Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hump Day Friday at the WPT Championships
"Asked how he became a writer: In the same way that a woman becomes a prostitute. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and finally I did it for money." - Ferenc Molnar
The fourth day of a seven week tournament is hump day. Some players make the money, others don't and get fucked. After four grueling days of mental torture, the last thing any player wants to do in a tournament with a $14 million prize pool, is to bubble out and go home with absolutely nothing. That demoralizing feeling fell on the faces of at least 104 players who left the Bellagio under a dark cloud of gloom after they were eliminated on Day 4 of the WPT Championships.

As the tournament gets close to the money, players start accumulating chips while building up massive stacks. When I walked into the Fontana Room the cries of "All in!" from various dealers echoed through the room as small stacks made moves to double up. Within the first hour almost 45 players were busted out and by early evening the money bubble burst with each player remaining was guaranteed at least $43K.

As the intensity of the action magnified with each bustout, the media slowly started to outnumber the number of tables remaining as the ring of reporters around the surviving players grew larger and thicker and more intimidating.

"The wall of ignorance," I muttered to Flipchip.

An army of photographers with digital cameras snapped two hundred versions of the same picture of Doyle Brunson. Heck, even I took a few. Seven to be exact and only two came out halfway decent. He's got his eyes closed in one and looks bored as shit in another. I'm amazed that a guy as old as Texas Dolly can have the patience and discipline of a Buddhist monk and still have some gamble in him and "the heart of a cliff diver" as Amarillo Slim would call it. Brunson survived another day and sits in the middle of the pack. He had to fight through hundreds of the best pros in the world along with fending off internet hotshots with bigger bankrolls than the GNP of Peru and who have played a million hands in a weekend while jacked up on Adderalls and Red Bull.

Don't forget about the international invasion of European and Asian poker players seeking the WPT Championship and the $3.7 million first place prize. Along with the Europeans came a slew of European press. There are a bunch of Scandis here doing their own thing along with a few Brits from Gutshot. During the first break I overheard Men the Master complaining about one hand. I don't speak Vietnamese, but the tonal inflections of his voice indicated that he was pretty pissed off.

I must have seen a dozen or so wedding parties slide past the tables over the last few days as they had to cross the Fontana Room to get outside to the veranda for wedding photos. Some of the brides looked amazingly beautiful. The hotter the bride meant the dorkier the groom. I was perplexed. One wedding party wore 1970s era tuxedos in a weak attempt to stand out. Sigh. Hipster weddings and high stakes tournament poker. Only at the Bellagio.

I wrote on the veranda for a while as the water show went off in the background. Lisa Wheeler sat at the table next to me. She's working for CardPlayer and told me about all the awful things people wrote about her on the internet regarding her coverage of the Andy Beal and Corporation heads-up matches at the Wynn. She joked about being called Deepthroat in reference to the manner in which someone suggested she got the details of the private game.

I've known Lisa since the 2005 WSOP. She worked for PokerWire then and told me some of the craziest stories about the poker business. Our discussions also tailed off into odd topics. When I once asked her what was the weirdest thing she ever thought about during sex was, she didn't hesitate and blurted out, "Trimming my cat's toe nails."

Flipchip navigated the room and took pictures for a while. The Poker Prof left his top secret bunker in a non-disclosed location in the Nevada Dessert (rumored to be in the Valley of Fire) and made a rare appearance to the Strip. We all had a brief meeting over coffee in the Italian pastry shop that overlooks the pool. We talked about the 2006 WSOP, mostly about how excited we were to get to cover it. That is going to be their third WSOP and my second. For a while I was dreading the 2006 World Series of Poker, however I'm in a much better headspace and now I can't wait for it to begin.

I was constantly distracted by the sensational quality of talent that soaked up the hot Nevada sun and absorbed skin cancer as they lounged around the Windex-blue Bellagio pool, which contained decadent boobage both God-made and man-made. I prefer natural breasts over fake ones, but I'll never deny the opportunity to inspect the goods myself and come to my own conclusions. I'm fortunate enough that I get to hang out and cover poker tournaments but getting to write about ogling the magnificent breasts on twenty-something year old tourists with ugly back tattoos as I eat a cinnamon scone is definitely one of the perks of getting to do what I do. I mean, are chip counts in the middle of Day 4 really that important? That's what PokerWire is for.

After my late afternoon meeting, I found myself back at the hooker bar drinking Red Stripes with the Poker Prof. By now the bartenders know what we drink. They toss Spaceman a Newcastle and get the Red Stripes ready for me. Al Ardebili walked up to the bar as we were about to pay.

"Put your money away. I'll put it on my room," the always generous Al said.

Some pros treat us media folks well. They feed us, get us drunk, and never ask for anything in return. I've met a few pros that have asked for preferential coverage and those are usually the guys who never buy you anything. Most of the pros I've encountered are totally cool and are willing to give you chip counts, make themselves available for interviews, and help you out with piecing together a hand that happened. Other pros are totally stuck up and some are always in a foul mood. Sometimes the cards are running bad and their negative energy affects how they treat the dealers, the cocktail waitresses, the other players, and the media.

