Brad Willis: Again, a sunrise – the return of PokerStars' NAPT

Las Vegas
Brad Willis
Posted on: November 03, 2023 08:25 PDT

A little after 5 a.m. on April 15, 2011, I took a picture of the sun rising over the Thames River in Norwich, Connecticut. At the time, it never occurred to me that I’d be looking at that picture today as a reference point for where most of us at PokerOrg are going to be over the next couple of months.

That sunrise was the last to come up over PokerStars’ North American Poker Tour (NAPT), and on that day, the darkest of all Black Fridays. I didn’t know a person that day or until recently that believed any of us would be going to a North American Poker Tour event ever again.

And, yet, here we go.

Sunrise after the last NAPT in 2011

PokerStars brings signature tour back to USA

In just a few days, many of us at PokerOrg will be joining PokerStars and its qualifiers for the first NAPT event since 2011. It feels like getting the band back together after a very long hiatus. It's exciting, but you have no idea if the magic is still there.

As I write this, our WhatsApp group for the NAPT has exploded with plans. I’m watching all the people who will be there lose their damned minds about covering it together and trying to figure out who is going to be our chaperone (and trust me, with the crew we've assigned for this event, we will need both a chaperone and a small offsite team of crisis management PR professionals).

The PokerOrg team had been making plans for our winter for many months, and while we'd heard rumblings that the NAPT was coming back, I, for one, was fairly surprised that it was happening so fast. The modern PokerStars is nothing if not--let's call it--deliberate. PokerStars moving with the alacrity of a nimble young company on a bold project like coming back to America came as quite a surprise to me.

So, while I was still trying to decide if this return was going to be PokerStars' "Ali-like return to the ring" or "Buckner walking back into Shea," the moment got here quickly.

PokerStars' last American sunset

Life (and the government, apparently) like to sneak up on you when you least expect it. So it was on Friday, April 15, 2011. It was a brisk 46° F outside, but the sun coming up over the Thames made the morning just about as perfect as it could have been. 

Just about a year earlier, Vanessa Selbst had won the Main Event at NAPT Mohegan Sun, and so when she did it again in quick fashion in 2011, everything felt–for lack of a better word–right.

I’m the type of guy who can read doom or destiny into most storylines, and on this night, everything felt like we were on the road to the destiny poker had been trying to create since the USA’s UIGEA took out one of online poker’s legs.

Selbst had just put on a clinic highlighting poker skill.

PokerStars was traipsing about North America as if the UIGEA had never happened.

And while it had nothing to do with online poker, per se, on the last night of that last NAPT event in 2011, some of the assembled media at Mohegan Sun found themselves shamelessly pressed against a craps table where our friend and colleague Tim Fiorvanti grabbed the dice, started rolling, and didn’t stop for 45 minutes.

We screamed. We engaged in awkward high-fives. We stacked chips on top of optimism on top of more chips. It was the greatest roll I’ve ever witnessed in person, and even today, it summed up every bit of the “nothing can stop us now” vibe we all had. 

Eventually, though, someone is gonna crap out. The sun is going to rise and mock you by setting again only 12 hours later. This will happen after you’ve learned–literally while on the plane home from Connecticut–that you’ve just lived your "Where were you on Black Friday?" story and that nothing will ever be the same again. For months–no, years--afterward, it will feel exactly like the end of one of the best nights and decades you’ve lived. And then the sun never comes up again.

…until now, apparently. 

Listen: I’m not going to be a pollyanna about this and say this NAPT return to the USA is going to keep the sun in the sky over online poker, but it’s the brightest light I’ve seen on the subject in nearly 14 years. I wouldn't dare try to predict whether this will be an Ali or Buckner moment for PokerStars.

Regardless, we have to be there when it happens to find out.

Our Instant Live coverage begins right here on PokerOrg on Sunday. Come hang out with us as we chase another PokerStars sunrise. Having lived through a lot of them, I can assure you of one thing: no one knows what's going to happen before sunset.

2023 NAPT Las Vegas plays out November 4-12 at Resorts World. Check out our exclusive interview with Joe Stapleton on its return.