Los Angeles, CA
The WSOP Main Event officially returned to ESPN a few weeks ago, but I missed the first two weeks of action due to a vacation in Colorado and New York the last two Tuesdays -- far away from a TV set and millions of miles away from this solar system. Poker was the last thing on my mind marinated in extraterrestrial substances, which is why the DVR is a godsend. Upon my return to the City of Angels, I carefully loaded up my favorite smoking vessel with some of the finest herbs in the shire, sunk deep into the couch, and fired up all of the Main Event episodes that I missed. I finally caught up on the opening four episodes that captured the mayhem and excitement during the opening four Day 1s of the Main Event.
Break Time During the Main Event
Photo credit: Wolynski/Vegas Images
Just like in real life, I barely paid attention to the Day 1 action. Nothing really happens...well I should clarify... thousands of players from all walks of life were taking their one shot at the big time. Aside from the Amazon Ballroom and the Pavilion being packed with dreamers in pursuit of $9 million, the biggest stories don't really emerge until a week into the Main Event when the field gets parsed down to a few hundred players. Plenty of seeds are planted on the opening days, and you so your best to keep an eye on those potential bombshells, but aside from Hellmuth's grandiose (and a tad tiresome) entrance and a bunch of celebrities lighting their money on fire, there's really nothing to report at the end of am opening flight on Day 1.
Covering Day 1s of the Main Event is like trying to watch a pot of water boil... you're just going to be staring into a bunch of nothingness until things heat up. Despite the lack of exhilarating drama, the gang at 441 Productions still whipped up a couple of edible side stories and compelling back stories, and they added extra features to enhance the coverage of the Main Event. They are always topping themselves and setting higher standards for televised poker. This year, the producers at 441 added seating positions to the graphics, and they also introduced the common online tracking term of "VPIP" to the televised poker audience. Wondering how long it will take before it becomes a part of the "mainstream" poker vernacular?
Of course, not every viewer is going to understand the term VPIP, which means I'll get a call from my mother at some point in the next week who will drunkenly ramble on in a thick Bronx accent, "I watched the poker on ESPN the other day. I thought I saw you in the background. Why do you wear a jacket? I thought it's fucking 130 degrees in Vegas in the summers? And you're jacket is wrinkled. I could see it with that new HD thing-a-ma-jig. You need to take it to the cleaners. So what's this fucking VIVIP they're talking about? And why does that chatterbox Daniel Negranny guy who won't stop talking all the time have such a shitty VIVIP?"
I'll be screening her call. Obviously.
On Tuesday night, I watched episodes 5 and 6 of the Main Event which focused solely on Day 2A. This year's Day 2A was comprised of players who survived Day 1A and Day 1C (not like Day 1A and 1B in previous years). PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu held court on the featured TV table, while Full Tilt's Patrik Antonius chilled out at an outer secondary table.
Have You Met My Model Friend?
Antonius is one of the most quiet players in the room. Most Fins are overly quiet, which means that Antonius is not what you would call "good for TV" because he's not controversial and rarely speaks, however, he's pretty to look at. I watched these episodes with Change100 and she was hurling cat calls at the TV whenever Antonius appeared. If you don't know, Antonius is a former model and good friends with my buddy Snoopy (he's from England and one of my favorite scribes). Well, back in the day when they were teenagers, Snoopy and Antonius were underwear models together traipsing around Europe showing off their goodies. I heard a sultry rumor that Antonius used to stuff a sock in his nut-huggers to appear more... rugged. They both drifted apart from the modeling scene, but reunited in poker a decade later. Every once in a while you'll hear Snoopy introduce Antonius as, "My modeling friend... Patrik."
Photo Credit: Flipchip/LasVegasVegas.com
The best part of this photo? Timtern in the background trying to hide a spume of excitement being so close to Antonius.
Former Gods Among Mortals
A few former champions were still alive at the start of Day 2A and they garnered well-deserved coverage -- Chris Moneymaker, Johnny "Fucking" Chan, Scptty Nguyen, and Joe Cada all had secondary units hovering over their tables. Darvin Moon had stopped by Cada's table even though he was not supposed to play until Day 2B. When Cada asked him about his progress, Moon shot back with a self-deprecating, "I got a lot of chips on another Darvin Moon special."
