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The Main Event of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) this year has an entry fee of $10,000. But it’s long been known that you don’t always have to pay that much to sit down in this event. Nor should an amateur feel that this tournament is out of their league.

Perhaps more than any other event under the PokerStars umbrella, the PCA has made a habit of crowning champions who have taken the online satellites route to the big time. Moreover, some of the players who got into the event for relative peanuts. And, having no previous results to speak of, used the PCA as a springboard to sensational poker careers.

Of the 16 previous PCA champions, five booked their seats in the tournament in online satellites. They paid only a fraction of the advertised buy-in to sit down. (Two others won live satellites.)


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These spin-up kings include the man who won the biggest prize in PCA history — Poorya Nazari. As well as two others who would go on to represent Team PokerStars Pro. Those players, the 2005 and 2006 champions John Gale and Steve Paul-Ambrose, had no documented live poker results at all before they won the PCA.

It’s important to make this absolutely clear: playing online satellites on PokerStars to win into major live events is a tried and tested route to the big time. And even if you can’t emulate Nazari, Gale, Paul-Ambrose, Dominik Panka or Dimitar Danchev, to complete the quintet, the EPT or PCA experience is one you’ll not forget in a hurry.

PCA CHAMPS AFTER WINNING AN ONLINE SAT

2005 – John Gale (UK)

British player John Gale had previously worked in the horse racing industry, and also had a history in backgammon, before he burst on to the poker scene with victory in the 2005 PCA. The $890,600 success was his first documented poker result. But he would go on an add another $3 million, including two WSOP bracelet wins (and two further WSOP runner-up finishes). He also became a Team PokerStars Pro.

John Gale celebrates PCA success

Gale, who originally played online under the screen-name “gizzimow”, told PokerStars Blog at the time that he had four re-buys in a $27 satellite to book he spot in the Bahamas. That brought his total outlay to $127 (the rebuys weren’t raked back in the day). Fair to say he never had to deposit again. Gale died in 2019.

2006 – Steve Paul-Ambrose (Canada)

Like Gale before him, Canada’s Steve Paul-Ambrose (later just Steve Paul) recorded his first ever live poker cash with victory in the PCA.

His triumph in 2006, after winning an online satellite costing $650 to enter, brought with it a payday of $1,388,600. It also struck an opening blow for poker players from Waterloo, Ontario.

Paul-Ambrose inspired numerous other players from the Canadian town to pursue poker careers. And he was a mentor for the future PCA champion Mike Watson, as well as a future PCA runner up Mike McDonald.

Paul-Ambrose was the toast of the Bahamas in 2006

Paul-Ambrose himself spent some time as a member of Team PokerStars Online, and racked up live tournament cashes of $1.9 million. His last Hendon Mob entry also came at the PCA in 2010. That’s when he finished 72nd for $33,000, but has since focused strictly on online play. He is still an instructor for the highly rated Run It Once training site.
Read more about Paul-Ambrose’s PCA victory

2009 – Poorya Nazari (Canada)

Canada’s Poorya Nazari had recorded a few modest results before his breakthrough victory in the 2009 PCA, banking a payout of $3 million.That figure is still the biggest winner’s prize for PCA champions.

There are strong rumours that Nazari struck a deal with Anthony Gregg and Benny Spindler, who officially finished second and third, to mitigate for a very top-heavy prize structure. But the record officially shows Nazari as the winner of that enormous prize.

Nazari’s $3 million is still the biggest PCA win

Nazari won into the $10K Main Event in a $33 Triple Turbo re-buy satellite, investing $700 total. (It must have been wild). Nazari only rarely makes an appearance at poker tournaments these days. But he recorded two cashes at last summer’s WSOP, so perhaps is being bitten by the bug again.
Read more about Nazari’s PCA victory

2013 – Dimitar Danchev (Bulgaria)

Dimitar Danchev became the fourth European to claim PCA spoils when he beat a field of 987 in 2013. It came with a prize of $1.859 million, still his biggest single score. But far from a one off in a career that continues to flourish.

Danchev was already an EPT runner-up when he prevailed in the Bahamas, having finished second to Andrey Pateychuk at EPT Sanremo in 2011. And he went on to win his first WSOP bracelet in a heads-up online event, with a $10K buy-in, in 2022.

Danchev is still an EPT regular

Danchev is still a regular on the EPT, playing all Main Events and High Rollers. And, as “Kuul” on PokerStars he also has a WCOOP title. He won a $700 online satellite to get into the PCA Main Event in the year he won it.
Read more about Danchev’s PCA victory

2014 – Dominik Panka (Poland)

At the time, Dominik Panka’s victory in the 2014 PCA Main Event was regarded as robbing the poker world of a fairytale story.

Had Mike McDonald prevailed instead of Panka from a marathon heads-up battle, the EPT would have had its first double champion. And a few months before Victoria Coren Mitchell finally ended that hoodoo.

Although Panka was considered the underdog in that stand-off — and with some justification; it was only his fourth documented tournament cash — he quickly proved to be no flash in the pan.

Panka went from strength to strength after victory in 2014

Panka has subsequently brought his documented earnings from live tournaments to $3.3 million. And he has finished 11th or better in four more EPT Main Events.

He has also won an EPT High Roller. Panka won into the 2014 PCA from an online satellite and is pretty much always on the list of PokerStars qualifiers to other EPT events too, proving that even the very best still see the value in taking that path.
Read more about Panka’s PCA victory

A FEW CONTENDERS THIS YEAR

As we have come to expect, this year’s PCA field is also boosted by the presence of numerous PokerStars qualifiers.

That includes plenty of players whose reputations are already well known. Alongside a healthy smattering of first-timers, hoping to follow in illustrious footsteps.

Among the latter category, we find two Romanians, Dan Romaniuc and Decebal Cretescu. Both are riding a huge wave of success to be here.

Dan Romaniuc

Romaniuc, who is 52, took up poker after his brother gave him a poker set for a gift about 18 months ago. He also took to the online game. Investing $0.55 into an online satellite he won through three rounds ($0.55 –> $55 –> $530) to win a package to the PCA.

He is a self-professed amateur, whose biggest win is around $1,500. The package alone was worth four times that amount, and any cash here will boost his career winnings enormously.

Decebal Cretescu

Cretescu paid only a little more to earn his passage to the Bahamas. He won a $530 satellite ticket from a $15 Spin & Go and then beat the field in the bigger event to get his seat in the big one.

It represents an incredible start to a live poker career. Yep, he’s never played a live poker tournament before and will start off, aged 50, with one of the biggest events on the calendar.

The Romanian duo are joined in today’s Day 1B field by Jonas Steinmuller, from B√∂hl-Iggelheim in Germany. Steinmuller also has a sibling to thank for his interest in poker: Jonas learnt the game from his late brother in 2006.

Jonas Steinmuller

He has had a few successes, including a $4K win, but qualified for this one on the cheap. His initial investment was $5.50 and he won through a $55 and $530 satellite after that to qualify for the PCA Main Event.

May they all be the next Panka, Danchev, Nazari, Paul-Ambrose and Gale.

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