumsden, like Burris, was eager to give advice to those CIS football players hoping to make it far in the CIS or even the CFL. “Work your ass off and make sacrifices mentally because there’s always someone else out there working harder to take your place…use your experience to adapt because if you don’t adapt you won’t survive.”

The tournament continued after several hours of intense play and Wendall ended the day and qualified for next round as he advanced to the final 50 players on Saturday! On Saturday, he continued his winning streak, knocking out four players to advance to final six – one of whom is Negreanu. What started out as fun, experimental event turned out to be a legit chance for Wendall to win the Bahamas trip! Despite Negreanu’s prescence, Wendall had a one in five chance of winning the tournament because Negreanu automatically qualifies for the PokerStars tournament in Bahamas. After an intense several hours, one by one, players were knocked out. It left two players at the table– Wendall being one of them. Wendall’s opponent Matt went all in, Wendall called instantly with two 8’s. Matt flipped two 2’s! This means that Matt had a 4% chance of getting a 2 and winning the hand. Guess what happens? Matt hit it and takes the majority of the chips. Wendall loses the majority of his chips, but he is still in it. As the blinds increase, Wendall is forced to go all in. He calls with a 6,7 suited hearts. Matt flips a 8,4. Wendall hits a 6 on the turn and has a 94% chance of winning the hand! 1 card left – Matt needs an 8 and only and 8 to win. And that’s exactly what came. Unfortunately, Wendall couldn’t claim victory, but he did finish in an amazingly 2nd place and went on to collect $2000, some free clothes and a few contacts in his 1st ever high-roller tournament! Not bad for an 18 yr old.

Despite the close loss, a participant (who happened to be a professional Lacrosse player), approached him and told him that he looked like a “pro” poker player out there.

Finally, Wendall felt at home.

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