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PokerStars Festival New Jersey offers fun for a good cause

10 Nov 2016

By Clare Fitzgerald
(ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY) -- The recently concluded PokerStars Live Festival New Jersey, sponsored by PokerStars New Jersey, ran from 31 October to 6 November at Resorts Casino Hotel and marked the first time the online poker giant had run a live event in the U.S. since its North American Poker Tour stop at Mohegan Sun in 2011. Casino City was in Atlantic City for part of the festival, including for the third annual Chad Brown Memorial Tournament on Thursday, 3 November.

The tournament was held in honor of the late Chad Brown, a New York-born poker player who died of liposarcoma in 2014 at the young age of 52.

The scene

The setup for the Festival was impressive. The rows of sleek black poker tables featured accents of neon light along the rails and USB ports at each seat. The much-hyped StarsFun "skill zone" delivered as promised, with pinball machines, chess, miniature golf and a host of other games. Everywhere,'s slick, ultramodern branding stood starkly against the old-fashioned backdrop of Resorts.

The only thing that really seemed off was that it wasn't very full. While the festival wasn't alone in this— the entirely of Atlantic City was basically a ghost town —it was still quite noticeable. The Main Event drew a field of 208 and played down to a winner a day earlier than scheduled. (Compare to NAPT Mohegan Sun 2011, when Vanessa Selbst beat a field of 387 players, or 2010, when she bested 716 players.) Thursday was its Day 2, which played down to 23 players and closed up shop around 6 p.m.

An hour later, the Ocean Ballroom began filling up as people began to arrive for the charity event.

The Chad Brown Memorial Tournament gets goofy

The tournament raised funds for the T.J. Martell Foundation, a New Jersey-based charity that funds research into leukemia, cancer and AIDS. T.J. Martell was a teenager from Madison, New Jersey, who died of leukemia in 1975 at the age of 19; T.J.'s father, a music executive, established the Foundation to work with the music industry to raise funds.

In addition to the buy-ins for the tournament, Resorts presented a check for $3,500 for the Foundation, and a "tip jar" was set up on the table that bore the prizes that would be awarded alongside the payouts.

A goodly number of well-known pros made an appearance, including some of the biggest names in poker: Chris Moneymaker, eponymous founder of the Moneymaker boom; Vanessa Selbst, who won back-to-back NAPT titles the last time PokerStars was in the U.S.; popular Twitch streamers Jason Somerville, Jonathan Little, Randy Lew and Jaime Staples; this summer's infamous bracelet bettor Jason and his fiancée, Natasha Barbour; and, of course, PokerStars Team Pros Daniel Negreanu and Fatima Moriera de Melo, who hosted the event.

"Chad Brown, to me, represents a transition in poker," PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu said in his welcome remarks. "He became a role model for so many poker players in terms of how to live your life in such a way where you have balance — you play poker professionally, you take care of your body. I mean, look at the guy. He was a beast all the way to the end. He was always an ambassador to the game. He was engaging, he had a wide variety of interests, and for me, what was evident with Chad was that he had a vision for his life and what he wanted it to be. And this holds true even when he got the bad news. Even though he knew he only had six months to a year, he lived every day in the moment and still wanted to become a better poker player, still wanted to be a better friend, still wanted to be a better person, all the way to the end."

Negreanu then announced "Shuffle up and deal," and the tournament kicked off.

The rebuy period was filled with lighthearted incentives for people to bust out and fire additional bullets, mostly consisting of giveaways of hats and concert tickets. Negreanu presided over the giveaways, continually bouncing out of his seat to dispense prizes and poke some fun at their winners. One young player won a pair of concert tickets for making a full house; when Negreanu learned he'd made it with 9-4 offsuit, he told him not to quit his day job. He roundly ribbed a gentleman in a T-shirt that read "I don't even fold laundry" who won a pair of tickets for being dealt pocket aces; when poker pro and vlogger Staples won tickets for being the 200th rebuy, Negreanu pointed the audience toward his most recent video, where he was really excited about his hotel room's giant shower.

By the time the rebuy period closed, the tournament had seen 87 players purchase an additional 214 rebuys, bringing in $38,800 — $19,400 each for the prize pool and for the T.J. Martell foundation. 888 Poker New Jersey sponsored pro Jessica Dawley also donated an 888 Poker chip set to be given to whoever bubbled the tournament.

"I love charity events, so I enjoyed it a lot," said PokerStars Mind Sports Ambassador Jen Shahade. "Daniel and Boston Rob just kept rebuying, so there was a lot of action at the table, too."

"My strategy was to give some action so that I could have some fun and also give a little bit more to charity, but also pick at least suited cards, otherwise I run out of money in 10 hands," explained Shahade, who says she rebought five times.

The Chad Brown Memorial Tournament gets serious (sort of)

When the tournament reconvened after a short break, it grew comparatively more serious. Drinks were no longer free, and Negreanu actually stayed mostly in his seat, where he was sharing a table with Moneymaker, Jonathan Little, Shahade, and gaming reporter Steve Ruddock, who wrote up his own experience of the tournament here.

"Basically, a lot of people take charity tournaments unseriously in the first hour and a half since they can always rebuy — they just don't really care, and they play bad on purpose," Shahade said. "But then afterwards . . . generally, we're all competitive people, and we kind of want to win!"

In the small hours of the morning, the tournament wound down to a gender-balanced final table of Shahade, Selbst, Barbour, Moreira de Melo, Somerville, "Boston Rob" Mariano, Kenneth Goodkind and Bruce Halliday.

"Also very fun," Shahade confirmed, "although people were very tired and some people were hangry."

Fortunately, Mariano, the four-time veteran of hit reality TV show Survivor, was there to mitigate the hangriness. The casino also supplied donuts and coffee.

"It felt kind of like a college party," Shahade laughed. "And since I'm pregnant, I hadn't been going out, so for me it was a blast — this is the part of the evening where everybody's drunk and eating pizza.

"Of course, I wasn't drunk," she clarified. "But it felt like a party."

Shahade came in second, winning $3,225 and a seat at PPC Aruba. She was bested by Run It Up creator Somerville, recently arrived from Las Vegas where he'd been railing Cliff Josephy at the WSOP. At nearly 2:30 a.m., Somerville took home $4,290 and a PokerStars Championship Bahamas Main Event seat after his 5c-3c improved to a set of threes, beating Shahade's pocket kings.

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