Taking refreshment in the Caribbean

bloody mary photo

I guess you can tell the significance of a story by how much coverage it gets. In which case, the yarn about Roger Teska boozing his way through the PCA must be more important than most. On the day my colleague Stephen Bartley was penning his examination of Teska’s exploits, I was writing mine (entirely independently). This story may not deserve both of us on it, but it’s the way it has worked out.

Here goes.

There was an exceptionally rare sight during the late stages of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas at the beginning of this month, one that gave a very clear indication of how modern tournament poker differs from the age-old weary stereotypes.

In short: a player was drunk. And he was wilfully getting drunker. It’s not something I can remember seeing at an EPT event in some nine years covering the tour.

Roger Teska, a relatively unknown 20-something American, had navigated his way to the final five tables of this gigantic tournament all the while lubricated by a cup of Bloody Mary. As the field thinned, Teska’s presence, and his state of inebriation, became more obvious. He had an enormous stack of chips—close to the chip lead among the 50 or so left—but he also had a foghorn of a voice, through which he was demanding more cocktails, and a pretty ungracious table manner.

He was slumped back in his seat, was slurring his words and was often missing his blinds or string-betting. Worse, the television crew filming the action complained that Teska had continually been rude and abusive to them, sticking up his fingers at the camera and berating the floor producers, one of whom was visibly shaken by the encounter.

Teska quickly became the PCA’s first pantomime villain, but also its most compelling figure. His attempts to shoo away the meddlesome cameras only made them love him more, while the audience watching the live stream at home demanded he be moved to the feature table so they could keep a closer eye on the carnage.

I stood behind Teska for quite some time during his performance and, in conversation with colleagues, initially agreed that there seemed to be a bit more to everything than met the eye. For a long period, we were unconvinced that Teska <i>was</i> actually that drunk—was this all just an elaborate ruse?—and Mike McDonald, who was on his table, insisted that his actual play was pretty good. He wasn’t actually self-combusting in a poker sense, and seemed in fact to be a magnet for chips.

However, it soon became obvious that our conspiracy theory didn’t really hold any water. Or vodka. The show was too convincing to be anything but true. Teska was warned as to his conduct a couple of times by tournament officials, and then given a couple of penalties. He was, without question, legitimately the worse for wear.

Teska defended his actions by saying that he had never been anything but polite to tournament staff or fellow players, and that certainly seemed to be true. But he had grown irked by the media coverage, he said, and expressed his discontent as he saw fit.

It was a tough one to adjudicate. Should he really have been punished for a flick of the finger to a camera? Where is the rule about that in the disclaimers? There is always a line in the releases signed by players that the tournament director can make rulings at his or her discretion, and Teska accepted his punishment gracefully enough.

But the episode did manage to highlight how difficult it can be to legislate for a lot of things in poker; we often exist in a grey area. The players put up the money, and stand to win absolute bags of it. Yet, in theory, a tournament official can disqualify the player whenever they consider a transgression serious enough to merit it. But I wonder what a hotshot lawyer would say if a player was evicted from a tournament—at the director’s discretion, of course—and forced to surrender what would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity?

The Teska mystery deepened somewhat when he made intimations that he wanted to use the very media he had been bothered by to “tell his side of the story”. He made an offer to a couple of outlets that he’d talk to them only if they didn’t edit what he said at all.

I would certainly have liked to have heard from him. He played the Big One For One Drop in 2012, costing him a million dollars, yet didn’t seem to have results to get him anything near that amount of disposable income. The very fact that he thought there <i>was</i> a story that had two sides is interesting enough. For most of us it had seemed cut and dried.

One hopes Teska’s boozing at the PCA wasn’t just the first time we’d noticed a deeper-rooted problem. Poker players, particularly those exposed to vast sums of money and a potentially massively glamorous lifestyle at a young age, are exposed to all kinds of temptations. I’d like to see Teska again, sober, and playing the kind of poker McDonald seems to think he’s capable of.

Then we’ll hear the other side of the story too.