Midnight in Las Vegas. Day 1c of the WSOP. I'm hypnotized by the sounds. Sometimes, I can block out the clattering of chips in the Amazon Ballroom and everything goes quiet as I lose myself in my writing. Most of the time that's impossible to do with the madness of the World Series of Poker enveloping around me. The clattering chips is a distinct sound that is hard to replicate like the roar of the trading floor at J.P. Morgan or the eardrum shattering sounds of a subway screeching to a halt in Times Square.
If someone played me different versions of ambient poker room sounds, I could easily pick out the Rio from the rest. Besides the chips, there the thousands of other layered sounds that drive some people crazy. Players use special headphones or earplugs to block out the background clutter. There's a low hum of players talking to each other at the tables but add it all up, it sounds like an orgy of geese fucking.
One sweaty guy in jogging pants is telling another guy in an ugly blue PokerStars shirt a bad beat story. Another player screams, "Yes!" as he sucks out on the river to avoid elimination. Reporters are explaining bustout hands to my Poker News colleagues. You could hear the ESPN crew communicating with each other into their headsets as they rush to get over to a table with Humberto Brenes screaming at the top of his lung as whips out his miniature shark and tells his opponent that, "The Chark is hun-greeeeeeeee!" A dealer in the far corner shouts, "All in and a call on Table 42!" Another dealer screams, "Floor on 12!" as a gaunt cocktail waitress barks, "Cocktails! Red bull!" A railbird asks Flipchip, "Where's Daniel Negreanu?" And I mutter, "Whata douchebag!" under my breath.
For the last five weeks, I have spent the majority of my waking hours sitting at the various media desks on the floor of the Amazon Room underneath the various portraits of former WSOP champions. Sometimes I'm hunched over my laptop underneath the black and white photo of the legendary Sailor Roberts, who won the big one when I was three years old. Other times, I'm sitting underneath a portrait of Berry Johnston. He won the event a few weeks before I graduated grammar school. And a couple of months ago, he busted me out of a FTOPS event on Full Tilt. Despite the fact that the world is a small pond, I'll always be the fish.
The one thing I am unable to do is escape the noise. The only moments of calm are when I'm walking in the secret hallways behind the ballrooms. It's a scene out of Ocean's 11 when one of their guys snuck around the employees area of the Bellagio. They corridors are almost always empty and void of sounds aside from a few dealers gossiping to one another. I like walking around that area, past broken poker tables, boxes of ESPN equipment, and stacks of wobbly chairs. The only other time I get any semblance of peace and quiet is when I sneak off to Change100's car, crank up a Grateful Dead bootleg, and burn one down.
Over the last 24 hours, I've written down various notes such as:
Too many people. Slews of dead money. Too many dreams. Not enough fulfillment.There might be over 6,000 players in this year's event. All but one will go home a supreme winner. Like Bill Parcells once said, "There are no moral victories. You either win or you lose."
When I think of the Tuna yelling at reporters in the tunnels underneath Giants Stadium, I look at the sea of players in the Amazon Ballroom and see bags and bags of money. Someone is going to become the ultimate beneficiary of all the collective donkey donators. At this point, we don't know who will win the event. It's too early to tell. The odds are in favor of an unknown. But whoever survives this existentialist meatgrinder is going to end up a very wealthy and extremely famous person as they embark on the hardest gig in all of poker... WSOP World Champion. Along with the glory, fame, and cash comes the toughest year of their life as they constantly avoid getting gang raped by every vulture, charlatan, gold digger, and hustler in the industry.
Here are some quick numbers:
Day 1a: 1,287Day 1d is predicted between 1,600 and 1,700 players. That would push the numbers of the WSOP to over 6,000. It's nowhere close to last year's record breaking year. But it's more than 2005. Even with the UIGEA, PokerStars paid out more satellite winners than last year. Only a percentage of seat winners actually showed up at the Rio. And imagine how large the field would be without the UIGEA? Over 10,000. Easily. There main event would be almost three weeks long to accommodate those massive fields with 20% clad in PokerStars gear.
Day 1b: 1,545
Day 1c: 1,743
Day 1d: ???
