Las Vegas, NV
The 2009 WSOP kicked off on Wednesday with Event #1. You probably didn't even notice due to the lack of coverage (even on the Tao of Poker). The majority of media outlets were not covering the de-emphasized Casino Employees event, because for as long as I have been in poker media, there was sort of an unwritten rule that the Casino Employees event was low priority and a "blow off" day.
I always wondered the origins of why an ugly shadow was cast upon the lowly casino workers?
Many media outlets did not cover the event because of the lack of known stars. The tournament was geared towards poker players who worked in the casino industry and not for the likes of Phil Ivey and the other big time players.
When the Casino Employees event was slated the beginning of the WSOP this year, not every outlet had a full crew on the ground. Media reps have been trickling into Las Vegas over the last few days. The WSOP is a long haul and most veterans know the necessity to pace themselves so Event #1 became a casualty.
When positioned at the end of the WSOP, the Employees event was also blown off. They can't win. At that point in the series, everyone was so tired that you only had enough energy left to cover the Main Event.
I always felt sorry for some of the players in the Casino Employees event. Year after year, they got shafted. The worst incident might have been that crazy registration line in 2007 when the event got pushed back to 5pm instead of noon.
I liken the WSOP Employees event to an unknown band opening for a hugely popular band. More often than not, the opening band played to a sparsely populated crowd and the ones in attendance usually talked to friends, drank, and failed to pay attention. Meanwhile, the drunkards in the crowd booed the band and demanded, "Get the fuck off stage!" They paid to see the main attraction and not a bunch of unknowns.
Let's face it, no one cares about the "help" because the majority of poker media were paid to focus on the big stars. They're everyone's meal ticket. Yet, it's the very people who we all look down upon as the "help" who kept things running smoothly in casino operations on a daily basis. The casino workers were the heart and soul of the gambling Mecca of Las Vegas, yet the faceless suits in boardrooms and a handful of absurdly wealthy individual owners reaped all of the profits.
Alas, this was the one day of the year when the proletariat played poker instead of dealing cards. They were all individual Cinderella stories and had a shot at winning a coveted WSOP bracelet. However, their epic feats often fall upon deaf ears. Aside from a Flipchip winner's photo, there was not much about the winner.
The lack of respect for the working class reminded me of the summer before my senior year in college. I worked at an exclusive country club in Atlanta where I prepped clay tennis courts. Yes, I was the kid who drew the white chalk lines. I also brushed and watered the clay twice a day as it baked in the smoldering Georgia heat.
The elitist country club members with lavish tennis rackets sneered at me as the "help" even though I was better educated than most of them and two semesters away from a degree at Emory and a path down Wall Street. One rude member even called me an "inbred cracker." I bit my tongue and didn't say a word. All I kept thinking was, "Dude, I'm from New York. You're from Georgia. So by definition, you're an inbred cracker."
Over 90% of the country club staff was African-American. They didn't like me very much and one day I finally understood why everyone always gave me the stink-eye. I made more money per hour than most of them because the guy who hired me was a racist German who felt that as a college student I didn't have to start out at minimum wage. When I found out about the discrepancy in pay between whites and blacks, I was astonished and ashamed. I quit after that startling revelation.
That summer was a humbling experience and I learned first hand about the subversive racism in the South and the eternal struggle between the haves and have nots.
During the week, the lunch service for the country club members began at 11:30am. Staff lunches were at 10:30am in a spillover room used for large events. We had a half hour to eat amazingly delicious fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and melt-in-your mouth biscuits... every single item was the best that I have ever eaten. That was 16 years ago and I have yet to taste anything that came close to the stuff that Otis the head chef whipped up. (Yeah, the head chef's name was Otis and he looked like William "The Refrigerator" Perry.)
On Sundays, there was a gigantic breakfast buffet for the entire club's membership. It ended at 1pm. Our lunch time on Sundays was scheduled for 1:20pm. We all lined up in the service entrance and eventually led into the main dining room. Imagine a dining area inside Southern mansion with pristine table cloths, multi-colored floral decorations, sparkling chandeliers, and large bay windows that overlooked a beautiful array of the blooming white flowers on Dogwood trees that lined the 18th fairway.
Once a week, I caught a glimpse of the good life as we gobbled up mac-n-cheese and biscuits from the buffet. That's an image that I still can't get out of my mind... as soon as the rich folks left out the front door, the help were led in through the back and picked at the leftovers.
Although Day 1 of the WSOP was nowhere to that extreme, yet, for some reason those images of the country club Sunday buffet flashed in my head as I wandered through the Amazon Ballroom with 866 of casino employees trying to feast off the the scraps of poker's elite.
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 1...
Photo courtesy of los hombres at Wicked Chops Poker
The first thing that greeted me when I arrived in the press box? Russ Hamilton's fat mug. That was some cruel joke from Harrah's staff to put the cheating eyes of Russ looming over us, like some sort of Big Brother on peyote. I'm setting the over/under at 5 days before someone defaces or steals that banner. There's no way Russ' mug survives the entire series.
Since the economy is nothing more than a turd floating in the toilet, a horde of players flocked to the Rio's satellite room. On Monday night, two seats were up for grabs in a $1,500 buy-in satellite to the 40K NL event. Several pros were in the mega-satellite including Barry Greenstein, Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler, and the Grinder. On Tuesday night, according to Twitter, both Chainsaw, (fake) Eskimo Clark, and Erica Schoenberg played in the mega.
Flipchip told me he spotted Capt. Tom's Penis roaming the hallways. He had a young thing in tow. "She looked about twenty.... twenty-two... maybe twenty-four years old," said Flipchip. "I felt obligated to tell her that young women who hang out with the Capt. often end up dead." Wow, first day of the WSOP and Flipchip made the first Brandi Hawbaker reference.
Congrats to Heath Chick for taking second place at the PokerStars.com ANZPT (Australia & New Zealand Poker Tour). I worked with Heath at Poker News and he's also a semi-pro from Tasmania. Seriously. His nickname is the Tassie Devil and he's trying to raise awareness to save the disease-ridden Tasmanian Devil. During his amazing run, Heath's colleagues at Poker News were eagerly sweating his progress.
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