Friday, July 08, 2011

2011 WSOP Day 38 - Main Event Day 1A: Dolly's Abyss

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

In the film Wall Street, moments before the protagonist Bud Fox gets hauled off by the SEC and NYPD for insider trading, one of the elder statesmen in the firm, Lou Mannheim, pulls Bud aside to offer him advice...
"Bud I like you, just remember something -- Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him, at that time a man finds his character -- and that is what keeps him out of the abyss..."
If you ask me, Lou's advice was way to late. By that point in the third act of the film, the young and eager Bud Fox had been corrupted by the capitalist system and driven by pure greed to commit horrible crimes in order to get ahead in the game. Ergo, cheaters never win -- which was Oliver Stone's intentions as a filmmaker -- to demonstrate that greed is evil. The opposite effect occurred because Gordon Gekko, the villain Stone created, popularized the catchy tagline "Greed is good."

The slick-backed-haired and suspenders wearing Gekko become the iconic figure for all greedheads on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms all over America ad worldwide. We were supposed to feel deep sorrow and empathy for Bud Fox because of his innocent descent into the abyss, but by the end of the movie I was among the majority of viewers who were super pissed off that he couldn't do the time in prison like a man, and instead ratted out his mentor Gekko.

In Wall Street Bud Fox bought a ticket (essentially a shortcut to fame and fortune) and knew his consequences... if he took his angle shot and missed, he'd have his soul crushed and he'd disappear into the abyss. That's the crux of Lou Mannheim's speech, which I quoted above.

* * *

All it takes is $10,000 and a set of balls. That's the beauty and simpicty of the WSOP Main Event Championship. Anyone... anyone... with $10,000 in cash (and/or satellite chips) can buy a ticket to the most prestigious and the richest tournament on the circuit. For the price of a used Honda Accord, you can take a shot at the becoming the next big superstar in poker, or become a multi-millionaire after a couple weeks of winning coinflips. All it takes is to be one of the final nine players left standing at the end of two weeks of slaughter and carnage in the killing fields, and overnight they'll become household names -- thereby securing what Andy Warhol dubbed their fifteen minutes of fame.

Much like show business, the November Niners have a very short amount of time to maximize their fame (for profit, free drinks, and getting laid) before their rising star fizzles out and their faces becomes a blurry image in someone's head that "used to be famous" at one time. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, fame is a fickle accolade because one minute you're on the cover of every magazine and everyone wants to do an interview with you, and then the next minute, you're replaced by the next hot, young, pretty thing, or the comeback pro of the year, or the donk du jour.

Ever notice that the pros whom stay in the limelight are the ones without solid winning records? They're good at what they do -- which is being able to manipulate the show business aspect of tournament poker and ham it up for the TV cameras. After all, who wants to watch a bunch of boring guys play poker? I have to do it for a living and have to eat a fistful of pills to keep things interesting, but the folks at home have to be interested, otherwise ratings dip and everyone loses revenue. It only takes one or two talkative and semi-controversial pros to liven up a table, and thereby spice up an episode or three.

My advice to friends/pros seeking out a shortcut to fame and fortune via the WSOP -- if you're a quiet and shy player, you have to go deep to get noticed. If you're a brash, salty, and someone who loves/hates you, then you have a decent shot at getting face time on TV -- but the deeper you go, the more camera crew can follow you around as much as possible.

A couple of years ago, Phil Hellmuth was seated at the TV table with eight very very quiet and timid players. Hellmuth explained that they were actually on a TV show (once they set foot on the ESPN featured table) and not so much a poker tournament. Unless they loosened up and started talking, the entire table was going to get broken and none of their loved ones would see them on TV. When Hellmuth wasn't running good at the tables, he did everything possible to keep the cameras on him at all costs -- from the tantrums, to the verbal lashings, to the vacuous entrances that serve absolutely no critical function whatsoever.

It just so happened that Hellmuth turned his poker game around in 2011 with a trio of runner-up performances and three shots at winning a bracelet. But when all else fails, enter the Poker Brat.