Johnny 'Fucking' Chan was not the only former pro without a sponsorship from an online poker room. Robert Varkonyi showed up without any patches from major gaming sites, but that was expected because he's not what you would call "marketable" or the perfect pitch man. For someone of Chan's stature (ten bracelets and the last player to win back-to-back Main Events), you would have expected one of the online rooms to gobble him up. Alas, Chan had took a shot at his own poker room many moon agos. Remember Chan Poker? Well, that was one of the many business deals that fell apart on Chan's watch. He can play cards, but his business acumen is suspect. For now, Chan has been shilling his own fledgling attempt to corner the energy drink market with his third-rate sugar water called "All-In Energy Drink." Where can you actually buy that Diabetes-inducing sludge? Last I heard, a bunch of tweakers broke into the warehouse and stole the last batches of the energy drink in a weak attempt to use it as a main ingredient to cook up a fresh batch of old-school Nazi crank.
Background Blenders and TV Whores
Early on in the episode, one of the funnier moments was seeing two of my friends, Timtern and Benjo, intensely covering a hand involving Scotty Nguyen. They were frantically scribbling down the action as Scotty avoided an elimination and doubled up. During the WSOP coverage, I often find myself ignoring the poker action and allowing my eyes to wander to the background. I'm more interested in figuring out which one of my friends are lurking or wandering through the tables. Friends of mine also like to lampoon those media members who are mugging for TV time and purposely stand in the shot and/or wear bright colors. I do my best to stay out of way of the cameras mainly because the cameramen can often get surly after lugging around heavy equipment all day and no one wants to go heads-up against a charging rhinoceros. As a veteran of these close quarter skirmishes, the optimal place to stand is right behind the sound guys and the boom mic because that guarantees I'll be out of the shot. That specific placement around a crowded table keeps the producers happy especially because I try to wear dark clothes to blend into the background in order to minimize the amount of time my ugly mug is shown on TV.
The March of the Mizrachis
As expected, the Mizrachi clan was well represented this episode. Both the Grinder and Robert were playing on Day 2A and at one point, they were seated at adjacent tables. Even if they did not make deep runs, the Mizrachi clan was going to be one of the many stories told after both of them made the final table of the 50K Players' Championship. Luckily for all parties involved -- all four brothers cashed with the Grinder advancing all the way to the November Nine. At this point going forward, you have to expect some part of the Mizrachi storyline to pop up every ten or so minutes.
Dannypalooza and Racial Profiling of Scandis
The primary focus of the episodes? Daniel Negreanu. At this point in his career, people either love Danny Boy or they can't stand him. Regardless, he's a heavy fan favorite and a big draw. Danny Boy knows the drill when he's seated at a TV table. He's there to entertain the masses. He's always been a bit of a class clown so he shines and thrives on these moments when he gets to have center stage all to himself. He was in typical form on Day 2 with lots of excessive verbal jousting, including unleashing his internal dialogue while the hand is in progress, and other random Danny Boy shtick like trying to put his opponents on specific hands.
His tablemates were not about to cower in the corner over his presence. The opposite took effect and they went after him. The first amateur who took a shot at Danny Boy was a former hedge fund manager. He attempted a move but Danny scoffed at the bully and countered with a four-bet shove. One of the announcers uttered... "hedge fund manager drawing dead"... which made me chuckle. That could have been something out of a nightly business report 18 months ago when almost every hedge fund manager on Wall Street I knew was considering faking their own deaths, while firing their maids and putting their Connecticut summer homes on the market.
Returning to the Daniel Negreanu show on the Main Stage (this is starting to sound more like a music festival than a poker tournament -- I guess that makes the Mizrachis the Jackson Five and Daniel Negreanu is David Bowie.... "Ground Control to Major Tom..."), Danny Boy remarked that playing the entire WSOP is a tough friggin' grind. In the past he's been "a little out of gas" once the Main Event rolls around. That's the most difficult and challenging aspect of the WSOP -- you want to play as many events and win as much money as you can before the Main Event because it's such a crapshoot, but you want to save a little energy leftover just in case you run good in the Main Event. As friends of mine of played in the Main Event and cashed have told me -- it's not easy playing the best poker of your life every day for almost two weeks.
Danny Boy still had his hands full with his table. The latest amateur to take a shot at him was a high school principal named Marvin who could have been an extra from No Country for Old Men. The cagey codger pushed Danny around and he folded. "Befuddled" was by Lon to describe Danny's reaction. The old guy instilled the fear of God into Danny, but he used a bit of racial profiling at the tables in order to figure out which players he should avoid. Danny had a theory that anyone who was under 25 in the Main Event was dangerous. He pointed at one young man who admitted he was 22.
