Hostess, Poker Player, Model, Chef.
What else does Tatjana Pasalic have in store for us?
Remember back to your first memory of Tatjana Pasalic. Maybe it was a video interview, or an article written for any of a dozen publications. Perhaps it was the 2012 WSOP Main Event broadcast where she wore a skintight catsuit after losing a bet to her boyfriend, poker player McLean Karr.
Pasalic is all of those things and then some, a constantly moving ball of energy who seemingly does a dozen things a day without breaking a sweat. The 28-year-old writer, video hostess, poker player and chef has come a tremendous way because of the game of poker. It’s a vastly different life than the one she grew up having in a region torn apart by conflict.
“I grew up in Croatia,” said Pasalic. “It was during the war, but I don’t really remember much because the war was ending by the time I was 10. I remember some things. I remember my dad and I were in the bathroom when they were bombing the city, and I could see the lights coming in. I asked, ‘Dad, what was that?’ My dad said, ‘Those are fireworks for your birthday.’ We were sitting there and I bet he was terrified they were bombing us.”
Pasalic came from humble beginnings, but dreamed of traveling the world.
“I always wanted to see more,” said Pasalic. “In Croatia, the salaries are so small, I was always dreaming of going to America just one time. It would have made me so happy.”
She was working a regular nine-to-five job and living a quiet life, but after making a few friends from Denmark, Pasalic decided to just pick up and head north.
“My mom freaked out,” said Pasalic. “She said, ‘You are crazy, we [Croatia] are not part of the European Union and you’re going to struggle with the visas’. And I did. I’ve gone through 10 years of struggling with visas, getting denied, or getting approved for six months. Now, finally, we’ve entered the European Union, and things are so much better.”
Another chance event would put Pasalic in a direction she couldn’t have ever foreseen. Because of poker, she was able to accomplish one of her biggest dreams in life, but she was initially a bit skeptical about the trip.
“A few friends of mine won a package for the World Series,” said Pasalic. “I think it was seven years ago, and I was 21. They both won a package where they could bring a guest, they play, they get a flight and everything, and I thought it was a scam. Nobody gives you money for that.”
After her friends invited her along as their guest, Pasalic instantly agreed. She was in for a bit of a culture shock upon her arrival.
“We stayed at the Orleans,” said Pasalic. “And I thought, ‘Wow, this hotel is so amazing.’ Everything was so big, and I just loved getting to go to Vegas.”
Pasalic was in for a little bit of disappointment, though, when she tried to see where they filmed two of her favorite Las Vegas-based TV shows.
“I landed in Las Vegas, and I said to the cab driver, ‘Please take me to the set of ‘CSI: Las Vegas’, and he said, ‘You mean, you want me to drive to LA?’”
When she tried to push the issue, Pasalic dug herself an even deeper hole.
“‘Can you take to the Montecito Casino at least?’ ‘So you still want to go to LA?’” remembered Pasalic, “Which broke my heart immediately, on my way to the hotel.”
Even after her initial disappointment, Pasalic was about to catch the poker bug. She had a magical moment the first time she walked into the Rio, and even managed to stumble into the first of what would be a series of professional opportunities in the poker industry.
“We came here, they both played Day 1A [of the Main Event], I walked in to see them and I heard chips shuffling,” said Pasalic. “I had never heard that sound before. I wanted to hear it again, and again. Then I met a girl that was doing marketing and playing for Sun Poker, I don’t remember what skin that was, it was years ago, but she started introducing me a little bit.”
“She said, ‘Oh, you should become our affiliate back in Croatia,’” said Pasalic. “In Croatia, they didn’t even know what poker is. It’s hard to become an affiliate when they don’t know anything about it.”
Determined to get involved in the industry and build a community of players in her home country, Pasalic found a way to do so in the most direct way possible.
“I went back and I got in touch with the casino there,” said Pasalic, “And they hired me to be their poker room manager. It seemed a big mistake for them, because I didn’t know anything, but the floor manager knew everything. I was handling the marketing and he was organizing all of the games and we were quite successful.”
After helping to build poker from the ground up in Croatia, Pasalic was plucked up by a headhunter and moved to Malta. It was booming in the region, and Pasalic had success there early in her career. Her career evolved once again when tournaments came into the picture.
“I lived in Malta for three years and then I discovered the EPT and the WPT,” recalled Pasalic, “And the fact that you could follow tournaments. I would take days off to go and follow the EPT or the WPT, but there weren’t many Croatian players so I didn’t really have anybody to write about.”
It wasn’t the only roadblock standing in Pasalic’s way.
