PokerStars has announced the return of The Big Game, the popular TV show that combined big-name players and high-stakes action with the wildcard of a qualifying Loose Cannon.
The show was cancelled midway through the second season after Black Friday saw PokerStars exit the USA, but for one of the Loose Cannons, the journey had only just begun. Nadya Magnus successfully auditioned for the show 13 years ago and enjoyed a memorable small-screen run, colliding with big-name players such as Justin Bonomo and Jason Mercier on her way to a $63,600 win.
Since then, Magnus has won close to $2 million, with a career-best score of $171,642 at the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open in 2020. She’s also been a force for good in the game, helping other women get into poker with regular seat giveaways on her Twitter account. She recently gave away three seats for the NAPT Las Vegas, where The Big Game on Tour is being filmed next month. We spoke to Magnus shortly after the show’s return was announced.
PokerOrg: We remember watching The Big Game, and it’s crazy to think the first season was filmed 13 years ago. Can you remember how you felt when you heard you’d been selected?
Nadya Magnus: I had just started playing poker two years prior, and everything about it was new to me. I was pretty thrilled to find out my audition video got me to the next step of the selection process. I have to say I was born pretty damn confident in myself. Growing up, I always participated in different contests and competitions, including beauty pageants and I knew how to win them. I think, at the time, I would have been shocked if I wasn’t picked. Now, though, I realize just how lucky I was to be a part of this amazing show.
What was it like under the lights playing against these huge names? What advice would you give to this year’s Loose Cannons?
NM: I was a bit nervous at first, mostly because I barely played live at the time and I didn’t really play any cash games either. PokerStars deposited $500 into my account and advised me to start practising. I played 6-max cash games, as I hadn’t played any before. I was like, these people don’t want me to embarrass them! And I remember thinking to myself at the table that I didn’t want to look stupid and play like a donk. Since I didn’t have much live experience (I mostly played online), I simply imagined the table as an online table, as if I was looking at a computer screen where I don’t know who my opponents are. That helped me tremendously. That was my comfort zone.
And that is the advice I’d give to this year’s Loose Cannons: do whatever it takes to get yourself in your comfort zone. That’s the key. And always remember that pros are only humans. They also have bad days, make mistakes, and run bad.
$63,600 is a lot of money. Was there any part of you that wanted to come back the next week and go again?
NM: It was a huge amount of money for me at the time. But I’m extremely competitive and stubborn. I wanted to come back “the next week” and play again. But in reality, it wasn’t the next week, I would have had to play the very next day. We were shooting 150 hands for 12 hours. By the end of the day, I was physically and mentally exhausted. My feet were hurting, and I was frozen to death (it was very cold on the set). I asked if I could take a day off, let another Loose Cannon play, and then come back and play in a day, but that wasn’t an option. Considering how tired I was, and in order to compete against a tough line-up, I had to be at my best and play my A++++ game, so I had to take the money instead of playing tired. “Work” discipline is what I’ve always been good at.
I was ecstatic the next morning that I took the money vs. playing when I found out that day’s line-up. Crazy Viffer (David Peat) would’ve been on my left, and he would’ve taken all my hard-earned, newly minted bankroll, for sure!
Did The Big Game give you that boost and confidence that’s led you to have a successful career in the game?
NM: It sure did! As confident as I was, this success really made me think there ain’t no mountain high enough. If I could win money off of these guys, then I could make it. What really helped was the players taking their time at the end of the game to let me know that I played well. Whether they meant it or not, it truly helped me. For that, I would like to thank them.
You do a lot of giveaways now and help to get other women into the game. How did this come about, and how much pleasure do you get from giving others a boost into the game?
NM: I have to blame Garry Gates for that. I was playing the WPT Five Diamond and found myself with three other ladies at the table. That was a first. I caught myself thinking about how comforting it was and how nice it would be to have more women playing the game. The very next morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and stumbled across Garry’s giveaway. He was giving away a percentage of his winnings to random followers. I really liked that idea and thought I could give away a percentage of my next tournament winnings to a couple of women so they could use it to play themselves. I shared this idea with my husband. He looked at me and said, “And what if you don’t win any money in a tournament? Why don’t you just give away seats for the tournament? This way, more women will be playing poker tournaments right away.” Brilliant! How did I not think of it myself?!
It’s so rewarding to see these women’s faces! There is so much love and appreciation. It feels so great to be able to make someone’s day and maybe even help jumpstart someone’s poker career, like PokerStars helped me get into the poker world.
Have you played any of the previous NAPTs?
NM: Unfortunately, I never got to play any of the NAPTs, but that’s about to change now as I’m coming to Vegas!
How excited are you to see The Big Game back?
NM: It’s a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10! I’m pretty sure everyone is excited. 13 years later, people are still watching and rewatching this show. We needed The Big Game to come back, we all missed it. I can tell you that this Big Game will have some familiar faces, bringing back good old memories from the original game.
The Big Game on Tour will be filmed during NAPT Las Vegas, which plays out at Resorts World November 4-12.
Photos by Danny Maxwell/PokerStars