Las Vegas, NV
If you wander into the Rio's Pavilion around 2:20pm or so on any given day, you will be treated with a bracelet ceremony at the front of the gigantic exhibition space that houses cash games, satellites, and Day 1s of the WSOP. The front stage displays brightly light shelves with shiny, sparkly WSOP bracelets -- the very reason why we're all at the Rio because it's all about the bling.
WSOP events have two distinct start times -- high noon and 5pm. The noon tournaments go on their first break around 2pm, so when everyone returns to their seats, action is paused for the bracelet ceremony, which kicks off with TD Jack Effel rocking the microphone. Sometimes I'm unable to get over to the Pavilion to watch the ceremony in person, but luckily the audio broadcast is pumped into the Amazon Ballroom. After TD Jack Effel presents the newly crowned champion with a bracelet and a Diamond Club Card, he says a few sycophantic words about the winner before their home country's national anthem is played.
I've heard the American anthem too many times to count, and like most Americans born after Tricky Dick's reign in the Oval Office, we're sorta non-committal about all things patriotic. I used to work in the World Trade Center, so I'm well aware of the patriotic fervor (and ensuing fear mongering) that swept trough America in the days after 9/11. Americans don't have the same nationalistic pride as other countries, which you will see (and hear) whenever a foreigner advances to a final table. Whether it's a Brazilian, Brit, German, Dutchie, Russian, or Frenchman -- their fellow countrymen and women show up in droves to cheer on their hero. And if they happen to ship a bracelet, it's not just a victory for the person -- it's also a victory for their country.
Midway through the third week of the WSOP, the Brits heard their anthem thrice. The Canadians and the French heard their respective anthems played at least twice, while the Russians got their anthem only once. Whenever I hear the Russian anthem, I get flashbacks of the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation (when it was still called WWF before the World Wildlife Foundation sued them for copyright infringement, and the name was changed to WWE). During the height of the Cold War, Nikolai Volkov was one of the bad guys in the wrestling universe. The Russian villain taunted WWF audiences by waving the old CCCP red flag -- the ominous hammer and sickle -- which represented the evils of communism. Volkov attempted to sing the Russian national anthem while the crowd drowned him out with a tsunami of boooooooos.
At the WSOP, it is customary for everyone to stand up when anthems are played, but not everyone follows suit. I always stand at attention (despite my obvious anti-establishment ways and my political leanings can be summed up as a Jeffersonian Anarchist) because my father was a United States Marine and my grandfather was a medic in WWII (the original Dr. McGuire, a true American hero, whereas I'm a fugazi doctor, more of a charlatan than anything else).
I'm a creature of habit. Whenever I hear the opening notes to the Star Spangled Banner, I place my right hand over my heart. Why? Out of respect --not just for my father and grandfather, but for all the men and women who defended, and currently defend, our country against tyranny and evil doers. Even though I never served in the military, I have the utmost respect for our veterans.
On any given day, about 75% of all tournament players stand for the anthems. I'd say less than 10% of those folks are actively paying attention, while the rest are dicking around on their smart phones, counting their chip stacks, or chatting with their neighbor.
However, on Day 18 I noticed something completely different -- almost 95% of the inhabitants of the Amazon Ballroom stood up (and more importantly, and almost all of them were attentive) for John Monnette's bracelet ceremony. I was running late to work and never made it to the Pavilion in time. I arrived shortly to the pressbox just as Jack Effel handed out a bracelet to Monnette and our national anthem echoed on the PA system.
So what was the fundamental difference of Day 18 compared to other days? The Seniors event.
Everyone in the filed was 50 years or old, and I'd say the median age is probably in the late 50s and early 60s. Many of the Seniors were former veterans. Some of the Tao's readers from Gen X, Y, and Z might not recall a time in America when men were conscripted by the draft. You didn't have a choice and had to serve in the military. I dunno what the exact breakdown of former vets playing in the Seniors event, but by looking out at the Amazon Ballroom, I noticed a strong sense of respect and reverence during the Star Spangled Banner. The Seniors were from a vastly different generation of sacrifice, humility, and honor. Many of the Baby Boomers ended up anti-war hippies from the Vietnam era and I'm sure a few of them might have headed to the Great White North to dodge the draft, but even those folks stood at attention.