“I also didn’t have anywhere to write it,” said Pasalic, “So I just put it up on my little blog. I kept trying to convince people that they should sponsor me, just pay for my trip and I’ll write updates. Nobody believed in it, but I just quit my job, took all my money and I started covering the EPT and WPT on my own. That’s when Kara Scott left the EPT to go to work for Party Poker.”
Working directly for a major poker tour in such a high-profile role would be an opportunity few could ever really hope for, but Pasalic wasn’t sure if she was up to the task of filling Scott’s shoes. Before she could accept the position, however, she hit another snag along the way.
“The EPT called me and asked me if I wanted her job,” said Pasalic, “But I didn’t really know how to host and I’d never been in front of a camera. I called Kara and she said, ‘Take it. Just do it.’ But I ran into more issues with the European Union, and I couldn’t do it. It did open my eyes to hosting, though.”
As she did in previous instances, Pasalic threw herself head-first into hosting videos. She worked hard to get a foot in the door, actively pitching ideas to anyone who would listen. Pasalic finally found what seemed like a great opportunity to display her talents. It would nearly come crumbling down upon her.
“I did this fairly silly thing where I convinced Unibet to sponsor me for videos,” said Pasalic. “They said that they would pay 2,000 euros and we could do coverage of Unibet Prague. I called my friend, who’s a great cameraman and said ‘This is what I can pay you. We have to make five videos, but they have to be insanely good.’ He said sure.”
“What happened five days before,” said Pasalic, “After we had already booked him from Croatia to Prague, they called from Unibet and said that they had decided not to do it. So I’m sitting there making 500 euros a month, trying to figure out where I was going to come up with €2,000.”
Pasalic scrambled to figure out a solution.
“One of my good friends has a production company, but he couldn’t lend me money to fund his competition,” said Pasalic, “I did get a €2,000 package, but how was I going to give that to my cameraman? I didn’t tell him, I went and played the event while he was doing the coverage, and during breaks I was doing interviews.”
Despite burning the candle on both ends, Pasalic found herself nearing the money. It just so happened to be exactly what she needed, but it wouldn’t come easily.
“The first cash was €2,500 and I was just sitting there, praying I was going to cash,” said Pasalic. “I didn’t know what I was going to do; I was so short on the bubble. I did get there, and then I busted shortly after.”
After avoiding disaster, Pasalic had the money she needed and a finished product to display her abilities to potential employers. Despite the chaotic situation surrounding the event in Prague, Pasalic turned back to the same company.
“Unibet saw those videos and I said, ‘You need to hire me to make videos,’ even though I hadn’t done any work before,” recalled Pasalic. “They hired me, and from there WPT saw my work and I worked with them.”
Pasalic continued to build her resume as a dual threat, somebody who could play at the tables or cover the action with the same level of engagement and ability. With online poker at its peak, she wanted in on the same lucrative opportunities that the top players enjoyed.
“When I first started looking for a sponsor, I had been freelancing for two years,” said Pasalic. “I was working for everybody — Party Poker, Unibet, WPT, Poker News. Like everybody else back in the golden days, I really wanted a deal with Full Tilt. I started negotiating with them, but things were getting kind of shaky and I didn’t know what was going on. They kept throwing around these offers.”
While mulling over her options, a last-minute offer came in from an unexpected place. Pasalic had a lot of marketable talents, and the offer provided an opportunity to showcase quite a few of them. It also couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“Bodog called me, and I had never considered them,” said Pasalic, “They wanted me to join Evelyn. I sat down and called my friend, who advises me on these kinds of deals, and he said, ‘They have great deals — they’ve had girls before, I’ve spoken to Evelyn, and everyone was happy with them.’”
“I thought it might be a good option for me, and it was,” said Pasalic. “I signed the week before Black Friday. It was crazy. Since I’ve been with them, it’s been like a little family. I do the media coverage for them, too. We mainly cover Asia, the APT, but we did cover WSOP Europe as well. We all know each other, it’s good banter and we hang out.”
The stable of players in the Bodog stable is small, but it allows Pasalic to get to know almost everyone involved.
“I’m super happy, because it’s only two of us, Jay Tan and I,” said Pasalic. “Whenever I email them, I get responses within two or three days, and they take really great care of me.”
That and other opportunities that the game of poker has provided to Pasalic are vast and far-reaching. The girl from Croatia who dreamed of visiting the United States is now able to circle the globe.
“Poker has changed my life completely,” said Pasalic. “In the last five years, the only place I haven’t been is Latin America. I’ve been everywhere. I have 30,000 photos in my computer, and the things that I’ve done, from seven-hour cooking classes in Thailand to petting cheetahs in Africa, to playing with koalas in Australia.”
