The pictures of Las Vegas, with casinos boarded up and the Vegas Strip deserted were some of the most jarring of the pandemic, especially for poker players and fans. The pictures were in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Sin City that poker players and fans picture when they think of the city.
One of 888poker’s latest ambassadors Sam Abernathy got to experience the effects on Las Vegas first-hand, and earlier this year sat down with PokerNews at an 888poker LIVE London event, talking about Las Vegas and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the most famous poker destination in the world.
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A Vegas Pandemic
Abernathy is one of the newest 888poker Ambassadors, joining in September 2021 as the green shoots of live poker were beginning to emerge from a pandemic that saw cancellations and postponements, widespread upheaval to the live and online poker scene and severely impacted an entire industry.
Abernathy says although she’s now back traveling the world, part of her still holds Las Vegas in a very special place.
“All in all, I lived there for nine years,” she told PokerNews. “Most of that time I was travelling a lot, but I always came back to Vegas. I had a home there.
“Now I’m on the road. So like, I don’t know, do I consider it home? It’s the longest I’ve ever been in one place? But I’m happy that live poker is back. Being in Vegas for two years during COVID was like ‘Get me out of here!'”
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For Abernathy, the pandemic lay to bare the quietness and mundanity of a city without the crowds of patrons, attractions and nightlife.
“It was weird. I mean, I’m sure it was weird everywhere in the world. I’d never been in Vegas for two years without going anywhere, so I think I was tired of it.
“They boarded up all the casinos. The big activity for us was riding bicycles down the strip. Everybody did that. And the casinos reported us!”
With no tourists or bachelor parties on the Strip, it must have seemed like Disneyland when it’s shut.
“It was exactly like that,” said Sam Abernathy. “It really felt like that.”
Shortly after signing with 888poker, Abernathy sold her Las Vegas home and is looking forward to travelling and playing poker again having rediscovered her passion for the game during the pandemic.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And I really missed it…”
“COVID-19 changed a lot of things. Maybe 8-9 months before March 2020 I stopped playing poker. I felt like I needed a break. I wasn’t playing a lot online before then, but once live games disappeared it coincided with me really missing poker.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And I really missed it and that’s when I got a coach, and I started studying with a group and that completely changed my mind.”
Becoming an 888poker Ambassador
Now with 888poker, Abernathy is looking forward to diving into the poker world once again, but with a slightly different focus.
“I tend to compartmentalise different areas of my life – my personal life, my active life, poker life, professional life, like it’s all different. And I don’t really cross over them so much.
“But with 888poker we did some lifestyle videos and some trampoline videos with some of my trampoline friends. So to me that was kind of surprising, mixing all my different sides of my life together.”
Abernathy and the Aussie Millions
After shooting to prominence by making the final table at the 2016 Aussie Millions, Abernathy has become one of the most recognisable female faces in poker. Now six years on, she still remembers that occasion fondly.
“I was young back then, but I’ve grown up a lot in those years. With the hand everyone remembers, I was just in the right place and at the right time.”
The hand in question saw Abernathy river a six to crack the pocket kings of Mikel Habb, after Habb had slow-rolled pre-flop. Abernathy says that she worked hard to get to that moment.
“Since then, I’ve worked hard on my game, but that moment still was very lucky. Playing poker you still have to hope to get lucky.
“I think it was a pivotal moment in my life, and a moment that I’ll never forget.”
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Will Shillibier is based in the United Kingdom. He graduated from the University of Kent in 2017 with a B.A. in German, and then studied for a NCTJ Diploma in Sports Journalism at Sportsbeat in Manchester. He previously worked as a freelance live reporter, and video presenter for the World Poker Tour.