Las Vegas, NV
Off in the distance shortly before the bewitching hour of midnight, a muffled sound resembling a mixture of clapping and two squirrels fighting echoed from the far side of the room. Someone won a pot at one of the outer tables and their friends on the rail celebrated wildly spilling beer on each other and acting like baboons during a spring mating ritual. The hand would be beamed around the world thirty minutes later via ESPN2, but for the moment, the loser sat idle and looked at the unfortunate river card. He was stunned and dazed, sort of like a boxing match when a fighter catches a glancing uppercut to the chin and falls to the canvas, only to pop up two seconds later, and wondering where the fuck did that come from? The film crew, dressed in black, captured his dazed expression as they circled his table, while a couple of field reporters scribbled down the final details of the hand in their own version of poker shorthand.
"Who won the pot," whispered the oblivious railbird in front of me.
"Obvious not the guy who just high-fived his friends on the rail."
With three or four tables left in the Amazon Ballroom, the number of media circling around the tables began to outnumber the remaining players. Add up all the tournament staff and railbirds, and the players were grossly outnumbered. They sat inside the ropes out on the floor or either on the secondary table and the massive, gaudy set inside the Mothership. Alas, for the first time since I started covering poker, agents were not slithering around the rail or trying to chase down big-stacked players on the break. The lack of online poker rooms vying for the hearts and minds of Americans and other poker fans deeply affected the endorsement cottage industry. The cold war is over after a swift round of indictments from the federales. As a result, millions of dollars in potential endorsement deals dried up. Without seven figures of free money in play, the vampires remained in the shadows -- there's no juicy and vitamin-enriched blood to suck dry.
On day 1 of the Main Event, I wandered through the Pavilion glimpsing at a poker tournament filled with thousands of dreamers, delusional gambling addicts, bucket listers, Vegas sharks, semi-pros with a chip on their shoulder, and a horde of amateurs. If I was a tournament player, I'd be drooling like Pavlov's frothing dog at all of the dead money sitting around in a poker-themed circle jerk.
By days 2 and 3, what was once a poker tournament had turned into a spectacle. By day 7, the tournament became its own reality show as the lines between sports and entertainment were blurred once again. The WSOP is definitely entertainment, but with a competitive edge, which is where the argument splinters off -- is it a sport or is it gambling disguised as sports entertainment? Regardless of which side you fall in that debate, the Main Event is the ultimate reality show and the only actors appearing in the tournament are the ones whom use their real names. Sure we might reference Everyone Loves Raymond or AJ Soprano, but that's just the roles we're used to seeing actors portray on the little box in our living rooms (and these days, with more people viewing/streaming programs on their laptops, those portrayals are beamed to their portable devices). The real life persons (Ray Romano and Robert Iler) dug into their pockets and plopped down $10,000. Doesn't matter if you're an NBA player, an electrician from Garfield, NJ, or an former internet pro who lives down the street at Palms Place. They each purchased a ticket to the bacchanal of poker.
As Hunter Thompson once said, "Buy the ticket, take the ride."
The ride is a journey. The journey is the path to fame, riches, and glory. The final step before all of that is achieved is the November Nine. All 6,865 entrants were focused on making to the end of each playing day, eventually advancing all the way to the final nine players, before they take a couple of months off and return for the November hippodrome.
Depending on who you talk to that is wearing a suit, this year at the WSOP has been its most successful yet. Pros will tell you the WSOP has turned tournament poker into one of those cheesy chain restaurants you'll find in an strip mall in America. Jaded vets will tell you otherwise -- how this year lacks the "punch" and "excitement" of previous years.
"It's like attending a funeral," one member of the British press said. "Except they usually have better food at funerals."
Yes, the 2011 WSOP reached new heights with more participants than ever before. How much of that is attributed to the lack of online poker, with junkies are playing more events to get their fix?
