Saturday, July 05, 2008

2008 WSOP Day 36: Main Event Day 1B - Yawn

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

In my four years of covering the WSOP, Day 1B was one of the smallest opening day fields that I had seen. It honestly did not feel like the most prestigious tournament in the world with regards to atmosphere and energy.

I have covered enough tournaments to know that Day 1s are always historically snoozefests. Nothing really happens on Day 1 and the big stories won't develop for several more days. The only noteworthy news on Day 1s usually surround which pro busted out early. Sometimes you are shocked at the news. Other times, you shake your head and think, "He/she busted on Day 1? Again?"

Day 1b eliminations included several former WSOP champions; Jamie Gold, Greg Raymer, and Tom McEvoy all bit the dust. A couple of 2008 bracelet winners also failed to advance to Day 2. That list included Daniel Negreanu, Brazilian Alex Gomes, and Kenny Tran.

For a while, I sweated two former world champions who sat within one table of each other. Jamie Gold and Robert Varkonyi were both in Seat 1. Talk about a tale of two champions.

Even with Gold's discounted first place prize (he had to give up an undisclosed amount to Crispin Leyser), he still picked up a ton more cash and a flurry of publicity. Varknoyi only won $2 million for his victory six years ago. His fifteen minutes of fame happened a couple of months too late. Timing. It's everything. Especially with celebrity. But does the Varkonyi Effect sound as cool and hip as the Moneymaker Effect?

At the 2002 WSOP, Varkonyi had to survive a field of 631 players. At that time it seemed like such a massive field. That number broke the record set from the year before. And the top 45 players won prize money. Among those who cashed at the 2002 Main Event? David Sklansky and Tom 'DonkeyBomber' Schneider. Seriously. DonkeyBomber finished in 36th place that year. And you know about some dude named Phil Ivey, right? Ivey took 23rd. Big Game regular Miny Ly? He took 9th place. And Tony G's whipping boy Ralph 'sticky fingers' Perry finished in third place that year.

I started to get into poker just around the time that the main event was televised on ESPN. The production quality was awful. Gabe Kaplan and Phil Hellmuth did some of the commentary. They did not use hole cams and the graphics are ancient. But even without all the bells and whistles, the stories were still compelling. I taped it on my VCR back when people actually used VCRs and I must have watched that episode over and over.

Varkonyi just doesn't get the respect that other champions had gotten from the players, media, and fans. Call it bad luck. Poor timing. The way some people talk, they think he won his world championship in the 1970s when the fields were super small and you won a bracelet for essentially taking down a three table SNG.

Varkonyi is not a big time tournament player. He doesn't even consider himself a pro and dabbles with poker. He plays very few events on the circuit and does not have any sponsorship with a major online poker site. In fact, a quick glance at Varkonyi's Hendon Mob stats will tell you that registered a mere seven cashes since 2002. His two biggest score were in the WSOP main event... five years apart.

Varkonyi earned $2,085,118 over his career. Subtract the $2M he won at the Horseshoe in 2002, and he has only won a mere $85K in six years. His resume has unimpressive final table finishes at two rinkydink tournaments in LA-based casinos.

Varokonyi's greatest feat was not his victory in 2002, rather his 117th place finish in the 2007 WSOP that included 6,358. Varkonyi outlasted over 6,000 players in 2007 compared to 631 in 2002.

I have vivid flashbacks of a pregnant Olga Varkonyi going deep in the 2005 main event, as Robert Varkonyi morosely stood on the rail and sweated his wife. It must have been both an enthralling and humiliating experience to witness his wife make a run and finish in 238th place and get more media coverage for her spurt than he did when he won the whole damn thing.

Olga also cashed in this year's Ladies event. Sadly, since 2005 Olga has more WSOP cashes than her husband, the former world champion.

Well on Day 1b of the 208 main event. Robert Varkonyi made he cut and advanced to Day 2 while his wife busted out and had to sweat him on the rail for the rest of the night. I'm sure Varkonyi would love to cash in the main event in consecutive years. He's on the right path to do so. He has already outlasted the likes of Negreanu, Fossilman, and Ted Forrest.

Varkonyi busted Phil Hellmuth at the 2002 WSOP main event. Hellmuth ranted and raved and said Varonkyi was an awful player. Yeah, some things never change. Hellmuth then made a ridiculous bet that if Varkonyi won it all, then he would shave his head. Well, Varkonyi won and everyone held Hellmuth to his word. At the end of that telecast of the final table, Hellmuth sat down and Becky Binion took an electric razor and shaved it all off as Gabe Kaplan tooled on him and Matt Savage milled around in the background and Devilfish was mugging for camera time.

So now it's time to me to issue a challenge. If Robert Varkonyi makes the final table and is one of the final nine players... I will shave my head (what little hair I have left) for charity just like Hellmuth.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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