Vacations aren’t the only benefit that Pasalic enjoys because of poker, but a trip down to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions changed both her life and the lives of her immediate and extended families.
“I have a cousin in Australia,” said Pasalic, “And three years ago at the Aussie Millions, my dad called me and said to me, ‘You’re going to Australia, do you know that you have a cousin living down there? I had no clue. I went from not knowing I had a cousin to becoming best friends. She came to Europe, and we reunited the family, and those are the kinds of things that have happened.”
The trips that Pasalic and Karr take all over the world have had another unintended effect.
“I cooked before, but I’d never ventured out that far,” said Pasalic, “It was comfort food, things my mom used to make. Since I started traveling, I’ve tried new food, and then we went to Asia. Every country there has its own completely different flavors. When we went to Thailand, I couldn’t get over it. I was like, ‘I love this, and this, and I want to write this recipe down and take it home.’”
“Most of my cool memories are probably with food adventures,” said Karr. “Where we’ve eaten duck’s tongue in Hong Kong and the chef wasn’t wearing a shirt, or when we were eating crazy stuff in the Philippines, or chicken feet in Thailand, or zebra in Africa.”
When it comes to saving all of the ideas and recipes, though, Pasalic prefers a more traditional means of record-keeping to modern innovation.
“I have all of these books, it’s funny,” said Pasalic. “I’m just part of an old generation, I write everything down and I don’t put it in my computer. I pull out recipes from magazines; I probably have 30 magazines with me right now.”
The trips to dozens of countries helped shape Pasalic’s passion and ability, but it only blossomed into something more in recent years.
“I think in the last two or three years it’s been a lot more,” said Pasalic. “And I think it has a lot to do with McLean. I’ll make something, he will try it and say, ‘Oh my god, we have to invite people over, you have to make this for people.’”
Karr’s enthusiasm for her cooking led to another, unexpected opportunity in poker.
“I already cooked for McLean, and then one day Anton Wigg came over,” said Pasalic. “I pack McLean’s lunch every day, and I packed Anton’s because he was staying with us. He came back and said, ‘People are asking about your food.’”
“I think the first time was when we had Anton Wigg over to our apartment in London,” said Karr, “I’m not sure when it was but we were just talking about how much fun it was, and how good it was. We got to talking about the next trip and then we were traveling with him and splitting bills for things, so he started putting money towards food.”
What came out of Wigg’s mouth next was the spark behind an idea that would use Pasalic’s ability and passion for food in a way she never expected.
“He said, ‘You know, I think a lot of other people would really enjoy this,’” remembered Karr. “And it kind of started the conversation.”
“I went from him to making food for him and two friends to five, and then to 10,” said Pasalic. “I get really busy cooking for them, but I love cooking. As it is for poker players who love playing poker, for me it’s not a task. I’ll get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, to make a sandwich, and I’ve cooked goulash at 4 a.m. It relaxes me and it gives me a lot of freedom.”
Balancing all of her roles and responsibilities, especially during a time as busy as the World Series of Poker, can be a challenge for someone who works as hard as Pasalic does.
“It’s hard to find balance because I have times when I’m extremely busy,” said Pasalic, “And other times when there’s nothing going on and I’m sitting and staring at the wall. In the last couple of years, I’ve tried to enjoy my off time, preparing for the summer.”
“I’ll go to Croatia and for two months I’ll eat healthy,” continued Pasalic, “Work out, get healthy, get good sleep and get a lot of energy. Then we’ll go somewhere like Cannes and I’ll be covering tournaments, cooking, and I’ll get no sleep. But those trips aren’t very long, and when you’re doing something that you love, it’s not really a job.”
Pasalic and Karr had the time of their lives on the road, trying delicacies and guilty pleasures from eateries all over the world. There were some consequences to their actions, though, and they’ve each taken steps to counteract them.
“It’s had a big impact on me,” said Karr. “I talk about the food adventures; most of them were not as healthy as they are now. Or maybe the unhealthy ones were just more frequent. During the first year that Tatjana and I were dating, I gained about 30 pounds and she was also not happy with the results.”
“She kind of led the charge on it and it ended up really well for me,” said Karr. “I lost all the weight I had gained in six months and I’ve kept it off. I’m working out more, feeling better, and I think it’s been a great thing for both of our lives.”
Pasalic’s love for food is a lot like her passion for poker — she caught the bug, found something she was good at and passionate for, and then she pushed herself to be great at it. It’s Pasalic’s way of channeling her artistic vision.
“I don’t know how to sing, I don’t know how to write and I don’t know how to draw,” admitted Pasalic. “But I can put some nice tacos together and they’ll look very pretty. I think food just brings people together, and I like to bring people together.”