Las Vegas, NV
The civilian army of spectators trickled down the corridors of the convention center. Some took a scenic route through the Pavilion and marveled at the space larger than a football field with flags of the world hanging from the rafters in a warehouse facility, airplane hangar, or whatever you want to call it.
On some days, during the 3,000 field events, the gigantic Pavilion becomes the largest barn in the Western United States. When you head to Las Vegas, you never thought you'd play in a poker tournament and visit the zoo at the same time, yet that's what happens when you gather up thousands of poker players, many of whom are suffocating under the bitch end of the bell curve.
Call them whatever you want..
Emus. Fish. Donkeys. Monkeys. Ocelots. Sheep. Lemurs.
They all get led to the slaughter. Flashback to the 2008 WSOP when I was hopped up on pain pills after a car accident and I gazed out into the Amazon Ballroom at the thousands of players filled with blind ambition but unable to survive the killing fields. They were busting at such a rapid pace, the press were scrambling to come up with a proper formula for Donkey Liquidifcation. To this day, that exact formula that Benjo came up with (consulting the Chen 2000 supercomputer) is still in use.
I dubbed the room the Killing Fields in my notes. The metaphor stuck. The French press describe it as... Le Boucherie... or simply put, the butcher shop. The bloody oblivion. Shamus was covering Day 2 of the Donkulus and at one point he mentioned that the meatgrinder was churning our ground donks at a rate of one every thirty seconds. No shinola.
Day 2 of the TOC seemed to be the main focus of everyone at the WSOP, at least that's why the fans flocked to the Amazon Ballroom. As the TOC ran, I realized that those were just two tables in a entire convention center full of nonstop poker. The most popular bracelet winners were playing for the cameras (and live ESPN3 feed with excellent commentary from Adam Schoenfeld, James Hartigan and Lee Jones -- which by the way was the supreme highlight of the TOC. That is the future of the WSOP. I hope more events get covered in that manner. Of course, it's a money thing, but there's hope that someday every single final table will be streamed somewhere on the intertubes. Even if you have to get Chico's Bailbonds and Juggs Magazine to sponsor one of the broadcasts).
Sorry for that tangent... anyway, the TOC players were just 20 or so players in a room of a thousand or more. I had one of those metaphysical moments where the collective conciousness of the WSOP outweighed the frenzy over the TOC tables. After all, the buzzing and hum of the packed Amazon Ballroom really caught my attention. It was a rare sight, sound, feeling during this summer. With the Pavilion hosting all of the Day 1s of the noon events (and essentially all of the massive field NL events), the Amazon lost some of it's kinetic energy.
Although some of the more crucial moments of the tournaments are played out inside the Amazon Ballroom, fewer tables are utilized during the pursuit of immortality. The Amazon is much quieter and lacked the electricity and life force of previous years. Even with a flashmob of Brazilians causing a commotion around a final table, that noise is contained to one part of the room. On some nights, the room seems rather dull, with all the zest and vigor (of cash games and satellites) completely extracted. It reminded me of a library a few times.
If you're not playing in one of the 5pm fetish events, then chances are you (as a player) won't set foot inside the Amazon Ballroom unless you advance to a Day 2. I haven't seen some pros, friends, and even some random people people yet this summer because they have not gotten as far as a day 2. Yeah, it's kinda sad, but a sobering reality. Amazon is usually reserved for the Top 10% because that's where the money bubble usually bursts -- inside the Amazon Ballroom.
By Day 32 of the WSOP, everyone has officially passed the "month" long mark of the WSOP. Any donuts and zeros at this point have to wear you down. Most of those people are tough to be around and you have to tip toe on eggshells because their egos and bankrolls are fragile. And if they can't get anything going during the Main Event, then this summer was a complete waste (and demoralizing black hole of debt). I guess the only solace is the "Donut Mantra" which is...
"I'm saving up all my run good for the Main Event."The Amazon Ballroom had a "big day" feel on Day 32 even though it was an invisible Monday on the schedule. The TOC brought out the gawkers and fans, while Day 2 of the four day Donkulus filled most of the tables in the room, while the Pavilion was a cattle call with one of the last Boucheries on the schedule. My new nickname for Donkaments are Boucheries. (The $1,000 discounted events will always be a Donkulus in my book).
Early on Day 2 (so early that it was the first hand of the TOC restart), Doyle Brunson busted out. The ensuing eliminations did not happen as fast. Eventually Joe Cada, Mike Sexton, sponsor exemption Andrew Barton, and Dan Harrington were weeded out by mid-afternoon. The worrisome slowdown in bustouts meant that a potential threat loomed -- plenty of poker left to be played but not enough time to play it.
The last week before the Main Event is insanely hectic, crazy, and a blurry whirlwind. Besides all of the drama surrounding the Big Dance, this is the time of WSOP when parties crop up and everyone blows off a ton of steam after a long summer. On the other end of the spectrum, the week before the Main Event is peak season for hallway dealings and other business-related opportunities pertaining to the poker industry. Plus, every day more and more press (domestic and international) are arriving for the first time this summer. This is prime interview season. And, shit needs to get pimped, shilled, and whored out. If anything, this is really the busiest time of year when it should be the most relaxing.
