Las Vegas, NV
Varkonyi will always be lost in the shadow of Moneymaker
Photo by MeanGene
14 out of 18 former world champions advanced to Day 2. Out of respect for the champs, the media monitors the progress of all of them in the Main Event from start to finish. Even Jerry Yang. Besides, if any of them actually go deep enough, the story writes itself with headlines like "Former Champ Seeks Another Title" or something to that effect. If it's an old-school champion, say Bobby Baldwin for instance, who last won the title before many of the hot shit internet players were even born, a deep run in the Main Event is an opportunity to bookend his historic career with another championship, but in a completely different era.
The modern champions who ushered in the poker boom are closely monitored by folks at home because they have become household names. As poker fans, we conjure up images of their winner's photo whenever we hear their names whispered.
The first-ever Main Event final table I ever recall watching on ESPN was back in 2002 when Phil Hellmuth was super pissed that Robert Varokonyi knocked him out, so he promised he'd shave his head (all proceeds going to charity). Gabe Kaplan was the color commentator back then and hole card cameras had yet to be infused with the spotty coverage. We all know that Varkonyi beat Julian Garder heads-up for the title to win $2 million. Despite the victory, Varkonyi did not receive the accolades of previous champions (and champions to follow) and most of the Vegas-based poker elite thought his victory was a joke. Within moments of his win, Varkonyi was already on the defensive as the Rodney Dangerfield of poker because he couldn't get any respect.
Varkonyi didn't have the greasy wheels of the massive poker media machine (fronted by the online poker industry) behind him because the media was still relatively small back then, slightly more unbiased, but with much more journalistic integrity. When Chris Moneymaker won the next year and subsequently ignited the boom, along came a plethora of poker media outlets which were propped up by the online poker industry. Alas, the industry became a bunch of shills and puppets all focused on the same ultimate goal -- to get more people to play online poker. As a result, bashing the skill of the champions is seriously diminished and reserved for only salty pros and trolls on forums. That's just the way it is. I didn't write the rules, but the writing was on the wall by the time I arrived at my first WSOP in 2005.
The philosophy was rather simple -- the bigger fish they see, the more people watching at home on ESPN would want to play poker. Alas, the adage fits -- don't tap the glass.
Ergo, Varkonyi did not have the "protection" of the media that Chris Moneymaker gets and will always have. After all, the boom was not nicknamed the "Varkonyi Effect." A better example of this untouchable bias is how the media treated Jamie Gold's run to the 2006 title. In the weeks and months after he won and the subsequent airing of his hands on ESPN, Gold's play did not come under fire from the media (although the folks on 2p2 had a field day with his boorish behavior and style of play). Instead, most of the media focused on the sensationalized legal case and impending trial involving Gold after he was sued by Crispin Leyser. For the three of you who don't know, Leyser claimed Gold owed him half his Main Event winnings due to a verbal agreement before the Main Event began. Gold eventually settled and only a few people know for sure how much of Gold's $12 million payday he actually had to give up. I still say runner-up Paul Wasicka walked away with the most money at the 2006 WSOP Main Event.
Flash forward to today. If you win the Main Event, you're bulletproof and untouchable. Let's not forget that wicked bad beat Jonathan Duhamel put on Matt Affleck. Instead of everyone ganging up on Duhamel, he sorta got a pass on that bizarre and donkilicious hand. Whereas, whenever a media rep interviews Affleck (and probably to the day he dies), they inadvertently bring up the infamous hand that sent Affleck to the rail in tears. Even to this day, we refer to Duhamel as the defending world champion instead of the "evil dude in the black hoodie with a funny accent who put a wicked beat on Matt Affleck."
Speaking of Duhamel, rumors swirled around the Rio that the film crew missed his elimination hand. Whoooooooooooops. In previous years, every hand that the defending champ played in the Main Event was carefully scrutinized by the producers at 441 Productions with a roving unit hovering nearby to capture anything peculiar or tragic (like an unfortunate elimination). Alas, during mid-day action Duhamel hit the rail. In a historical perspective, there's not going to be a repeat champion this year after Duhamel hit the road.