* * *

Doyle Brunson, good old Texas Dolly, is the greatest living poker player. At this point in the twilight of Brunson's career, he reminds me of Ted Williams when Teddy Ballgame was still alive -- because the powers to be at the MLB used to roll him out at Old Timers' Days and billed him as the greatest living ball player.

It's hard to argue against Texas Dolly's status as the greatest living legend, so it would seem odd to not have him at the WSOP Main Event. But that's what almost happened. Old Texas Dolly is just as described -- old. He wanted to skip the $50,000 Players' Championship and only played in honor of his late friend Chip Reese. Doyle had zero desire to play in the Main Event. It wasn't a money issue, but when Dewey Tomko put up the cash for Brunson's ticket, old Dolly felt obligated to play. He's old school like that, but then again, Dolly always shoots from the hip whether you agree with his chauvinist, old fashioned ways.

Luckily because of social media outlets like Twitter, we can get a glimpse into the legend's mind. He was honest when he said he was tired, depressed, and lacking enthusiasm for the game. Sure, that describes mostly everyone I know in poker, but Dolly is at a point in his life when he doesn't have to do jack shit. He begrudgingly showed up to play on Day 1A of the Main Event, and even though he didn't want the attention, he still shouldered the burden of being poker's icon and unfurled a forced smile onto his wrinkled face and uttered the infamous words, "Shuffle up and deal!"

Dolly has never been the same since Chip Reese died. It was like losing a brother, hes often said. Once Chip was no longer across the felt in cash games, Dolly lost all desire to play. At that point in his career, he kept the show going out of business obligations including his own online site. I could only imagine how much that pissed off a guy who has been a rogue his entire life -- bound by contracts and other legal mumbo jumbo -- when all he wants to do is be like any other grandfatherly type in America -- sit on a porch somewhere, swap stories, bitch about current events, and fawn over his grandkids. Alas, the Texas Dolly show had to continue whether he liked it or not. However, once April 15th and Black Friday hit and subsequently Blue Monday, Dolly lost the last semblance of sanity. His appearance at the 50K was out of respect for Chip Reese, but I as shocked he showed up on Day 1A despite his statement that he was skipping it all.

I guess that was the big news on Day 1A -- Texas Dolly might have played in his last ever Main Event. WIll he be back in 2012? No one knows but Dolly. If he ends up riding off into the sunset, well at least I can say I had a front row seat to his 10th bracelet in 2005 and I also saw the last hand he ever played at the 2011 Main Event. Short-stacked Brunson shoved with pocket fives. His opponent held A-Q and flopped two pair. Brunson did not suckout and even though he requires a single crutch to move his over-sized, hobbled body, Dolly quickly got on his scooter and bailed with a camera crew and one annoying fan running behind trying to snag an aurograph.

Brunson looked bored to death at the TV table inside the Mothership, while across the table, Mickey Appleman looked like he just woke up in the backseat of his car and crawled into the Amazon Ballroom. The lights at the Mothership were unusually dim with purple hues causing ominous dark shadows that hid the sparse crowd -- not even thirty people sat in the audience and watched the greatest living poker player in the world. Despite the murky purples, the bright white Stetson sitting atop of Dolly's head was the beacon for all light inside of the Rio. It caught the focus of my eye and I was mesmerized by the wisdom and stories saturated inside Dolly's brain. I heard that after Ted Williams died, his family kept his body and even froze his head. I wondered if all of poker could do the same for Dolly when he eventually passes, or put him into a cryogenic state ASAP and then unthaw him in two decades when there's a cure for whatever ails him.

* * *

"I'm ready to slit my wrist," joked one anonymous WSOP suit about the number of Main Event entrants on Day 1A that failed to meet his lofty expectations.

But hey, at least Jason Alexander played, right?

Photo credit: Winamax

897 is not a number worthy of a suicide. It's par for the course considering Black Friday and the fact the Main Event was scheduled to have Day 1C and Day 1D fall on the weekend.

One floor guy insisted the Main Event would get in excess of 6,200. I offered to take the under at that number and at 6,000. After crunching the numbers with supercomputer Bill Chen and feeding our data into the KevMath 4000, Snoopy and I waited for the prediction to be spit out. We hypothesized that we'd get around 5,500 runners.

Erick Lindgren must have acquired the same intel because he was looking to book bets on 5,500 and over.