No wonder, the TOC seems like it's more of nuisance than a celebration. What sounded good in theory ended up on the shit end of bad timing, or poor scheduling. In retrospect, the TOC should have happened at the start of the WSOP and allowed ESPN to piggyback taping of that with the 50K 8-Game. With the TOC kicking off the WSOP (sort of like having an All-Star Game as the last game of Spring Training), none of the pros would have had any scheduling conflicts.
After two brief sessions, 17 players still remain with a final table scheduled for filming on July 4th. Originally, the plan was to play for 27 to 9 on Sunday, but that got axed midway through the series. The current plan is to play at 7pm on 7/3 after Ante Up for Africa ends, and hopefully they can get down to a final nine (with conditional terms if no one is playing in the 25K 6-handed event). The tentative TOC schedule is subject to change -- heck, it could have changed twice while I wrote this sentence, decisions these days are floating around in the wind like that plastic bag in American Beauty.
The delayed TOC won't quite be like the snoozer of a durrrr Challenge that took forever to play out (wait, aren't they still doing that?). Look, I know that finding time to play at this juncture of the WSOP is tough. The worse case scenario? Playing early early early on July 4th. That notion irked Mike Matusow.
"What the fuck?" he protested. "Playing thirteen hours on July 4th? Who wants to do that? Everyone has parties to go to. No one wants to play for thirteen hours. That'll suck. I got parties."
Matusow was one of the few pros who wanted to keep playing on, but Hellmuth had chips in a different event and preferred to devote his time to a bracelet event instead of the TOC freeroll. He moaned about losing his buy-in in the donkament if they kept playing.
"Jesus Christ," screamed Matusow. "Phil, if you want, I'll give you $1,500 back if that'll keep you playing."
Hellmuth refused to budge. The TOC did not deter Antonio Esfandiari from multi-tabling inside the Amazon Ballroom. Luckily, his TOC table and his table in the Donkulus were somewhat close to each other. He sprinted back and forth in an attempt to build a stack before the money bubble burst in the Donkulus.
Last names, like Esfandiari, became fodder for prop bets with Scotty Nguyen. He failed to spell Allen Cunningham's last name correctly in addition to Esfandiari and had to ship some cash across the table. Nguyen was much more... sober... than the day before. Night and day. Someone mentioned that he was on medication -- maybe he is but if you have just one cocktail on certain types of meds -- it's trouble and you become a puddle of mush. Who knows (aside from Scotty) what really happened on Sunday, but he was much more coherent on Monday afternoon.
The final two tables were located in closer proximity to one another, with fans glued to both. About a dozen or so spectators who hung out in the beef jerky lounge had a perfect spot and could keep an eye on both tables. I tried to position myself there for a bit. One thing is for sure -- the autograph hounds were out in force. A few old ladies were running around on breaks trying to get pros to sign their freshly-purchased WSOP t-shirts.
The day ended with Mike Matusow as the chipleader. Huck Seed and Johnny Chan are not far behind Matusow. Who knows when everyone will play next? I guess we'll find out on July 3rd at 7pm...
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 32....
Although I skipped the opening festivities of the "final" Boucherie of the Main Event (there's one more Donkulus on the bill right before the Main Event), I got word from Jack Effel that they were setting aside a moment of silence in remembrance of Amir Vahedi, who passed away in January. In addition to the bracelet and buckets full of cash, the winner of the Boucherie would also be awarded a box of St. Luis Rey Rothchilde cigars -- Vahedi's personal favorite.
On a good note, veteran poker scribe and former WSOP media director, Mike Paulle, made a Day 2 and cashed in the Donkulus. He said that was the first (open) event he played since the WSOP was moved to the Rio -- and he cashed -- so he's going to retire from WSOP altogether.
Event #48 Mixed Games Day 3 and Final Table: The only final table of the day on the schedule and it was one of those final tables that didn't get set until.... They might have to start schedule four-day events otherwise get rid of this 12-hour rule.
Jesse Martin began Day 3 in the Top 5 in chips. When action consolidated to two tables, he found himself in a tough spot (Scott Seiver, Matt Vengrin, Todd Brunson, Kirk Morrison). Even if he was at the other table (Alex KGB, Nacho Barbero, Steve Sung), he wouldn't get a respite. Over a dozen of the final 18 players were tough as shit. Martin ran into some trouble in a hand against Jared Jaffe. He busted out soon after in 13th place. LAPT legend Nacho Barbero from Argentina missed the final table and was knocked out in 12th place. Meanwhile, Alex 'KGB' Kravchenko quietly went out in 11th.
When the "official" final table was set, Steve Sung was out in front with the lead ahead of the likes of Matt "Plattsburgh" Vengrin, Scott Seiver, Jared Jaffee,and another Russian Kirill Rabtsov. Sung drew the most "well known" railbirds -- a mixture of LA-based players and other friends.
With three players to go, the unknown Scandi, Sigurd Eskeland, had more than 50% of the chips in play. Sung was in second place, but still alive. He had experience on his side. He's been a WSOP closer before and knows what it takes to finish off a final table. Despite the deficit, Sung had the edge, especially with the majority of the games limit.
Sung found himself heads-up with the Scandi and sitting with a 2-1 chip discrepancy. But he could not string together enough run good, and it took a bad beat to send Sung to the rail in second place, as Sigurd Eskeland took down the bracelet.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.