Since we're talking about former champions who hit the road on Day 2A, we can add a few more to that list including Scotty Nguyen (no mas "baby" or Corona count), Action Dan Harrington, and Johnny Fucking Chan. In case you were wondering -- Phil Hellmuth, Jamie Gold and Joe Cada advanced to Day 3.
When you say the words "welfare check" it means something completely different outside of Las Vegas. Alas, inside the city limits, a welfare check is a phrase used by hotel/casino security to investigate whether or not a patron passed out and puked in his/her own vomit.
I have a prior incident in which I needed to seek out a welfare check. It happened a couple of Decembers ago after AlCantHang tied on a Saturday night bender to end all benders. We were all supposed to hang out at the Palazzo the next morning/afternoon and sweat the football games. AlCantHang missed the 10am kickoff. He also missed the 1pm kickoff. His beloved Eagles played the Sunday night game, and by the time it reached 5pm there was no sign of ACH. Our mutual friends freaked out. Me? I'm one to let the man sleep off an epic bender. Alas, they persisted that someone call security and check up on Al. I was kinda pissed off at the time because I got stiffed a few hundred bucks on the bill when a few party crashers skipped out on their portion. To walk off the steam, I volunteered to talk with security at the Imperial Palace and have them check up on Al. I wandered up to the podium and explained the situation. At that point, the head of security barked into his walkie talkie, "Can we can a welfare check for room 10420?"
In case you were wondering, Al was okay. He eventually opened up his door and saw me standing there. He had no idea what time it was. When we walked back into the room, he had a warm (full) bottle of Heineken sitting on a table with a large pepperoni pizza (minus one slice).
"Oh shit," said Al while rubbing his temples. "I guess I ordered a pizza last night."
Yes, Al was just sleeping off a long night in Vegas.
Flash-forward to Day 2A of the Main Event. Phil Hellmuth never showed up to play a relatively short stack. Hellmuth thought he was playing on Day 2B and turned off his phone. He even put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign, which if you spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, you know it's a coinflip if the maids actually honor that sign. Anyway, Hellmuth was out cold and trying to catch up on some zzzzzzzs when Hellmuth's agent discovered he was AWOL. The agent called Hellmuth's wife, who mentioned the room was in her name. She called the Rio and asked security to do their own "welfare check" on the Poker Brat. Unlike in AlCantHang's situation, Hellmuth did not tie on a bender so fierce that he needed to sleep it off for a dozen hours. Alas, some quick thinking from Team Hellmuth helped get him down to the Amazon Ballroom.
Hellmuth eventually arrived at his table. Instead of freaking out, he hunkered down and chipped up. He did everything in his power to protect his top spot in the Player of the Year race by advancing to Day 3 with a stack a tinge below 65,000. Some folks believe in miracles. Never underestimate the ego of Phil Hellmuth. After a trio of runner-up finishes, if he can't win another bracelet in 2011, in his own twisted mind, he's sure as hell going to lock up Player of the Year honors.
By the end of Day 2A, Europeans held 5 out of the 6 top spots in chips.
End of Day 2A - Top 6 Chips:
1. Aleksandr Mozhnyakov (Russia) - 478,600
2. Tuan Vo (USA) - 434,500
3. Guillaume Darcourt (France) - 410,500
4. Stephane Albertini (France) - 400,100
5. Wilfried Haerig (Germany - 366,000
6. Massimilliano Martinez (Italy) - 355,000
Guillaume "Pinky" Darcourt
Courtesy of Winamax
For the last few days, I wondered who the hell the weird guy with pink hair was who stopped by sporadically to chat with the French press. Alas, it wasn't ElkY, but rather, it was Guillaume Darcourt. The pink-headed Frenchman advanced to Day 3 with almost a 420K stack.
Darcourt was among two Frenchies in the front pack, led by Russian Aleksandr Mozhnyakov, who ended the day with nearly a half mil in chips. Also rounding out the Top 6 are a German (Wilfried Haerig) and a Italian (Massimilliano Martinez). I have to add those names to my spell-check so I don't have to see a red squiggly line underneath their surnames.
Out of 2,031 players from the combined fields of Day 1A and Day 1C, only 822 remain.
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