Las Vegas, NV
Varkonyi will always be lost in the shadow of Moneymaker
I have always felt a tinge of sorrow for Robert Varkonyi. He totally missed the boat and won the last Main Event in 2002 before the poker boom. Even after he had won, his moment of glory was upstaged by Phil Hellmuth's bold wager to shave his head if Varkonyi won (after Varoknyi sent him packing on a sick beat -- Q-10 vs. A-K). I guess that incident set the tone for his championship.
Do you recall the 2003 WSOP broadcasts from The Horseshoe? Varkonyi had a "coach" with him and he still couldn't make it to Day 2. One of the saddest moments in WSOP broadcast history was watching Varkonyi do the walk of shame out of the Horseshoe and onto sullen Fremont Street with his motley crew of an entourage (mostly math geeks and one guy who looked like he slept in the bus station next to the Plaza).
In subsequent years, the poker media and forum denizens has taken a few shots at Varkonyi, mostly unwarranted. During my first WSOP, one of the ESPN camera guys was busting on Varkonyi because he was bringing Starbucks to a friend of his at the featured TV table. At that point, I soon understood the tumultuous poker world -- one day you're the champ, and the next, you're fetching coffee for a friend at the TV table.
Yeah, the times are a changin'.
Varoknyi seems like a nice guy, a bit abrasive at times, which is to be expected for the unluckiest champion in the world. Compared to most of the douchenozzles who we fluff up on a daily basis, Varkonyi is a nice guy, which is why I even feel more empathy for his situation.
I always likened his tragic story to this -- imagine you're Robert Varkonyi and you get invited to a party. It's pretty cool and you catch a decent buzz but decide to leave early because you want to go home and catch Saturday Night Live. But as soon as you go home, the party picks up a notch, shit several notches: your buddy from college shows up with a kilo of uncut Peruvian snowflake, three kegs of Fat Tire, and the entire Swedish Bikini Team. An orgy of epic proportions ensues, they film it all, and everyone gets famous and rich while you're bummed out that SNL ended up being a repeat.
To complicate matters for Varkonyi, his wife Olga is a pretty decent player herself. I've seen her go deep in WSOP events before along with a few events at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. Nothing is more emasculating then getting pissed on for having a spouse who is better at poker than you -- especially when you have a banner hanging up in the corner of the Amazon Ballroom.
Speaking of which -- here's another sad Varkonyi story from a couple of years ago. He was trying to enter the Amazon Ballroom (at a time when spectators were banned from the room due to space constrictions) when an overzelaous security guard refused him entry. Varkonyi didn't argue with him and humbly waited. When someone passed by (I can't recall who -- a player, media member, or staff) and noticed Varkonyi waiting to enter, the person tapped the security guard on the shoulder and told him to take a peek inside and look up -- which he did and he saw Varkonyi's banner starring back at him. The guard apologized and let Varkonyi inside.
These days, Varkonyi gets stopped in the hallways of the Rio in a case of mistaken identity. They think he's Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler. They run up to him and make annoying chainsw-simulation sounds.
Like I said, he's the unluckiest champion in the world.
And let's add more salt to his already gaping wound -- it took over 2 hours for me to realize that he was sitting right in front of me at one of the tertiary feature tables. Varkonyi is easy to miss because he blended in very well. He wore a very plain looking outfit (sneakers, jeans, white polo shirt, and a NY Yankees hat) which is why it was easy to overlook him. At the same time, he didn't arrange an elaborate entrance.
Varkonyi was logoless. A few years back he had a small endorsement with a secondary online site, but after the UIEGA that deal fizzled out. These days, Varkonyi is just playing for himself. He's a man without an endorsement contract mainly because he's ignored by most of the media.ESPN sent out a crew to shoot a few seconds of b-roll, but aside from that brief instance, they ignored Varkonyi and focused on different players on Day 1D.
Varkonyi's wife bust out early and she wandered over to the rail to support her husband. She didn't move the rest of the night as Varkonyi finished up Day 1D with 41,025 in chips. The only other time that Varkonyi cashed in the Main Event was a semi-deep run in 2007 when he finished in 177th place. Last summer, he lost to Tom McEvoy heads-up in the WSOP Champions Invitational and missed out on the red Corvette.
This has been the summer of redemption for some players such as Dean Hamrick and The Grinder. Perhaps we can add Robert Varkonyi to that list? I know that I'm getting a little too ahead of myself here, after all we're still half-way through level 5 of a tournament that will run for another week. However, I gotta say that on Day 2B, I'll be pulling for the unluckiest underdog in poker -- Robert Varkonyi.
Photo credit: Mean Gene