Two years ago, I showed up in Barcelona with a camera (that Flipchip gave me), my laptop and my backpack with a couple of days of clothes. I was alone, in a foreign country, working on spec. I paid my own way to Spain and lined up a couple of publications to buy a couple of articles that I'd write once the final table of EPT Barcelona was complete. I knew that I'd be losing money on the trip and didn't care. After a long summer in Las Vegas living at the Redneck Riviera, I needed to get out of Nevada and out of the country. I heard about the EPT from Otis and said, "Fuck it. I'm going."
Luckily, Mad Harper helped me out. She was an British ex-pat living in Spain and had worked with Otis at Poker Stars. She offered to put me up for a few days in Sitges (a beach town just outside of Barcelona) and showed me around Barcelona. She secured me a fantastic deal on a hotel room and allowed me to tag along with her. That's how I met a slew of people at Poker Stars.
Shortly after Joe Hachem won the 2005 WSOP in Benny's Bullpen at the Horseshoe, I emailed the creator of the EPT, John Duthie, and asked him about press badge for the Barcelona event. He was thrilled that an American writer would be interested in covering his little tournament. At the time, there were no press procedures for season two of the EPT. He told me to show up at the casino and that I'd be allowed to take photos and live blog the event on Tao of Poker. At the time, there were about five or six of us there including Rolf Slotbloom (Poker Pages), Tom Murphy and Mike Lacey (The Irish guys from Antes Up), David Lloyd (Gutshot), Howard Swains (Poker Stars Blog), and myself. We were huddled around a table underneath the stairs. At the EPT Barcelona this year, there were over 100 media reps from all over the world. The EPT and poker has come a long way in just 24 months.
Two years ago, I met Brandon Schaefer at the bar next to the poker room of all places and said that he loved reading my blog. We'd hang out a lot during that trip and became good friends. Not only did I have a blast covering my first event outside the States, but I also got asked to announce the feature TV table and then the final table.
Announcing the final table... in 2005
I might have been the first American poker writer to come across a good looking skinny kid from Finland named Patrik Antonius. He made the final table along with Gus Hansen. I couldn't believe what had happened to me, as I was overcome by one of those existentialist moments like... how the fuck did I get here? Just six months earlier I was unemployed, broke, and homeless. Then all of a sudden, I had a microphone in my hand and was doing my best Johnny Grooms imitation for the crowd.
The Barcelona Casino has a special place in my heart and was a monumental place on my journey through poker. I was given a rare opportunity to visit a new place, make new friends, and have an original mind-blowing experience. After the final table was over (and after a long night of drinking), it was 6am and I managed to get a taxi to drive me to La Sagrada Familia. It was closed, but I sat in amazement on a bench in a park across from Gaudi's infamous church that has been under construction since 1882.
I had a religious experience that morning as I gazed up at the church, something that I had not spoken about to anyone. Until now. Ever get that feeling that you're supposed to be where you are at that specific moment? That's what happened. I was overcome with emotion and wept for a few moments. Not too many people are given second chances in life, and I was awarded a golden ticket. I vowed not to screw up anymore in life and pushed myself harder than I had ever. Even though I made some mistakes along the way over the last two years, I look back at Barcelona in 2005 as a major turning point in my life and the development as a writer.
When Poker News offered me an assignment to cover Season 4 of the EPT Barcelona, I immediately said yes. I would get to travel to Spain for free with my girlfriend and be reunited with a lot of friends I made along the way. And during my time in Barcelona over the past couple of days, I reflected about the last two years of my life. The words humble and lucky come to mind. On Monday morning, I returned to La Sagrada Familia. I didn't cry (although Change100 admitted that the building was so powerful and full of energy that she was on the verge of tears) this time, but I felt overjoyed that I was able to return to the sacred place that inspired me and kept me going over the last 700 days of my life. I also made another promise to myself. Maybe someday I'll tell you what that was.
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