Thursday, July 07, 2005

Main event begins, interviews with Phil Gordon, Lee Jones

And I thought it was crowded yesterday. You should try walking through the Rio when the main event is on break, as I just did. It’s like swimming against the current. The $10,000 buy in granddaddy of all World Series of Poker events began at 11 a.m. today, with about 5,500 people participating. There’s certainly electricity in the air that wasn’t here before.

I walked down to the Palms to have lunch with Andy Bloch and Tom Sims. I’m writing the magazine article for Bluff (I hope) about those two. Tom used to be THE media for the WSOP a decade ago. Now he plays video poker for a living, raking in a princely sum playing only 12 to 15 hours a week. The Palms has some of the best full pay machines in town. The key to success in video poker is finding and playing them.

Andy and Tom hadn’t met in a while, though they still keep in touch via other means. We joked that Andy’s girlfriend, Jennifer, was doing better than him at the WSOP. She finished 20th in the razz tournament. She might have fared better, but Andy said she had to sit out for 15 minutes and lost $3,000 in antes after uttering the F word.

Andy recently bought a house in Las Vegas. He had been rooming with Phil Gordon for awhile. The roomie was a bit messy I hear.

After our meeting, Andy headed to the Rio and Tom showed me the finer nuances of video poker. After watching for about 15 minutes, his hands dancing over the keys as the cards were dealt, I saw that I often do not employ optimal strategy when I play. He ordered a Diet Coke from the bar, but nursed it by not taking a sip unless he hit a flush or full house. That way he only has to order about a drink an hour and he only plays for two hours.

I wished him good luck and walked back to the Rio and finally explored the lifestyle show. Online poker sites have models hawking their offerings (poker offerings, that is), vendors are selling chip covers, T-shirts, caps and the like. Several new magazines were being handed out for free. Amir Vahedi signed autographs at the area. Phil Gordon signed copies of his poker strategy DVD. Chris Moneymaker hawked a number of products and posed with fans. Freebies were a plenty. PokerStars spinners, Bluff T-shirts, Bodog caps, you name it, it could be had for free. All in all, you’ve got to love this. I ran into one of the Satterfield boys again (they of the Bad Beat table) and we joked about what the WSOP was like a decade ago.

“If you came here 10 years ago, it wouldn’t be one percent of this,” he said.

Lee Jones, manager of PokerStars, sat down to chat with me. Many with the PokerStars family were uneasy Thursday morning after the London subway bombings, where the site’s corporate offices are located.

PokerStars qualified 1,116 players for the main event, Jones told me, which represents almost exactly a fifth of the field.

“The thing we’re best known for is being the best tournament site and that just rolls into qualifying for the World Series of Poker,” he said.

Jones said interest already exists for next year’s WSOP.

“The World Series is a special case for us because our players want it,” he said. “A guy asked me last night when we’re running satellites for the 2006 WSOP.”

Jones said site traffic has more than quadrupled in the past year. He said, for example, that the site’s regular Sunday $215 tournament has increased from an average of 500-600 players a year ago, to 2,500 or so today.

The site is gearing for its World Championship of Online Poker, the largest of its kind in cyberspace, in which prize pools are guaranteed to be at least $8 million. Jones also expects increased interest in the PokerStars Carribean Adventure, held in January at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

“We’re just going to go and go and go,” he told me.

I also chatted with Phil Gordon for a few minutes. He told me he has signed up another 100 players today for his Put a Bad Beat on Cancer and still hopes to enlist several hundred more before the main event is over.

I asked him about his travel schedule. Gordon told me he plays in about 40 tournaments a year, including close to 20 in the World Series of Poker. He’s gone for nine months of the year from his Las Vegas home.

“Especially Mississippi and some of the more out of the way casinos are a pain. Fortunately most of the major tournaments are in Las Vegas or Los Angeles,” Gordon said.

Gordon also spends a lot of time on speaking engagements. Businesses employ him to give a speech and then conduct a poker tournament afterwards.

“The business of poker is better than poker itself,” he said.

Gordon is most well known now as the host of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. He told me the concept began from a Hollywood home game. Hank Azaria, a friend of Gordon’s who is best known as the man of many voices on The Simpsons, hosts a regular Sunday game that includes actors like David Schwimmer and Josh Molina. From that sprung the idea to televise a weekly poker tournament featuring six celebrities.

Producers screen tested not only Gordon, but also Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke for the role of poker pro commentator. Gordon got the gig.

I asked him what he thought of the often bad play of the celebrities on the show.

“It is horrible,” he said, “but you can learn from their mistakes. You can learn more from watching our show than the World Poker Tour or World Series of Poker.”


Ignatious said...

great stuff, johnny, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Johnny--Thanks for the interesting details. Of all these Hollywood poker players, did you happen to see if Ben Affleck was in the crowd? Is he a regular in the celeb poker circuits?