At that moment, I felt guilty about all the Seniors jokes I've told or written over the years because it's really not cool to bust on veterans. They deserve more respect from a half-baked junkie like myself regurgitating Ben Gay and adult diaper jokes. So, for the first time since I began covering the WSOP, I shall refrain from snarking on old people.
Respect your elders... unless they try to run over you with one of their motorized scooters.
Seriously, I must have almost gotten run over a dozen times by runaway scooters driven by folks on the verge of senility. The scooters cluttered the hallway and on the rail. Eric Ramsey tipped me off that one scooter was missing and security investigated a potential theft. Who knows if someone actually stole a scooter, or if the old coot forgot where he parked it.
Speaking of absent-minded Seniors, I noticed two security guards hovering over sections that were the being broken down because when Seniors moved tables, they often left something behind.
Claude Smithern, the oldest player in the Senior's event at 87-years young, got to speak for a few moments. He must be a former comedian because he had some witty zingers like, "I don't know what's gonna last longer --me or my chips."
Mike Sexton is a former veteran who is eligible to play in the Senior's event, but for poker's ambassador, Sexton skipped it because he had a shot at a bracelet in Event #25 $2,500 Stud 8. Sexton had gotten heads-up against Chris Viox, but action was suspended on Day 17 due to the hard-stop rule. When action resumed on Day 18, Sexton trailed Viox by a margin of 3-1. Their match didn't last very long -- less than an hour -- before Viox prevailed and won his first bracelet.
In my notes I scribbled down -- "Sexton looked pissed off."
Sexton won a similar event 22-years earlier for his only bracelet (Men the Master was at the final table of the $1,500 Stud 8 which included 174 runners). Poker was a completely different game back in the old days of The Horseshoe. My colleague ChipBitch was only three months old and living in Costa Rica when Sexton won his first bracelet. May of 1989 was an amazing month for both Sexton and ChipBitch. As ChipBitch explained, "When I was three months old, it was the time of my life -- I would shit my pants, puke, and suck on titties all day."
Sexton hoped to re-live old glory days. Despite trailing 3-1 in chips, Sexton expected to comeback and win his second career bracelet -- all be it two decades apart. Alas, the heads-up match failed to go as Sexton planned. Even though Sexton put on his best face after his elimination hand, you could see the frustration seeping out of his ears and his face turned as red as his shirt. It's not easy to make a final table in a WSOP event, and it's even harder to get a shot at a bracelet, so it must be incredibly frustrating to finish in second place because you worked your ass off for three (or four in Sexton's case) days without anything to show for it.
Dan Idema - $10,000 Limit Hold'em Champion
Photo courtesy of WSOP.com
Shortly after Midnight, Dan Idema had a chance at his own redemption. Idema is from Vancouver, B.C. and he's the brother of Adam Schwartz (from 2p2 Pokercat). He's also a former hockey pro (thanks to Lance Bradley for the background info, research, and a quick Google search that found Idema's old Medicine Hat Tigers sweater). Idema had a runner-up finish in last year's $10,000 Limit Hold'em Championship after blowing an overwhelming chip lead and losing heads-up to Matt Keikoan.
It's nearly impossible to advance to a final table the same event in consecutive years, but that's exactly what Idema had done. With a disappointing runner-up performance fresh in his mind, Idema safely navigated a difficult final table that included LHE gurus like Barry Greenstein and Nick Schulman, along with young guns Boosted J and Ike Haxton, and the inventor of Microsoft Word, Richard "Dick Bro" Brodie.
"There were a lot of big-name pros," explained Idema in his winner's interview. "It was a bit intimidating in such a field on the last day. I was very happy and fortunate to be here."
