Las Vegas, NV
Foreclosures. Layoffs. Declining revenue. The collapse of capitalism on the horizon. None of that mattered to the 201 players who paid $40,000 (only the second highest buy-in event in the history of the WSOP) during the middle of the global credit crisis and as the once almighty U.S. dollar continues to lose value. You know it's bad when Bloomberg financial writers are using the declining prices of Latvian hookers to demonstrate that a recovery is nowhere within sight.
$40,000 is a significant amount of money. That number for some poker writers, teachers, and plumbers represents a year's salary. But to an elite group of poker players, that was their ticket towards a shot at a bracelet and bragging rights for winning the highest buy-in NL tournament at the WSOP. All they had to do was fade a field of 201 runners.
TD Jack Effel quickly explained the origins behind the $40,000 event. He wanted to create something to commemorate the anniversary of the WSOP and decided upon an event with a $40,000 buy-in. The amount of the by-in combined with the faltering economy almost guaranteed a short, yet packed field.
I looked out over the majestic Amazon Ballroom from high up in the press box. The unwashed masses gawking on the rail were held back behind the ropes by overzealous security guards. Their sole job? Keep spectators away from the pros flinging chips around the perfectly smooth green felts. They represented the best NL poker players in the world, while the handful of dilettantes in the crowd were obviously some of the more wealthier individuals in Las Vegas. Supposedly, the 4th richest man in France played in the 40K along with Japanese millionaire Masaaki Kagawa who amassed his fortune after creating the equivalent of eHarmony matcmaking site in Japan. And there's been whispers about how much money Howard Lederer and the Full Tilt posse have accumulated in the last couple of years.
In these harsh economic times, only a small percentage of players boasted a large enough bankroll to dole out $40,000, especially at the beginning of the WSOP. A couple of fortunate players satellited into the event, while a few players were good enough to receive the proper funding, a near miracle in an era when large staking syndicates have shrunk to only a handful of backers. And even those horse owners with the cash were reluctant to put a half of million dollars in play especially on the second day of the WSOP. One well-known staking syndicate offered to put players into a $1,500 satellite but refused funding the full 40K buy-in.
And a few wise folks like Rafe Furst skipped the tournament at the last second. Gus Hansen was also noticeably absent. The Great Dane has a 900K bet on Rafael Nadal to win the French Open. He's watching the games live from Roland Garros. As soon as Hansen collects his winnings, he'll show up in Las Vegas. Until then, Hansen's mind is on two things... playing the French version of Guess Her Muff and Sweating his bet.
The big dogs played. As expected. Texas Dolly. Phil Ivey. Barry Greenstein. Daniel Negreanu.
The former world champions were in also attendance... Johnny Chan. Phil Hellmuth. Chris Moneymaker. Greg Raymer. Joe Hachem. Jesus. Jim Bechtel. Scotty Nguyen. Peter Eastgate. Huck Seed.
And as expected several young internet players were well represented... durrrr, amak316, Adam Junglen, ActionJeff, BoostedJ, westmenloAA, r1nnyraid, Chris Moorman, LarsLusak, ansky, whiteline, tsarrast, adz124, Vivek Rajkumar, good2cy, crazymarco, krisqueen, RaSZi, Alex Jacob, mig.com, MrSmokey1, David Baker, and OMGClayAiken.
And of course, there were a few pros (cough, Doug Lee) who you looked at and thought, "How the hell did you find $40,000 to buy into this event?"
It was a festive moment as players took their seats at the start of Event #2. Many of them had not seen each other in months. It was a reunion of sorts as the biggest sharks in poker returned to the Rio in search of a bracelet and a victory in one of the few events recorded by 441 Productions and televised on ESPN. For some unknown reason, there was a nasty rumor floating around the internet forums that ESPN was skipping both the $40K NL and the 50K HORSE. Although the HORSE event will not be on ESPN, the $40K will be televised as scheduled.
Anyway, while the pros were giving each other hugs and joking around, Jeff Lisandro's outfit was the first thing that caught my eye. The always-intimidating Aussie pro via Salerno, Sicily looked like the bag guy who used to collect debts for the local bookie at my old man's favorite bar in the Bronx. Lisandro wore a silk striped shirt. I couldn't tell if he was a referee for the Lingerie Bowl or a member of Vito Corleone's crew. He wore an old school bowler hat and I wondered if he carried around a wad of cash or a pair of brass knuckles underneath.
Tony G made jumped out to an early lead when he crippled a French-Canadian pro named Erik Cajelais. The G had a 300K stack before Phil Hellmuth made his way to the Rio. The G would remain in the front of the pack for the entire afternoon and most of the evening. At one point, the G challenged Corey Zeidman to a $100K basketball prop bet involving a three-point and free throw shooting contest.
Hellmuth finally arrived several hours late but shockingly without any sort of pomp or circumstance. Supposedly, Hellmuth underwent sensitivity training with Harrah's staff in order to improve his behavior at the tables. Perhaps that included a lesson in low-key entrances. Although Hellmuth didn't exactly sneak in the Amazon Ballroom, he carried along a copy of his latest book.
Hellmuth was one of 112 casualties on Day 1. Chris Moneymaker was not one of them. He was more than a survivor and ended Day 1 second in chips behind Bruno Fitoussi. Moneymaker's performance was one of the stories that developed late in the evening. Despite getting Aces cracked in the early going, he slowly grinded his way towards the front pack. When play was stopped, Moneymaker had over 800K in chips.
With the top 27 players getting paid prize money with $1,891,012 going to the winner. Moneymaker would love to get his hands on that loot along with a second bracelet and chance to get the monkey off his back. Was 2003 a total fluke? Or can Moneymaker conjure enough mojo to go deep and make the final table where anything can happen.
Bouncin Round the Room on Day 2...
"I was just offered $5K to shave half the beard," bragged Andy Black.
Andy Black almost considered taking the bet from an extremely vocal Bobby Suer. Black showed up with a bushy beard and wearing Birkenstocks with baby blue socks underneath. He could have walked right out of the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert. Shit, I might have even bought a hit of liquid sunshine off him on Phish tour. It looked like Andy Black had not shaved in a year.
Andy Black seriously looked like a member of the Irish-Taliban. I'm shocked that he was able to bypass our stringent immigration officers. They must have been poker fans otherwise they would have tossed Andy Black into Gitmo at the first glimpse of him.
Photo credit: PokerNews
Eskimo Update: One of the French reporters mentioned that he spotted a languid Eskimo sitting on a bench in front of the Everest Poker suite. Supposedly, the suite serves free breakfast every morning. Last year, Eskimo was always one of the first people in line to eat. This year, he has serious competition. He's not the only one waiting on free food. Hundreds of broke-dick players camped outside the Rio in tents while waiting to play in the $1K Donkulus (Stimulus Package + Donkament = Slaughter). They can't afford hotel rooms (even though there are plenty of cheap deals all around town) and they barely scratched together the buy-in for the reduced $1K event. They have been standing in lines resembling bread lines from Communist Russia or in America during the height of the Great Depression. Eskimo usually waited at the head of the lengthy line.
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