Residents of an Aberdeen hotel one recent night were a bit confused by the shouting coming from a neighbouring room. They ended up calling down to reception and getting the hotel staff to figure out what was going on.
When the unsuspecting night porter checked in on the room containing Stephen Gray, they quickly found out the truth. Gray had just won a Platinum Pass to the PSPC, playing on PokerStars on his phone, and was now celebrating wildly on a call to his wife.
“I apologised,” Gray said. “I said, ‘Look, I’m sorry. There’ll be no more noise.'”
Gray, 49, was due back on the oil rigs the next day, where he works as a construction superintendent, looking after the electricians. Like most rig workers, he does a shift pattern of three-weeks-on, three-weeks-off, and he had travelled north from his home in Redcar, in the north east of England, to Aberdeen, Scotland, ahead of a helicopter flight to the rig.
But there was a $1,000 buy-in qualifier to the PSPC on PokerStars on his travel day, the final step of the Mega Path, and he couldn’t miss it. He’d started with a freeroll ticket, then won through tournaments with buy-ins of $1.50, $5, $20 and $100 to get to this stage.
He sat on the train playing the tournament, braving spotty internet connections and frequent disconnects. Then he stood in a taxi queue at the station, still playing poker. Then he sat in the taxi with a colleague, still playing, and then he checked in and got into his hotel room, all as the tournament approached its conclusion.
“I thought, I have to play this tournament, but I didn’t want the people on the train to know what I was doing,” Gray said. “When I got to Aberdeen, there were 10 people left, and I’m a taxi queue. There were people there thinking, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ And then a pal met me, and I couldn’t really talk to him because I was concentrating on the poker.
“Then we got into the taxi together, and by the time we got to the hotel, there were four or five left.”
He finally won it, capping a huge free-roll spin-up, and was going to the Bahamas with a $30,000 Platinum Pass. Cue the wild celebrations — and the noise complaint.
Gray began playing poker in his local casinos in the pre-Moneymaker era, cutting his teeth in £10 re-buys, often picking up decent scores. He continued to play through the boom years, always recreationally, but frequently managing to beat the small buy-in cash games and tournaments.
These days, he also often plays on the rigs, where home-game poker is a popular way to pass the time in the evenings. Workers there are away from their families and aren’t allowed to drink, so poker is a perfect pastime. They play a £10 freezeout.
Gray says that his fellow workers are intrigued by his Platinum Pass win, and are all looking forward to watching the PSPC on the live stream while he’s out there.
The same also applies to his wife, Louise, and two children Alex, 15, and Sophie, 17. They can’t make the trip to the Bahamas this time, but Gray has promised that they’ll all be heading back to the Caribbean if this trip goes well. His +1 for the first trip to Baha Mar will be his brother-in-law, a fellow poker player who is equally as excited as Gray for what they both know is a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Where I’ve come from, from the freeroll, to a $25,000 event, the odds must be quite high,” Gray said. “My brother-in-law reckons it’s about 1 million to one. I find it quite funny. At the start, you think you’re miles away and you’re flippant about it. But then you get through and you start thinking a little bit more deep. I still can’t believe it.”