Idema was so focused on winning the bracelet, he completely overlooked first place prize money. According to @PokerCastAdam, "30 mins after Dan wins he says to me 'How much was first?'" Idema collected $378,642, but even though that's not chump change, it was obvious he wanted the bracelet more than the cash.
Canada now pulled even with England with three bracelets each. Good thing Idema won the bracelet, otherwise, the crazies in downtown Vancouver would go apeshit again and start the second riot this week. Luckily, Idema won and no cop cards were turned upside down and set ablaze.
Chris Moorman is regarded as one of the premier online players from Great Britain. However, the only knock against him is that his online prowess had yet to translate into live play. In short, Moorman destroyed the competition on the virtual felt, but in terms of live events, he struggled for a pro of his pedigree.
On Day 3 of Event #26 $2,500 NL 6-handed, a slew of French players and media were on the rail hoping that Anthony Lellouche would become the third Frenchie to win a bracelet this week. Alas, Lellocuhe busted out in 11th place and Moorman found himself at a final table with Dan O'Brein and four unknowns.
Whenever a British player makes a final table, the rail swells with hundreds of boisterous supporters. The rowdy British rail at Jake Cody's final table cause Poker Productions to ban all booze at Mothership because things were getting out of control. That's what happens when the British gentry gets a shitload of booze in their bloodstream -- they go bonkers and bellow the Barmy Army and chant other catchy football songs.
When I heard all of the commotion, I ditched my press credentials and embedded myself on the rail. The 10K LHE final table was hosted in the Mothership, while Moorman and company played on the secondary table, just off to the side. I love trying to infiltrate the cheering sections of various pros, and the Brits are rather funny when they are staggering drunk. The British punters were noticeable because of the beer stains on their trainers.
I likened the experience on the rail to being in a Nick Hornby novel -- but with more liquor and less middle-aged angst. After all, the rail was comprised of twenty-something pros with funny accents, and gobbling booze like frat boys on Saturday morning before a Georgia-Florida college football game. The soused rail taunted brash American pro Allen Bari and anyone else in their line of site. A few of them had a pair of balls the size of elephant testicles. They made fun of security guards (an extra batch were dispatched to maintain order) referring to them as "tossers" for curtailing their effervescent behavior during Jake Cody's run two weekends ago.
Someday I'm hoping a Jamaican player makes the final table, so I can embed myself with Jamaican rail birds and get away with smoking weed inside the Mothership.
The moment Moorman busted in third place, the entire rail emptied out of the Amazon Ballroom. Brits were standing ten deep with a couple hundred spectators encircling the secondary table. When the inebriated Moormanheads bailed, fewer than a dozen spectators remained to watch the heads-up match between two players from old Soviet Bloc countries. It was a match made for the commies behind the old Iron Curtain -- with a Ukrainian (Oleksii Kovalchuk) playing a Romanian (Anton Ione) heads-up for a bracelet.
By the way, Kovalchuk is one of the luckiest men in Vegas right now. He won the Second ever bracelet for the Ukraine (thereby instantly becoming the only other Ukrainian bracelet aside from Eugene Katchalov aka the Godfather of Ukrainian poker) and also had one of the best pieces of eye candy inside the Amazon Ballroom keeping a keen eye on her boyfriend's play during the entire afternoon and evening. Photographer took more photos of her than the entire final table combined. Good looking railbirds stick out and I assume she'll make Wicked Chops Poker's Girls on the Rail photo dump in a few days, but for now, here's a glimpse at her...
"Please win. I'm starving."
Photo courtesy of WhoJedi
Yep, just another Friday night in Las Vegas.... a record setting crowd of 3,750+ Seniors flocked to the Rio to play poker with other old people, Mike Sexton and Barry Greenstein were both denied bracelets and, Chris Moorman, despite his rambunctious rail, also failed in his bid to ship his first bracelet and finally extract the "live tournament" monkey off his back.
That's it. For a quickie wrap, head over to RISE Poker and check out my WSOP Day 18 Recap.
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