Sunday, July 31, 2005

Finally, the final WSOP trip report

I apologize for my prolonged absence, having spent most of the last two weeks visiting with family and taking a vacation (a vacation from my one-year vacation, what a note) to the Smoky Mountains. We used to go up there every summer camping with my paternal grandfather. I hadn’t been since 1997, the fall before cancer claimed by grandfather’s life, and things weren’t quite the same. Perhaps it was the crass commercialism that continues to encroach the area, what with all the putt-putt golf courses and shopping malls you can shake your wallet at. Or perhaps my recent trips to places like Yellowstone and Yosemite have dampened my enthusiasm for the Appalachians. Probably it’s just a matter of getting older. Life is never more fun, or vacations as fun, as when you are a kid, taking it all in with wide-eyed wonder, before the adult cynicism creeps in.

I was proud to see I was still getting 35 hits a day last week, thanks to post WSOP bounce I suppose. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Before I finish my WSOP trip report (yeah, two weeks later!) let me provide an update of my travel schedule. On Tuesday, I’m flying to Vegas again for BARGE. Continuing the Year of Johnny, I’m riding with my friend Brian straight from the airport to Myrtle Beach, S.C., on a non poker related matter. Sometime in late August/early September I plan to do my Mississippi River travels, up to Deadwood, S.D. In mid September I’ll go to Atlantic City for the U.S. Poker Championship. That’s enough to keep a man busy for a couple of months.

OK, picking up where we left off…

I crawled out of bed fairly late on July 15, but things were hopping when I got to Binion’s. For once, there were some pretty big games going on downtown. I parked myself in a 10-20 game for most of the day, watching the occasional big name walk past, and salivating as the blonde “Bluff girls” strolled by, with cleavage and hip huggers in full view. One girl’s pants were so far south as to nearly show the upper part of her pubis.

“If that was my daughter I’d kill her,” said the dealer.

In the back, Poker Probot was taking on Phil Laak in the man vs. machine battle. Jennifer Tilly was on hand to cheer her man on, with the supportive lettering, “My boyfriend can kick your ass” on her T-shirt. Laak dominated the match, to the thrill of the gathered crowd.

Laak told a group of reporters after the match that he’s been interested in artificial intelligence in poker since he met one of the researchers from the University of Alberta while playing poker at the Commerce Casino near L.A. Laak studied the work of the researchers and was interested in meeting them in Canada, but thanks to Golden sponsoring this event, he got to meet the developers and play the robot in Vegas.

Laak said he doesn’t think robots are bad for poker.

“If a guy is smart enough to create a robot he’s going to be clever enough to play well anyway,” he said.

Laak doesn’t expect the robots that now exist online to have much of an impact on online play. “Since poker is so expansive and there are so many people, the bots will never affect the money games,” he said.

Some of the AI has been used to create Poker Academy, a software program players can buy to help improve their game. Laak is familiar with that software, and use his knowledge to his advantage. “I knew some of the weaknesses that the Poker Academy bot has and I figured [Poker Probot] would have them too.”

As an example, Laak said Poker Probot bluffed too often when face cards came on the flop. Ever confident, the man in the Oakley shades (but no hooded sweatshirt) said he could beat bots consistently.

I walked back over to my 10-20 game to find two gorgeous brunettes sitting to my right, wearing skimpy tank tops and shorts. The clothing read “Doyle’s Dollys” and they were there to convince us men to play on the site Doyle’s Room after seducing us with their good looks and dangerous curves. Their play wasn’t bad, probably about average. After learning I was from Alabama, the dollies would chant, “Roll Tide” after I won a pot.

Sadly, one of them lost her $200 buy in and they took off. Less than an hour later, however, another interesting character sat to my right, former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, formerly of the Twins and Yankees (I think.)

A buddy of his was already in the game, and the two toyed with the guy in seat one who claimed to be from Minnesota and a Twins fan, but could not identify Mahomes.

The one seat player wasn’t too sharp anyway. After he heard me speak earlier in the night, he asked me if I was from Missouri. “People from Missouri don’t sound like me,” I told him.

I grabbed a late night dinner at the coffee shop and headed up to the tournament area. There were still six players remaining as 1 a.m. approached. Outside, I spotted a guy wearing a sign “Sportscenter is next” on his hat and a “Team Kanter” T-shirt on his torso so of course I had to inquire.

He was Jonathan Singer, a friend of Aaron Kanter, who was there to cheer him on.
He was joined by Kanter’s fiancée Jenny Pedroza and fellow “Team Kanter” member Scott Meyer.

“We’re out here because we’re too nervous,” Singer told me. “There are probably 40 people here rooting him on and the local newspapers are here.”

The group was still grappling with the fact that their friend was now a millionaire, with a chance at $7.4 million.

“He is the best one of all of us to handle this situation,” Meyer said.

Kanter knocked out both Greg Raymer and Phil Ivey the day before. Singer said he and other friends went out and got the “Team Kanter” T-shirts printed Friday for the final day action.

I decided to catch some sleep as the final seemed likely to go awhile and my flight was in eight hours. I walked past the sports book, where dozens were still gathered to watch the final on closed circuit television, and on to the Four Queens.

I got my 6:30 a.m. wake up call and headed back to Binion’s with a sense that the thing was finally over. In fact, it had just ended. Second-place finisher Steve Danneman was giving an interview in the press room, a converted Chinese restaurant.

Apparently, Danneman obtained the nickname “Bloody Mary” during the tournament after he got shortstacked on Day 6 and starting knocking back some drinks.

“I started having more fun and before the end of the night I had $2.1 million in chips,” he said.