"You're good, right? You're young... and Swedish," said Danny Boy who wanted no business with a big-stacked Scandi, until he made a bad move and attempted to slow play Aces like a Eurodonk. Danny's 10-10 ended up being gold after he "floppen a setten." Scandi down after Danny Boy stacked him and snapped off Aces.
Chess whiz Jeff Sarwer got integrated into the coverage which also meant that Norm bombarded us with horrendous chess cliches whenever Sarwer was involved in a hand. If you missed Sarwer's couch interview, or even if you saw it, you should watch it again. It was one of the more astute interviews I had seen as he spoke candidly about the similarities between poker and chess and more importantly about life and poker. He spouted off Zen-like observations like that people have the tendency to "hide fears and intentions in life." Man, that's some heavy stuff, brah. His applied chess strategy seemed so simple, "You choose the route most uncomfortable for your opponent." And his overall philosophy on his first WSOP was inspiring, "I'm here to have fun and potentially learn something."
GG vs. Scotty
The funniest moment of the night included a hand with a former colleague, Garry Gates. The announcers incorrectly identified him as "poker blogger Garry Gates." Garry will be the first one to tell you that he doesn't even have a blog. He used to be John Caldwell's right hand man at Poker News as the head of Tournament Reporting before he moved onto to better and brighter things with PokerStars. When he was still at the helm, Garry actually hired me to cover the LAPT Mexico -- which subsequently got raided by the federales. Someone in the upper echelons of the government didn't get their wheels greased, so the federales seized the tables, chips, and even the film equipment (from the same 441 Productions crew that shoots the WSOP). For the next two days, I sat around in limbo with Otis, Change100, Joe Giron, and the entire Costa Rican media. So, to bide our time, we drank tequila and Sol beer at the all-inclusive resort in Neuvo Vallarta as we anxiously wondered if the federales were going to permit the tournament to continue, or of they were gonna throw all of us into prison.
If there's anything I learned on my international travels it's this -- if potentially faced with imprisonment in a foreign country... drink heavily.
Anyway, Garry's elimination hand got included in the broadcast when he went to battle against Scotty Nguyen in a classic race -- flipping coins with K-9 against Scotty's baby pair of fours. Garry could not catch an overcard and he was dunzo...but not without a crack from the announcers that he was going to "blog about is own elimination." Garry walked away with his pretty Aussiegirlfriend, Lynn, and a swanky red Poker Stars schwagg bag that they were giving out on the NAPT. He hooked me up with one at Mohegan Sun before the WSOP began.
The Case for Bringing Back the All-In Chip
The biggest hand that Chris Moneymaker was involved in had taken so long that it spilled over into the break. He didn't hear the call of "all-in" from his opponent and was wandering around for five minutes before he decided to call the clock. His opponent, who had been sitting still the entire time, piped up, "I moved all-in five minutes ago. I was about to call the clock on you." Moneymaker experienced one of those no-duh moments, just like what happened to him and Johnny "Fucking" Chan many moon ago. Yep, total brain fart there. Someone has been smoking too much weed or someone needs to pronunciate an all-in call with the vigor of a Shakespearean actor. Next time, scream the fucking words.
No Kicks for You
Heather Sue Mercer was one of the females who drew a significant amount of time this week. She's most famous for being a place kicker and wanted to play for Duke, but the officials conspired against her. She launched a discrimination case against the university which has now become fodder for law students. I first came across Mercer at a Borgata tournament when she final tabled the Ladies Event in January 2006. Four years later, she's getting an exclusive couch interview during the Main Event. Heh, if you stay around in poker long enough, everyone will get their fifteen minutes of fame. Just ask Dennis Suharto.
Before I go, here's one last item of note... Bakes finally got some love. David "Bakes" Baker's bracelet victory was briefly mentioned during B-roll of the star-studded Deuce-to-Seven final table. Bakes' girlfriend, spicy Brazilian dish Maridu, along with his former poker coach Vanessa Selbst were on the rail sweating his epic run.
Day 2A is in the books and has been entombed into ESPN's archives.
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You can check out Tao of Poker's coverage of that day including the 2010 WSOP Main Event Day 2A Semi-Live Blog and end of day recap titled 2010 WSOP Day 43: Moneymaker - The Shadow of a Dream.
Don't forget about episodes of the Tao of Pokerati podcast that Michalski, Benjo, and I recorded live from the floor of the Rio.
For more of your Main Event fix, visit the Tao of Poker's Index of WSOP coverage.