Las Vegas, NV
For less than 0.5% of the entire population of Earth, that's chump change. The majority of the world is so poor that they can even phantom how much $10,000 could change their lives, let alone $9 million.
It's a little absurd to fawn over $9 million when we're bogged down in two wars and an environmental disaster that lasted longer than the seven-week long WSOP extravaganza. Then again, does it really matter? If it's gonna be the end of the world, why not go out with a fucking bang?
Some mornings I struggle to convince myself that what I was doing mattered now and in the big picture. The last thing I wanted to do was waste a good morning buzz on the arduous march across scorched earth from the parking lot to the back door of the Rio as a triple digit temperatures nuked the asphalt and you can't walk fast enough before the rubber soles of your shoes become goo.
Why the fuck am I in the middle of the dessert when it's 117 degrees outside? It's not like I'm playing for a shot at $9 million. In this shitty economy, I'd be lucky if I walked away with enough scratch for a seat to the big dance next summer. My only motivation was the curiosity that abounds when I have a chance to get a close up look at thousands of people in pursuit of $9 million.
At the same time, my ego gets lavishly stroked when I know that I'm part of a larger conspiracy to brainwash the masses. Poker is not like professional sports where the next stars come up the ranks of a minor league system or a collegiate sports. Stars become superstars by a combination of two things: talent and exposure.
Phil Ivey is a superstar because he's one of the best players who ever lived AND the media makes sure everyone knows that. I know a dozen or so high caliber players who can hold their own with Ivey, but you've never heard of them because they don't play on TV. Usually the ones who do gain notoriety without TV are mythical online players. Back when I started playing online poker, SpiritRock and Erik123 were the big dogs. Five years later, they both appeared on TV and a wider audience got to have the images of Prahlad Friedman and Erik Sagstrom etched into their memory banks. That's the thing -- the poker community is small in some ways but the pool of players is vast with a tiny percentage of pros who get 90% of the exposure.
So whenever I get to cover an international tournament, I'm excited to scout some of the local talent. No matter if it's Budapest or Punte del Este, if you walk the floor with a local poker reporter, they will happily point out "biggest cash game player" and "best young online pro" from that particular country. That's how I got to see Finland's Patrik Antonius (2005 EPT Barcelona) before he ever appeared on High Stakes Poker, or most recently Argentina's Nacho Barbero (2009 LAPT Mar del Plata). The one player I was dying to watch play live for the first time was Norwegian wunderkind Annette Obrestad, which I got to do at the 2007 EPT Grand Finale in Monte Carlo (same tournament when I saw Johnny Lodden for the first time). Even after she busted, curious spectators and press sweated her when she played in a side event. I mean, how many people do you know get forty railbirds in a second chance tournament?
It's hard for me to look back at a time when I was giddy at the sight of a "pro that I used to see on TV." It had to be way before I moved to Vegas... say the fall of 2003 when I saw Chris Moneymaker at Foxwoods. All I kept thinking at the time... "Man, I'm so much taller than this dude." In 2004, my brother and I flew out to Vegas at the same time as the WPT Championship. We stopped by the Bellagio to sweat the action as one of those enthusiastic and slaw-jawed yokels on the rail that I poke fun of in my recaps. When I saw Phil Hellmuth, I told him that I read his book. He told me, "That's nice." Ben Affleck was playing in the tournament. During a break, the actor and Ocar winning screenwriter told me a bad beat story. No bullshit. All I kept thinking was, "Wow, you're not as tall as you look in the movies." My brother found himself right behind Scotty Nguyen (back in the old poker room at the Bellagio when they had exits on the side corners). My brother was smoking a cigarette while Scotty won a hand and he reached back and gave my brother a high five before Scotty asked to bum a smoke off him. My bro felt like he was a seven-year-old kid who got to feed sardines to Shamu at Sea World.
Day 7 and 8 of the Main Event are vital in the November Nine era because those are the chances where I can look back and pinpoint the first time I watched the next world champion play a hand. Sure, I might have seen them play in the preliminaries -- like in 2005 when Joe Hachem bubbled off a final table of a rebuy event -- but it's the Main Event that really counts. In 2005, when the final 27 players got moved down to Benny's Bullpen at the Horseshoe, it was hard to sweat the final three tables due to the lack of space. I really don't recall any specific Hachem hands until the final table.
In 2006, Jamie Gold showed his cards and talked shit against his opponents as early as Day 3 when he amassed a monster stack.
In 2007, it was during the final three tables when I saw this little Asian dude who looked like Yoda and was praying at the table. He won the hand and I sarcastically predicted the future when I said, "Yoda's gonna be our next champion."
