The Seminole Hard Rock and PokerStars teamed up to award five South Florida poker players a $30,000 Platinum Pass and send them to the Bahamas to compete in this week’s $25,000 buy-in PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC). The passes were distributed during a summer freeroll, the August Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open, November’s Moneymaker Tour event and Feeding South Florida Charity event as well as during the Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open. In all, it was $150,000 in added value to the South Florida poker community. They were won by:
The PSPC began Sunday with a strong field of 1,039 entries. The total prize pool surpassed $26,000,000 with a first prize worth more than $5,000,000 and it was Esteban Garcia that shone brightest of the five Seminole Hard Rock Platinum Pass winners.
Esteban won his pass after finishing runner-up to Chris Moneymaker in the $300 Feeding South Florida Charity event. Moneymaker was ineligible to win the pass, so it was presented to Esteban. Esteban went on to parlay that package into a 146th-place finish and a $35,000 score.
Of the other pass winners, Carlo was eliminated late on Day 1 while Vasile, Andre and Jorge were all eliminated on Day 2.
We caught up with Esteban for an interview following his cash on Day 3:
Seminole Staff: Let’s go back to November and the Feeding South Florida Charity Event. Talk to us about playing heads-up against Chris Moneymaker and the moment you won the Platinum Pass.
Esteban: The truth is, I went to the Seminole Hard Rock not knowing what I was going to play. It was a regular day for me. I got out of work, I was thinking, “I’m just going to go play.” When I got there, it was a charity event, $300 … I didn’t really know the first place prize, but once we got to about 15 players, [Tournament Director Tony Burns] was talking about the [Platinum Pass] and I was like, “Hmm. Sounds good.” There were no high hopes or anything. Once we got to about five players I was like, “Ok. We have a chance at this.”
Heads-up with Moneymaker wasn’t a big deal, because once it was down to just him and I, I didn’t really care about making that extra $1,000. I was so happy to be able to get this [Platinum Pass] package. I put it in on the next hand and he just happened to have a better hand. I was just like, “Wow. This is crazy. I never thought I would play in a $25,000 buy-in.” I would never spend that money out of my pocket to do that. That was really, really good. I woke [my wife] up when I got home — “You won’t believe this! We’re going to the Bahamas! We have a ticket. We have everything paid for.” She was like, “Whatever.” The next day in sunk in a little bit more. It was good.
SS: Talk about the last two months leading up to this and your time working with PokerStars to get to the Bahamas.
E: They communicated so well. They reached out to me multiple times to see if I needed anything. Garry [Gates] was incredible and PokerStars was unbelievable. They have an A+ thing going on. Everything they do is first class.
SS: Talk about your experience in the Bahamas and playing the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship.
E: We love everything about the accommodations. The game; I’m not going to say I was intimidated, but I didn’t feel like I could play with these [$25,000 buy-in players] at first. Once I won a couple hands I felt a lot better. I studied a lot of the stuff they were doing and tried to make adjustments. The game here and the [small buy-ins] back home are totally different. This was great. It was a great experience for me. I think I’ll be able to play the higher buy-in tournaments a lot better now that I was able to experience this. It’s a big learning experience. I feel proud to have made the money and advanced and make it to where a lot of these [$25,000 buy-in players] didn’t make it.
SS: 10 years from now what do you think you’ll remember most about the last three days in the Bahamas?
E: I came here with $1,000 and I’m going home with $36,000. I’ll remember that! For sure. I spent some time with the wife. She kind of played solo tourist a little bit, but at the same time, we needed this. It was good. The first couple of days I left the tournament floor with a headache — sitting down for eight hours concentrating. I was a little worn out. [Me and my wife] have been going around eating. Tomorrow, since we have the day off, we’re probably going to go downtown and spend some time there all day. Go to the beach. Spend the extra day one-on-one. She had a job to do every day. She was figuring out where we were going to have breakfast the next day and where we were going to have dinner. She had to go scout. That was her job during the day while I was playing. That was a good thing.
SS: Talk about what you normally play at the Seminole Hard Rock and what you thinking playing your normal daily tournaments might be like now that you have $25,000 buy-in experience.
E: I’m not going back to those little tournaments! I’m just kidding. I usually go play Mondays and Tuesdays which is low buy-in tournament — $150. The style is so different. I feel like this high buy-in play is a low risk game. It’s just different. At the small buy-ins, there’s a lot of all-ins all the time. I think I just became so much better just because of these last three days. I’m still going to play my games and I’m going to try a lot more to try to get those satellites for the bigger buy-ins. I feel confident that I can compete in those tournaments a lot more now that I did this.
SS: Talk to us about your life away from the felt and what you do for a living.
E: I work for Florida Power & Light Company. My title is Line Specialist. I work on the power lines — high voltage — making sure that your switch can be turned on and the power is on. Maintenance and construction, that’s basically my job. During storms, restoration, making sure we get everything back on. I’ve been doing it for 22 years now.
SS: So poker is just Monday and Tuesday or do you get to play more than that?
E: Usually Monday and Tuesday are my main days. Saturday I stay home. Monday and Tuesday you will definitely find me at the Seminole Hard Rock. Any other day it has to be a good buy-in and I have to have the time off.
SS: You’re a working man and you just won $35,000 off a free entry you earned at the Seminole Hard Rock. Talk about what that means.
E: It’s beautiful, man. Shoot! We have some plans for this year. We have some traveling we’re planning to do. One of our kids is in Japan, he’s in the military. We’ll pay for the next couple of trips. We’re empty-nesters.
SS: What are your plans for the Lucky Hearts Poker Open this week?
E: I don’t know yet. I will figure it out when I get back, but I will definitely play some.
SS: Anything else you would like to add?
E: I just want to say thanks to the Seminole Hard Rock and PokerStars. The truth is, they made it happen. They did a great, great job. I’m looking forward to the next Platinum Pass and where it’s going to be because I’m going to be chasing that Pass again!
Thank you to everyone who played our Platinum Pass events and huge congratulations to all five of the pass winners! It was a pleasure following along with your play and having you represent the Seminole Hard Rock in the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship.
Next up is the Lucky Hearts Poker Open back in South Florida January 10-22.