Almost 20 years ago a young, inexperienced blackjack dealer went to his first day of work at Crown Casino in Melbourne. Within minutes of his shift starting though, he was already wondering if he’d need to make a career change.
“I found myself on a blackjack table at the original Crown Galleria complex with several of my closest ‘friends’ on the table to wish me well,” said Joel Williams, who now serves as the Crown Casino Tournament Director and oversees the Aussie Millions. “My nerves then led me to dropping all 416 cards onto the casino floor – much to the amusement of those so-called ‘friends’.”
Despite the first day mishap, Williams has rebounded well. He picked up the eight decks of cards and made it through his first shift at Crown. On Sunday Williams will be the man in charge when the best poker players in the world play in one of the biggest buy-in poker tournaments in the world, the LK Boutique $250,000 Challenge at the Aussie Millions.
It’s a long way from being a blackjack dealer fumbling his way through a shuffle.
“From early 2000 I’d become a poker dealer and within a few years became involved with the training of poker staff, Poker Room Management as well as Tournament Operations,” said Williams. “When the Tournament Director position eventually became available, I jumped at it. The chance to be involved in one of the world’s most prestigious poker events was just too good to pass up, and especially at a management level.”
Ask players who’ve made the trip to Melbourne to play the Aussie Millions and they’ll tell you it’s a different experience from nearly anything else they’ve ever played. The schedule, with buy-ins from $1,150 all the way up to the $250,000 Challenge, is only part of the equation.
“It’s a combination of many things. Melbourne is such a wonderful city this time of year – between the summer weather, the Australian Open Tennis, Chinese New Year as well as all Melbourne has to offer all year round,” said Williams. “Crown prides itself on customer service, and I think the friendly, almost ‘laid back’ Australian nature is almost always well received by our players.”
That’s reflected in the numbers. The 2016 Aussie Millions Main Event drew 732 players – the largest field since 2011 and a 13% jump over the 2015 event.
“The employees who make the experiences even better for the players also is a major draw card and we’d obviously like to think that the continued strength of the Aussie Millions playing schedule is a major drawcard as we work very hard to ensure it’s the best schedule we can offer for an event of this caliber,” said Williams.
And while the casino goes out of their way to cater to players flying from Europe or North America, Crown is at the center of the Australian poker scene and have developed a satellite program meant to give local players a myriad of opportunities to get in – and not just for the Main Event. The program was a huge success this year, with Crown breaking the record for most players qualified via satellite.
“Our local satellite campaign is one of my proudest achievements. We are on track to satellite over 300 local players to our Main Event, many of them even qualifying from ‘Free to Enter’ satellites,” said Williams “As well as this, two new key satellites were added to the schedule: a $2800 satellite to Event 9 $25K Challenge generated six $25K seats as well as adding another of our famous ’10 Seat Guarantee’ satellites to the calendar.”
If you look back at the history of the Aussie Millions and peruse the various tournament schedules each year, you begin to notice a trend. Crown seems to always be creating new tournament formats. They were the first venue to have a six-figure buy-in event on the schedule, they were the first venue to hold an event with a buy-in of $250,000 and they’ve also had shot clock tournaments and Speed Poker. Innovation is a calling card of the Crown Poker Room.
“We’ve never been afraid to try new events and I personally think it’s important to keep the schedule new and full of surprises. We claim the ‘Accumulator’ format as a Crown Poker initiative, and are proud to have led the charge in perfecting the ‘Repechage’ formats,” said Williams. “As for the ‘Shot-Clock’ events, I think there’s a worldwide trend towards faster action – as displayed by the fact there’s even a ‘shot-clock’ on our $100K Challenge event.”
Williams indicated that there are more innovations on the way, including bringing their 10/10/10 format to the Aussie Millions next year. The 10/10/10 format, which first debuted at the Crown in 2014, is a hyper turbo that gives players a 10,000 starting stack with 10 minute levels and a 10 second shot clock.
Being the man in charge of what most consider the most prestigious poker tournament in the Southern Hemisphere means long days on the property. For three weeks Williams finds himself at Crown for most of the day, and then when the day is over he puts his head down a pillow not his own. While crashing at a hotel might be fun for a bachelor, Williams has a fiance and two kids at home.
“I found an eight hour window early in the week that enabled me to visit the family, and they have come into Crown to visit me once throughout the Series,” said Williams. “Just finding the time to clear my head and speak to my two boys makes the next phase of a long series far more manageable.”
When the Aussie Millions wraps up on Monday, Williams gets to head home to get back to the day-to-day life of being a father and he’s certainly looking forward to it.
“I’d love to say ‘hug my kids’, but with two boys aged 3 and 5, the reality is ‘let my boys jump all over me’,” joked Williams. “I also think my long-suffering partner will be overdue for a rest by that stage, so I’ll be sure to try and ease her workload a little too.”
Once Wiliams has some down time, plays with his kids and lets his partner enjoy a slower pace, he’s back at Crown getting ready for the 2017 Aussie Millions.
“The Aussie Millions is our absolute flagship event for the entire year, and next year’s planning commences almost within a week of the previous Aussie Millions concluding,” said Williams. Just this week Crown announced that the 2017 Aussie Millions will run January 11 – 30.