In 2008, I went to sweat my buddy Iggy on Day 1 of the Main Event. In an odd coincidence, he was seated at the same table as another friend, Lana. Also at the table? Peter Eastgate. "Who's the crazy Euro?" wondered Iggy on one of his breaks. I didn't have a clue, but watched him play a few hands and just destroy a couple of weekend warriors who didn't know how to handle the hyper-aggressive Scandi. At the time, I didn't make anything of it because it was only Day 1 and Scandis are known to crash and burn after building a mönsterstäcken.
Last year, I accidentally saw a hand with Cada on Day 8. I was sweating Ivey, but came across a heads-up hand with Nick 'FU_15' Maimone and Cada.
And this year? Who knows who that will be. I saw a few of note on Day 7 including one hand that absolutely altered the entire direction of the tournament. I'm talking about the hand between Theo Jorgensen and Cuong "Some People Call be Soi" Nguyen. I almost missed it and only a dozen or so people witnessed probably the most crucial hand of the tournament thus far. I only saw it because I was on my way out to go to dinner when a raising war broke out. It started out as a three-way pot. A player (I think it was Brandon Steven) in middle position opened for a raise and Theo (small blind) and Nguyen (big blind) both called. The flop was K-9-5 with two clubs. The blinds both checked, and original raiser c-bet for a half mil. Theo called but Nguyen check-raised to 1.5 million. Original raiser bailed and Theo tanked for a few minutes before he re-raised Nguyen to 4 million (he went for the old Norse trick in a multi-way pot -- the rare but diabolical check/call/re-raise play). Nguyen shoved for 7.5 million. Theo had him covered by almost 3 million, and was committed with Ac-3c and his nut flush draw. Nguyen showed Kx-Jc, and Theo had a couple of more outs with an overcard. Holy ape tits, Batman! Only in Las Vegas will you see a Scandi chasing a flush draw in a 20 million pot against an amateur pushing his entire tournament life on top par with a so-so kicker. The turn was the 10d and the river was a baby diamond. No overs. No clubs. Theo's head sunk into his chest as he began to pull out columns of chips to pass over to Nguyen. If Theo had any thoughts in his head, he might have been saying, "I wish I skipped the last hand to take a piss."
The hand didn't exactly cripple Theo. He was left with around 3 million or so and at least 30 BBs, but he went from the chipleader to the back of the pack.
After the dinner break, Theo Jorgensen got moved to the TV table where The Grinder was holding court in front of a SRO crowd. Theo could not get anything going. He busted out with A-K against John Racener's A-Q. Tough break for Theo Jorgensen as he exited in 30th place.
Shortly before the dinner break, you could have polled everyone in the press and they would have said that with 40+ players to go and sitting on the big stack, Theo Jorgensen was a lock for the November Nine.
But one hand changed everything.
If Cuong Nguyen ends up winning the 2010 WSOP Main Event, we're all going to look back at that decisive hand against Theo where he avoided elimination and rocketed into the chip lead, in the first Darvin Moon type hand of the Main Event. Alas, Nguyen thwarted a main component of a Scandi advance to the November Nine.
Johnny Lodden couldn't get anything going on Day 7. He made the cut, but clawed his way all day with a medium and later on with a short stack. William Thorson had a shot at the lead at one point, but by the time the day had ended, he slipped. So much for the Scandi Sleeper Cell -- only three remain and they are all in the bottom third of the field.
Despite winning the mönsterpötten against Theo, Cuong Nguyen coughed up the lead to Joe 'subiime' Cheong. He finished up second though.
The top 10 in chips includes all three remaining Canadians, not to mention two French-Canadians. Only 6 Europeans are left, and only 1, Filippo Candio from Italy, sits in the Top 10. Some of the more well-known players (and a couple of bracelet winners) -- The Grinder, Scott Clements, David Baker, and Adam Levy -- are all in the middle of the pack.
Well it seems as though the Scandis are struggling and not as intimidating as they were 24 hours earlier, but they still have one more day to make a run at the final table. But even if they do mount a comeback, it will be overshadowed by the Grinder Show. He's going to take center stage for a second time. No one has won a Players' Champion and a Main Event in the same year. Maybe it's the Grinder's turn to make history? He has one more day to prove that he's worthy at a shot at $9 million in November.
Here's a list of end of Day 6 chip counts.
Here's a list of 2010 WSOP Main Event money winners.
And if you like what I've written, then please buy my book: Lost Vegas.