Spaceman got his balls busted by David Grey today and Spaceman brushed it off. That's what professionals do. Pros have jobs to do and so do the media reps, that's why I usually have compassion for anyone who has to cover a poker tournament. It's hard work with long hours filled with gaps of sheer boredom and moments of utter confusion. But some people are just plain stupid and their unprofessionalism hurts the image of the media in general.

Some of poker media outlets hired their reporters off of Craig's List which is why most of them are dumbass morons who couldn't even write up a hand history without cutting and pasting from Poker Wire. I mean Craig's List is great if you are looking for deviant sex with strangers in the "Casual Encounters" section. If you get off on having anal sex with a Llama while a swinging couple from Tenafly, NJ watches and takes turns shitting on each other's genital areas as Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries plays in the background, then Craig's List is for you.

Man, either these media outlets are looking for reporters in the wrong areas... or they are purposelylooking for people with no experience who will work for peanuts, which is happening. In order to cut costs some of these media outlets are flooding the floor with brain dead minimum wage flunkies.

I'm lucky that I'm getting a decent rate from the various places that pay met to write. I can see how getting offered $100 a day to cover a poker tournament seems like an awesome deal... at first glance. But that enthusiasm ends quickly. I basically have to follow every move of some people who should probably be sitting at an AA or GA meeting instead of sitting at a poker table. The good tournament reporters work like dogs for six days straight without breathing a whiff of outside air. That's borderline sadism, especially if you have to sit and listen to the bad beat stories that I get stuck listening to.

Reading about bad beats on blogs is painful enough. Trying having to feign sympathy when a pro that you see on TV all the time, who makes millions of dollars a year, bitches to me about a bad beat on a hand when he was not as big as an underdog as he claimed. That's like removing my fingertips one at a time with rusty pliers. I'd rather get a vasectomy without any anesthesia, than have to hear a world class pro whine about one more bad beat. Yet, I seem to be the magnet for suckout stories. The way I see it, they are professional poker players and bad beats are part of the job; like a surgeon losing a patient on the operating table, or a lawyer losing a big case, or a dogwalker losing his dog.

Anyway, the media is resembling the paparazzi more and more everyday. I know of at least one journalist who has gone through Clonie Gowen's garbage. Every time a player goes all in, the WPT cameras swarm in and the rest of the media elbows for space trying to get a glimpse of the hand.

"Who has A-K?"

"David Williams bet what on the turn?"

"What's a dry side pot?"

Those were actual words I've heard uttered from the mouths of my fellow media reps. No wonder we get a bad rap from the players and tournament staff. Media on the whole are treated like 45 year old hookers. Some days I feel like an old French whore, just like Ferenc Molnar's epic quote. We're all scumbags in the media, right? We let all those people die in New Orleans too. We're nothing but "left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers." And the time will come, when someone is going to make a solid argument that the poker media is ruining the sport of poker. For now, we're vultures or as one fellow reporter succinctly put it, "We're entertainment writing hacks. We're the lowest rung on the ladder."

Writing about the WPT Championship on the Tao of Poker in the rambling style and manner that I want to cover poker has been freeing, inspiring, and invigorating. I'm finally reenergized and I'm covering the largest tournament ever in the history of the WPT much more effectively while focusing on my strengths... which is writing and telling you the story. Sure, I set the bar as far as how to successfully live-blog a tournament or any event for that matter. But with 40 people cramped into the Fontana Room trying to do the same thing, I found something that would make my coverage stand out from the rest of the pack. If you haven't noticed by now, the over-saturated live-blogging updates have been replaced with these long-winded rambling posts that appear at the end of the night. With more free time to roam around and drink and socialize, I'm getting a better vibe of what's going on.

With this fresh approach, I can paint the word picture of what it's like to be at the Bellagio from a different angle. Plus, I'm having more fun which allows the words to flow smoothly. I'm not exhausted like I have been in the past when I was handcuffed to my laptop for 16 hours straight. Giving you a chip count or a hand history that you can find on six other sites (which you are probbaly reading anyway) is utterly worthless and a waste of my time. However, trying to describe the carnival-like atmosphere to you is a lot more challenging than regurgitating facts and outdated chipcounts.

So before I go, back by popular demand...
Last 5 Pros I Took a Piss Next to at the Bellagio:
1. The Grinder
2. Dan Harrington
3. Tony Cousineau
4. Men the Master
5. James Van Alstyne
That's it for now. If you'd like read an end of the day recap of the WPT Championships from yours truly, visit Poker Player Newspaper. If you wanna see some of Flipchips's kickass photos from today's action, head over to Las Vegas and Poker Blog.

I will be live-blogging the final table on Monday night on the Tao of Poker at 5pm PCT or 8pm EST. If you are jonesin' for that type of coverage, you'll have to wait a few more days to get it.

Action for Day 5 resumes at Noon on Saturday with 71 players trying to survive one more day as they get closer to making the final table at the WPT Championships. When play stopped for the night, WPT Foxwoods Champion Victor Ramdin wrestled away the chiplead from the young Fin, Patrik Antonius. My main man Freddy Deeb ended the day with over $1 million in chips. With sharks like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, and Men the Master still lurking, it's not going to be an easy Saturday of poker for the remaining players.

With three more strenuous days of poker still left to be played, we'll see who really wants the $3.7 million first place prize.

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