Entrants Through Day 1c: 4,575
Day 1c was by far the most exciting of the three. The first two days took forever and annoyed the piss out of me like sipping week-old Jell-O through a straw while sitting in LA freeway traffic with the radio stuck on Rush Limbaugh rant about feminazis. The field on Day 1c was appetizing with a few more named pros such as Phil Ivey, Fossilman, that Moneymaker fellow, T.J. Cloutier, Allen Cunningham, Kenna James, Robert Varkonyi, Melissa Hayden, former WSOP champion Brad Daugherty, Rafe Furst, Clonie Gowan, Katja Thater and Jan Von Halle.
Day 1c also contained a few more celebrities and professional athletes donking off their chips and trying to pretend like they were big time poker pros. Antonio Tarver, Jose Canseco, and Rick Tocchet were among the athletes in the field. Jen Tilly, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Alexander (aka George Costanza), Jen Tilly, Rene Angelil, Nelly, and Swedish pop star Dilba Demirbag were also playing. Nolan Dalla introduced Shannon Elizabeth and mentioned her involvement in American Pie and how he watched "that scene at least thirty times."
"She's me milking that movie for eight years," said Change100.
"It's a great fucking movie," I reminded her.
I wonder what it feels like to be Shannon Elizabeth and to know that she walked into a room filled with two thousand men who jerked off to her tits in the bedroom scene in American Pie? Multiple times?
I first met Antonio Tarver at the Borgata in January of 2006 when I was hired by them to cover their Winter Open. He played in the main event and found himself at Gavin Smith's table. I kept a keen eye on the two as they battled in several pots together. Tarver mentioned that Smith was crazy, would not stop talking, and that he was a tough opponent. He underestimated how hard tournament poker was and how patient and disciplined he needed to be. Like boxing, he had to wait for his moment, then attack with everything he had. He didn't last too long that day at the Borgata and I'll never forget our conversation as he explained the similarities between tournament poker and boxing. Unlike poker, he was fighting for his life everytime he stepped into the ring.
Rick Tocchet is an interesting story. I grew up watching him play against the Rangers when he skated for the Flyers and the Penguins. He recently pled guilty to his involvement in Operation Slapshot, where he and several other people (such as Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet Jones) were implicated in a multi-million dollar gambling ring. Steve Rosenbloom stopped by the media desk and we talked about how Tocchet had to step down as coach of the Coyotes when he was pinched by the federalies. It wasn't a Pete Rose incident where he bet on games in his own sport. As Jeremy Roenick said, "No one bets on hockey."
Um, actually... I do. I'm a complete degenerate with little scruples and questionable morals. Alas, I thrive the action. The last time I bet on hockey was during March Madness at Red Rock Casino. We were throwing thousands of dollars on single games, so a $100 five team NHL parlay seemed like pocket change for us. I asked Change100 to pick five teams and then I faded all of her picks. I went 4-1. Anyway, I'll save my sports betting hockey bad beats for another time.
By the end of Day 1c, about 670 players remained. Carl Olson was in the top 5 for a while after dinner break. I picked him to win the Main Event before it started. He was making me look like a genius when he became one of the first players past the 200K mark. Pokerati's The Big Randy was among the leaders for the majority of the day.
Bouncin Round the Room on Day 1c...
"I have never seen a bigger field of donkeys," said Aussie pro Emad Tathou after he busted out. "I called Quantas and said get me on the next fuckin' flight to Melbourne. I leave tomorrow morning."
I watched a few of Antonio Tarver's hands. He moved all in during the first orbit. He had Queens and chopped a pot with a Broadway straight. His opponent had A-Q and rivered the tie.
Jose Canseco wore an ugly yellow shirt that read, "Olympic Gardens" on it. I heard rumors that he's MC Hammer broke and that he was sponsored into the event. My guess is the OG. Gotta love strip club sponsorship.
When Nolan Dalla announced to the crowd that Canseco was in the room, a few boo birds showered him with an unpleasant welcome. "Must be an LA crowd," joked Dalla.
Jonno bought an Asian Chicken Wrap at the Poker Kitchen. It comes with a fortune cookie. His read, "It is a sunny day." I told him, "No shit Sherlock. We're in the middle of the fuckin' desert."
Here's some random dealer conversations that I overheard...
Two Dealers in the Hallway:The dealers smoke in one area outside near the employees parking lot. One member of the media described the landing as "depressing and full of bad beats. It's sad enough to hear players tell them. It's awful to hear dealers tell them."
Dealer A: "I have Jesus at my table."
Dealer B: "Be careful. He might slice your fingers off when he mucks his cards."
