2008 WSOP Day 1: Welcome Back to the Zoo
Las Vegas, NV
We live in a Machiavellian world and Las Vegas is the perfect example of the immoral means that will justify the indulgent ends. Over the last couple of months I struggled with the decision to cover the 2008 WSOP. I really felt as though poker was close to hitting rock bottom especially with the recent wave of cheating scandals at UB and Absolute Poker which are just the tip of the iceberg of the taboo that we dare not speak its name.
Would you want to be on a plane that's about to fall out of the sky? Or do you grab the first parachute and jump?
Yes, there's cheating in poker and there's been cheating in poker for longer than any of us have been alive. It's the fattest elephant in the room that poker has seen and everyone wanted to ignore its existence. Cheating is a harsh reality but a result of the highly competitive and lucrative nature of poker. When millions of dollars are on the line, you never know who you can trust. Sure, the majority of online card rooms and casinos do their best to curtail cheating and you often hear about the folks who got caught. You rarely hear about the ones who got away with it.
The powers to be really don't want media types hyping up stories about cheating scandals because lets face it, we're not here for journalistic purposes. We're here to fluff up the poker industry and transform douchebags into rock stars. Poker has become a massive moneymaking machine and the WSOP is the extension of an unsentimental storm that gobbles up everything in its path.
The 2008 WSOP has reached the pinnacle of greed and poker has become another casualty of the capitalistic mutation of all things cool in the world. If something is cool and deemed cool by the people participating in it, it's just a matter of time before the misanthropes swoop in and ruin everything pure about the game.
Alas, I'm not a purist per se and I'm not really anti-corporate. I loved it when Dylan went electric. There are many positive things that Harrah's did to advance the WSOP brand and continue its tradition, but then there are other things that happen that make you think... what where they thinking?
For example, poker has a rich history full of colorful characters and some of the greatest card players of all time. Harrah's made a positive gesture in trying to pay homage to former WSOP champions by hanging banners containing their portraits all over the Amazon ballroom. Except... you can barely see them unless you stand up real close. The views have been obstructed by dozens of advertisement banners shilling products like Betfair, Bluff, games.com, Milwaukee's Best, Bicycle Cards, Planters, Corum, All In Energy Drink, and Everest Poker. Those ads block out the faces of the greatest poker players of all time.
What's the point of the portraits if no one can see them? In Japan, artists create murals to honor their champion Sumo wrestlers. They are hung up in various public places where people stop to pay honor to their heroes and the people they look up to and admire and emulate.
Yet, instead of lining the hallways with more advertisements, Harrah's should have hung the champion's portraits in the corridor leading up to the Amazon Ballroom and call it the Hallway of Champions. That way everyone could see them and snap photos next to their favorite legends of poker.
The corridor is prime real estate and that's why those huge Milwaukees Beast beer cans (that were funny in 2006 and now their just eyesores) clutter the halls. Even a strip club got higher priority than honoring poker pros. Sapphire's booth was populated by bunch of lazy leftovers from the afternoon shift with c-section scars and back tattoos. Sex sells and the other bastards of corporate greed such as Pizza Hut and Krispy Kreme also had stands in the hallway. After all, more unhealthy food options are more important than honoring the best in the world.
I caught a glimpse of the new harem of Milwaukee's Best girls. They used to dress like skanks but they got a new wardrobe which is less revealing and less tantalizing. They no longer look like a hooker strolling Tropicana at 3am. Shit if you are going to hide the tits and ass, the Milwaukee Best girls might as well wear those archaic Little House in the Prairie dresses like those Mormon wifes from one of Warren Jeffs' polygamist compounds. Seriously, the 2008 version of the Milwaukee Beast girls is sort of like watching an edited version of a porn move with all the penetration shots cut out.
But shit, it's not my party. The WSOP is Harrah's gig. They bought it and own it and can do what they want with it. Sadly, they chose to whore it out to the highest bidder. And what do the players get in return? Well, just before Event #1 began, the powers to be announced that if you win a bracelet, you will give Diamond Club status at all Harrah's properties. That's worthless. Grubby has Diamond Status. I've eaten in the lounges and it's nothing special. The only thing worth a shit is that you can jump to the front of the line of restaurants, valet parking, and the taxi line. Now if hookers gave you discounts for Diamond Club status, that would be worth something.
OK, but there were some obvious improvements like color-coding the table numbers, which will help alleviate confusing on days with multiple tables. Even the satellite room across the hall in the Tropical ballroom had a different color. The Poker Tent was ditched and replaced by the Poker Kitchen which returns to being outside instead of in the casino. And then there's the press box which is cool because you can see out onto the floor.
But would the improvements save poker in a period of economical turmoil? The boom had slowed down. Was poker's growth in North America on a plateau? Perhaps on a rapid decline? Did it bottom out and ready to bounce back up? Or are things only gonna get worse?
I definitely had a lot of different questions that I hoped I could answer during this year's WSOP. Did the slumping economy, housing crisis, rising gas prices, and the poker decline negatively effect the city of Las Vegas. And will any or all of those external factors help send poker to its bitter end?
Poker is not going to go anywhere but you have to be honest and admit that it's in bad shape. The best thing for poker is that the WSOP has one of their best years ever. And you know, aside from the banner issue (and a minor clock software malfunction) Day 1 progressed smoothly. Day 1 almost felt like Day 11.
By now I know that the first few days of the WSOP are consumed with reconnecting with old friends and bumping into people you haven't seen in weeks, months, even years. That's the fun part, catching up and talking to people from all over the spectrum... media, players, floor people, dealers, suits, interns, readers, and even a few odd locals.
It's funny how people that you'll run into at the WSOP that you haven't see since last year's WSOP and are so happy to see them, then all of a sudden it's four weeks later and you can't stand them.
The first person that I recognized when I walked into the Rio was Capt. Tom's Penis. His face was a haunting reminder that Brandi Hawbaker offed herself several weeks earlier. In fact, she could have been one of the many hideous ghosts that shouted taunts at me as I nearly sprinted down the hallway.
I also saw Eskimo Clark and recalled how he almost died last year and then was so sick that he pissed himself at one final tables. Could the ghost of Vinnie Vinh be just around the corner?
Oh yeah, there was some poker to be played. Event #1 $10K PLH kicked off and the event attracted some of the biggest sharks in poker. The field was top heavy with a lot of established Vegas pros, a horde of Europeans, a smattering of Aussies, and several of the top internet players. Over 352 players started and over 80% of the filed failed to advance to Day 2.
I spent some time at the Hooker Bar for the first time this year. I didn't see any hookers, which was surprising. Maybe rising gas prices deeply affected the local girls and they decided to turn tricks closer to home? I guess a good indicator of a recession/depression is the price of a hooker. If prices for a blow job are dropping by 50%, I don't need Warren Buffet to tell me that times in Sin City are tough.
I also walked into McFadden's where the old Tilted Kilt used to be. I sat down and drank a pint at the bar. So many things were not right. No scantily clad waitress and no Otis. Oh well, looks like I need to find a new place to drink.
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