Editor's Note: While Dr. P snuck off to Ohio to cover two Phish shows for Coventry Music, we have our first installment of the Tao All-Stars featuring Hollyweird's favorite blonde... Change100.
Las Vegas, NV
There’s something in the air at the Rio and it isn’t the exhaust from the Poker Kitchen. It’s not the stench of Eskimo Clark’s unwashed clothing or even the stale odor of Camel Lights wafting off the lips of the leather-skinned man in the three seat. It’s pure, unadulterated desperation, and it’s everywhere—in the 2 for 1 specials at floundering Strip hotels, in the steely quiver of your opponent’s voice as he growls “nice hand” without meaning it, in the sweaty palms of under-rolled punters who cast off their last $1,000 to the sweet-faced girl at the cage who replaces those bills with a paper seat card and a bids you a flat “good luck.” All the luck in the world can’t save the global economy anymore, and here in Las Vegas, this summer might as well be the last night of the world for a vast majority of the poker community.
The 2011 WSOP is put up or shut up time for scores of displaced American online pros, weekend grinders, and tournament players on the last legs of their backing deals. Make a big score and you might survive to play another year. Pull a donut hole and you’re dunzo. This is everyone’s last chance to shine—the eleven o’clock number, the evening gown competition, the closing statement to the jury before Black Friday’s true sentence is handed down. We were all punch-drunk in the six weeks between Black Friday and the opening salvo of the WSOP. Some staggered around with stars in their eyes, others slumped to the ground, a few whipped around and threw wild punches—not only venting their anger, but questioning virtually every authority figure in the industry. Whatever those answers are, they’ll be a lot clearer after we all go home on July 20th. But for now, it’s time to grind like there is no tomorrow.
I pulled up to the Venetian on Sunday afternoon to play my first cash game session of the summer. I hadn’t seen a crowd like that in at least two years. Valet parking was completely jammed, the cab line was 50 yards long, and the sidewalks were overflowing. A taxi driver told me that Memorial Day Weekend numbers were through the roof and the scene inside reflected it. More than 40 cash games were going at mid-afternoon and another 50 tables were set up outside the poker room to house one of the first Deepstack Extravaganza events. I sat in a $4/$8 limit hold’em game while I waited for the $8/$16 mix to fill and within five minutes was unapologetically slowrolled.
I hadn’t even opened my mouth and was playing my first hand, yet this douchebag in a cheap golf shirt (who would have busted what was left in his rack had he not rivered his gutter) decided to reveal his inner asshole, faux-frowning at my top two pair for about ten seconds before saying, “Well, I’ve got the straight,” turning his cards over one at a time. When I departed over three hours later, I surveyed the $2/5 NL tables in the middle of the room. More hoodies. More headphones. Fewer tourists with Coronas. Serious faces. Folks far more concerned with making money than having a good time.
Two nights later I was back, staring at an As-Kc-5c-Js board after being check-raised on the turn. With Ks-5s in my hand I certainly wasn’t folding, but suspected my two pair were no longer good.
“You have a thing for hitting gutshots” I said, thinking aloud and recalling a previous hand, as I made the call. The river was a blank and he checked to me. I checked behind and he showed the Q-T.
“Knew it,” I said, knocking the table. “Nice hand.”
“You think you’re some kind of professional? You think you can read my mind?” the man practically spat as he dragged the pot.
“Yeah, I’m a $4-$8 pro. All you need to pay the bills,” I laughed.
“Well we can go to $10-$20 if you want Miss Professional. We can go as high as you want. You just say the word.”
“You know, I was having a pretty good time until you opened your mouth. Am I alone on this?” Stone faces all around.
The same was true at the Rio. You expect at least one guy in your $125 satellite to be wearing Beats headphones and mirrored sunglasses, but six? Are these what my online tables always looked like? The play wasn’t any more threatening or nuanced than usual, but everyone was so…serious. Whether or not their lives (or at least their weekend) actually did depend on the outcome of this satellite, it sure as hell seemed like it.
It’s not just the low-limit punters that are growing testier by the hour. Arguments stole the headlines for the first three days of the WSOP. Whether it was Ivey vs. Tiltware, James Bord vs. John Juanda, or Men the Master vs. Hollywood Dave, it became abundantly clear that this year, people were willing to call each other out publicly—for cheating, for reneging on promises, for wearing the logo of an online room that has yet to pay out its U.S. players. While UB yellow-and-black thankfully appears to be long-gone from these hallways, a few daring red pros are still sporting Full Tilt patches. While some like Tom Dwan can afford to tell their sponsor to fuck off if they don’t want to deal with the potential consequences of wearing a logo, others may still be hoping in vain for past due paychecks, forgiveness on makeup, or even a shot in the dark at staying signed.
“It just doesn’t seem as fun this year,” a longtime member of the media said to me this afternoon as we sat up on the half-empty perch. “There isn’t that carnival atmosphere anymore.”
He was right. As much as the WSOP tried to increase the grandeur of poker’s premiere festival this year (just look at that spaceship masquerading as a final table) the wide-eyed wonder that always accompanied it is long gone.
“Numbers might be up,” he said, “but that’s just because no one’s broke yet.”
change100 is a writer from Los Angeles. This is her sixth year at the World Series of Poker.