Two Dealers in the Secret Smoking Spot:
Dealer A: "What's that? A plane dragging a sign that says, 'Congrats to the newest member of Team PokerStars Daniel Negreanu.'"
Dealer B: "I dunno what was a bigger waste of money for PokerStars... hiring that plane or signing Negreanu. He's a donkey."
When I walked past the dealer's room, a crowd was gathered around one table as a few of them played in a quick SNG.
Grubby has been staying at the Rio. I snuck him into the room a few times. His boss was playing and he wanted to sweat him.
They are limiting how many spectators can come into the Amazon Room. From a media's standpoint, it's a welcome relief. Usually it's difficult to get through the dense crowd. Without them clogging up the walkways, it's a lot easier to do my job. From a fan's perspective or if you're someone who wants to railbird a friend or relative, it sucks camel cock. You have to stand in line for up to three hours and then they only let you watch the feature table without any announcers. I overheard two people complaining about how they waited in line for two hours and got in the room for ten minutes before they were asked to leave because a break was coming up. A couple of angry fans got into a heated shoving match with security guards at one tense moment.
I was walking the floor getting chipcounts when I saw Jose Canseco stand up. An ESPN film crew surrounded his table and he started to walk towards the rail. The dealer had washed the cards and I saw that a player in seat one was stacking up chips. I raced over and bent down on one knee and asked the guy how he busted Canseco. That's when I realized it was Amir Vahedi. "I had A-7 of spades," he said. "He had A-J. The flop was Ks-10s-Q. I bet, he raised, I moved all in, he called. I got a spade on the river."
I was the cooler for sure. I walked over to Jen Tilly's table and she busted out when she moved all in on an open-ended straight draw. After she busted a weird Scandi at an adjacent table wearing a tight blue dress shirt, shorts, and black socks with sandals walked over to me and said in broken English, "What movie was she in?" I shrugged my shoulders. "Is she in any good pornos?" he asked with a sketchy smile.
Otis walked over to me around 4:20 in the afternoon and said that there was a Vinnie Vinh sighting near the Poker Sauna. No word if he'll be playing on Day 1d.
Kenna James lost a big pot and danced with Change100 as she walked past his table. "When you lose a 5K pot, you need to dance it off," said James.
At one point, everyone was looking for Felipe or Flipchip to take a photo of a drunk guy who passed out at his table in a mega-satelitte in the Poker Sauna.
I got word about Phil Hellmuth's car wreck. He drove around an Ultimate Bet race car in the parking lot. He ended up crashing it into a light pole. It totally looked staged. Otis agreed. Hellmuth plays on Day 1d and will be arriving late in true Hellmuthian fashion. RawVegas.tv has the video. Check it out.
Click here to view the Hellmuth crash video via RSS or Bloglines.
Drew, one of the Poker News reporters, has his Mom in town from Minnesota. She's a big fan of the Tao and Pot Committed. She baked us cookies and we went out in the hallway to hang out due to the long lines to get inside. When I told Change100 about the cookies she asked, "Is there pot in them?" There wasn't but the cookies were yummy. Thanks...!
Amy Calistri and I stood int he middle of the floor when one player rushed past us. He smelled worst than a bum on the subway. A few minutes after he left, his stench still lingered. "That boy needs some deodorant," said Calistri. "And some clean underwear," I added. He's among the many people in the room who had not showered in days and weeks.
I lost a last longer bet. I picked Olga Varkonyi to last longer against her husband Robert Varkonyi. I was even giving odds at 3-1. Unfortunately she busted out before he did and I lost.
When I walked into the media room, no less than five people were playing online poker. Junkies. To accommodate the lack of space in the room, Harrah's roped off the area outside the media room and set up several tables to alleviate the cramped space. Nice move in their part, but a few days too late. That took Otis and Scurvy Dog off cramped media room tilt.
Mike "Lucky Blind" Lacey told me a great story about John Duthie winning a pot in a big NL cash game. He called a 17K bet on the river with just King high... and he won. Unreal. Duthie, the EPT creator, ended Day 1a among the chipleaders with over 150K.
Don't forget to check out LasVegasVegas for Flipchip's WSOP photos and there's the Poker Prof's cool 2007 WSOP Info page.
And come back at the Tao of Poker for daily recaps and head over at PokerNews for live coverage and updates including chipcounts.
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