Don't forget that the wealth in poker is distributed every single tournament. If a pro wins a tournament, then the money will most likely stay within the inner circle of tournament poker. If a degen wins a tournament, the money will get sucked out of the poker economy and pissed away at the sportsbook or in the pits. Junkies and sex addicts will snort, shoot, and smoke away their profits, while the weak fools with penchant for strip clubs will most likely pay the rent for two or three exotic dancers. If ballers win a tournament, the money will disappear after they blow it in restaurants, clubs, and buying fast cars and luxury items for their lady friends. If a broke dick wins a tournament, most of that windfall gets kicked back into the coffers of backers and staking syndicates. And if an amateur wins a tournament (like Jerry Yang), he's taking the money back to his hometown and most likely never spending a cent of his winnings in Vegas, or circulating it back in play at the cash game or tournament tables.
But that's the beauty of the WSOP Main Event. The ticket cost $10,000. The longevity of the ride is essentially out of your hands. But the ticket gets you a chance at securing $8 million (minus taxes, fees, and loans you have to make to deadbeat friends and family members). The Main Event ride is not a carousel in the park that lasts three archaic waltzes. The Main Event Ride might last an hour or might get prolonged until November. If you fall short of the final nine, you still have a shot at drowning yourself in shit ton of cash. As we know in America (or at least, we've been brainwashed to believe it), money is a shortcut to happiness.
Then again, if you hang out at the cage, you'll see more miserable faces than the ER room at a hospital. It's not easy to get pumped about winning $242,000 when you feel as though you had a legit shot at a $8 million score -- that is, until some Eastern Euro donk ambushed you with a junk hand. One second you're smiling for ESPN cameras, and the next, you're fighting back tears after looking like a chump on the live stream.
Only 57 players walked inside the Amazon Ballroom on Day 7. After five levels (or 10 hours) of play, only 22 remained. Along the way, the adorable poker couple went busto as Doc Sands was eliminated in 30th place and his partner Erika Moutinho gotknocked out in 29th. The Golden Boy Erick Lindgren and most notable pro left in the field hit the road. Tony Hachem, the jovial brother of former champion Salty Joe Hachem failed in his quest to become the only pair of siblings to win a Main Event. The Gunslinger got gunned down in 45th place. The weird French dude with pink hair, Guillaume Darcourt, got flushed away. And the British wunderkind, JP Kelly, found his fate in 26th place.
Yeah, most of the big stories at the start of Day 7 became obituaries by the time the final 22 bagged up their chips. But that's not to say there's nothing to say about the 22 players who will return on Day 8.
Eoghan O'Dea is the son of the legendary Don O'Dea, otherwise known as the Godfather of Irish poker. O'Dea flew under the radar for the entire tournament until he emerged as one of the chipleaders late on Day 7. Only a Ukrainian ended the day with more chips.
Anton Makiievskyi ended Day 7 as overall leader after seizing the top spot. The 21-year old is still a little wet behind the ears, but he's got a legit shot at the November Nine in a breakout year for Ukrainian poker (the former bread basket of the Soviet Union boasts of four bracelets already in 2011).
Khoa Nguyen is third in chips. The engineer from Canada shares a last name that is synonymous with excellence (and controversy), but I bet you that he was the last Nguyen you thought would make a final table, right?
Andrey Pateychuk is the pride of Vladivostok, Russia. He's also the youngest player left in the Main Event, which makes him even money to advance to the November Nine. It's like a formula -- 21-year old always makes the final table.
Ben Lamb ended up fifth in chips, which is kinda disappointing considering the year he's been having. He already locked up the top spot for POY (after Bach busted) and has to hold off a Hellmuthian assault at the WSOP-Europe in October, but if he can continue his run and kep Helluth at bay, Lamb will secure himself the 2011 Player of the Year.
That rounds out the top 5 in chips, but Bryan Devonshire is probably the most notable pro left in the field. Aside from arranging complex chip structures, Devo's fans showed up with red pails, which they wore upside on their heads in homage to the eclectic 80s pop group. Devo is 15th in chips, but he has one hell of a rail that his opponents must contend with on Day 8.
You can check out Day 8 seat assignments and chip counts here -- The Skinny - Main Event Day 7.
So, there's 22 ticket holders left. Which ones will still be left standing when the ride comes to a complete stop?
Photos courtesy of Winamax and WhoJedi.
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