With fewer than 900 entrants on Day 1A, we anticipated (and the suits at the WSOP prayed like a desperate Christian calling in his one-time chip with the Big Guy upstairs) that the bulk of the players would arrive on Day 1D -- in excess of 2,000 on Sunday -- and maybe as many on Saturday when the weekend warriors arrive for their shot at the glory, the cash, and the bling. At press time, the number of entrants on Day 1B was rather paltry and early estimates suggested that the 1,000 mark will not be broken until Day 1C.

Lindgren set a helluva a line, but we won't know until the end of registration on Day 1B to get a clearer picture on overall numbers.

* * *

Day 1A did not feel like the WSOP Main Event. It lacked the spark, the magic, the intensity, and excitement of my previous Main Events. Why? The low turnout was a factor -- simply less people playing so not as many freaks, costumes (aside from the dude who dressed up like Cinderella), or big names to gush about. The set up of the Amazon Ballroom including the massive Mothership sort of created major divisions within the room. In the past, on ESPN you'd see sweeping boom camera shots of the entire Amazon Ballroom with the clattering of chips in the background. That shot is impossible this year because 441 Productions no longer has the contract to cover the WSOP for ESPN. The new contract went to Poker PROductions -- the brain trust behind late night programs like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker.

Poker PROductions comes from a closed set, TV game-show type mentality, whereas 441 approached the WSOP more like a reality show. Matt and Dave at 441 told the WSOP in their manner -- piecing together human interest stories while keeping the familiar pros and personalities in the mix to keep the audience at home comfortable with faces they recognized, meanwhile they weaved a backstory for the new fresh faces, especially leading up to the November Nine. It'll be interesting to see how this year's WSOP pans out, especially because thee is no specific coverage slated for Day 1s or Day 2s, and full coverage wouldn't happen until Day 3.

I think a huge part of the lack of atmosphere on Day 1A was the simple fact that 441 Productions did not have a presence at the WSOP. When you saw the entire film crew on the TV table and outer tables during previous WSOPs, you knew you were potentially walking onto a set where you might catch some of the same action you'd see on ESPN. Even the mobile units that roved the floors seeking stories created buzz and some drama because surly cameramen lugging hundreds of pounds of video equipment barreled into anything in their way while boom mic guys danced around behind the dealer to get into position to record any table banter. I really missed that aspect of the Main Event, because the floor had much less clutter than previous years. The vibe wasn't the same and the Main Event felt like a Donkament.

I'm hoping Day 1A as just an anomaly, and that the excitement will pick up with larger flights over the weekend. But for now, the gang at 441 are dearly missed. The WSOP doesn't feel the same without them.

* * *

By the way, here's an index of coverage on Tao of Poker from Day 1A...
Prelude to the Killing Fields
With a Little Help From My Friends: The Michael Stevens Story by Change100
Tao of Pokerati - Episode 26: The Main Event Begins
Tao of Pokerati - Episode 27: Almost Famous with Snoopy
* * *

By the way, the Main Event is here. Follow @taopauly for Twitter updates throughout the day.

Also, help support indie writers and buy my books: Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers and the World Series of Poker, and my recently released novel, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Both are also available for Kindles and iPads.


  1. "across the table, Mickey Appleman looked like he just woke up in the backseat of his car and crawled into the Amazon Ballroom."

    Mickey looks like that ALL THE TIME!

    did i tell you the story of when Mickey fell asleep in the Mirage sportsbook 30-odd years ago. The security guard came over and nudged him, and wads of money fell out of his jacket.

    "sorry, sir, you can stay."

  2. Pauly you're always talking about the balls it takes to pony up and play the ME. Well it takes bigger balls to do what you do bro. You let us become a part of your life. Whether it is 4am PaiGow, percs and addies, phish festival, trips to the sports book, encounters with sheeple and brokedicks...whatever it is you let us in and that takes balls. I'm not a huge fan of sentiment but if this is your last Series I couldn't let it pass without saying that. Thanks for all the work and letting us be there with you.

  3. Thanks for the blog and the inspiration / motivation for writing :) keeps reminding me that it still makes sense what we bloggers do ...