Danneman’s friend Jerry, last name not said, split the entry with him 50/50, making Jerry a very wealthy man, with not quite $2 million after taxes.

“He was the only fool who would back me,” Danneman quipped.

“I can’t be disappointed I made it that far,” he said of second place. “I was the best American player in the tournament.”

This was also, by the way, the player from Baltimore that the Sun reporter was tracking. I guess he got a hell of a story.

The winner, as you all know, was Joseph Hachem, an Australian. I walked back to Benny’s Bullpen and tournament directors were toasting him with champagne as the media horde surrounded the final table. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to dawdle as I had to finish packing and get to the airport. After three and a half weeks I was ready to get the heck out of there anyway.

As I boarded the flight, an Asian man spotted my WSOP cap.

“Did you play?” he asked me.

“No,” I replied, and thought for a second before adding, “Maybe next year.”

Friday, July 15, 2005

Less than 24 hours to go

This will be my last post from Vegas as I fly out early tomorrow morning and plan to catch much of the final table this evening. I haven't entered Benny's Bullpen yet to watch it live. Apparently, Vinnie Favorito has taken a hike. The ESPN crew tore down their old stage and reassembled it in Binion's in less than 12 hours. Pretty good work I'd say. The same black cloth with the "starlight" in it covers the walls of the room, including the old case where the Horseshoe kept the bracelets where all could see them before they were slipped on the wrist of each event champion.

Nearly all of the players and dealers have gone home, their Series long over. Only the few participants and hanger on remain, some of them hopping into the tournaments and cash games at Binion's. I saw a $10-$25 pot limit Omaha taking place, but most of the games are of the usual small fodder that Binion's runs. What was a fantastic WSOP is really already over as the final drags to its conclusion, the last time any of it will be held at Binion's. The casino is cashing in by selling T-shirts that say, "I caught the final table" in its gift shop, sans WSOP logo, of course.

People are gathering at various points of the casino to watch the event on closed circuit television. The most popular spot is the old diner just outside the Bullpen, where the final table is being projected onto a large screen. I walked up there last night and spotted Ted in the front row so I grabbed the seat beside him. Over to my left sat the Baltimore Sun reporter I had met earlier in the trip dozing off in a booth. A Baltimore man is among the final nine, so the reporter was trying to stay awake at 1 a.m. to keep tabs on him. It's 4 a.m. in Baltimore and the reporter has been here only a week so I understand his tiredness. It took me at least a week to settle into the new time zone and set my sleep patterns after I arrived in Vegas.

Neither Ted nor I had much luck on Thursday. I played the 8 p.m. again at Binion's and again departed early. I caught some of the robot finals. Hilton Givens and his Poker Probot took down first and the $100,000 prize. Givens also received a huge necklace with the words ""

"You think this is enough bling bling?" he asked me.

Phil Laak will play Poker Probot today at 5 p.m. to determine the fate of humanity. Once a computer beats us in a game based not only on math but also on emotion it's all downhill from there.

Mike Matusow is the only name player left among the final nine. Phil Ivey and Greg Raymer were both busted yesterday. Raymer took a particularly cruel beat, his KK cracked by JQ of hearts after hearts fell on the turn and river. Given Raymer's good fortune last year he was probably due for some bad luck during this go around.

I ran into Brad "Otis" Willis shortly after Raymer's exit in 24th place. Otis, who blogs for Poker Stars, wasn't happy about the beat.

"He was the story of the series," Otis told me. "He was our story."

Meanwhile, I am drinking my last crappy cup of coffee at the Fitzgerald's Krispy Kreme as I prepare to sign off. I gave up the doughnuts about a week ago as they were unkind to my waistline.

Las Vegas is one of the most exciting cities in the country, whether or not you care to gamble, but the novelty has worn off for this poor old country boy. I'll be preparing for my next trip, probably a drive along the Mississippi River, starting in New Orleans, when I get back. Right now, I'm ready for that airplane to carry me home to see my kin. I miss ole 'Bamy once again and I think it's a sin.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A closer view of the heart pounding robot action. Posted by Picasa

Hilton Givens watches his robot compete against two others in the back of the Binion's poker room. Posted by Picasa

Self portrait in my room. I'm wearing the $6.99 lizard eye sunglasses I bought at the lifestyle show, though you can't really see the lizard eyes in this photo.  Posted by Picasa

The pentultimate day in Vegas

The WSOP tournament area was beginning to look like a morgue yesterday. Sure, there were still plenty of people in the room, either playing the last tournament, a $1,000 NLHE, or watching the final six tables of the main event. Some participated in the few cash games remaining. But the pavilion had a different feel, just knowing that the greatest poker tournament ever put on was about to end. Many tables had been folded up and placed against the walls and the satellite area was silent.

At the featured table, I saw Greg Raymer stare down an opponent with his lizard eye sunglasses. The other player folded and the patrons cheered for the crowd favorite.

I walked over to the $1K tourney and spotted Ted McNeely bust out. The Oregon timber and cattle farmer and I have crossed paths numerous times during the trip and he has become almost like a father figure for me during the trip. We shared a cab back to downtown (he is staying at Binion’s) and a buffet at the Plaza. We chatted about his business and I told him my own father, by day a middle school history teacher, raises some cattle on the side.

“Every time I lose a thousand dollars in a tournament I just remember I have to let one cow out of the gate,” he said.

Ted owns thousands of acres of timberland in Oregon and said he has bought some, sold the timber and essentially got the land for free. “It’s like poker, you only make money when you cash out,” he said.

We walked over to the poker room to check on the Ultimate Poker Challenge, that day a $2,500 buy-in event. They are all no limit hold’em. I spotted Andy Bloch, Eric Lindgren and Max Pescatori still in the field with half of the 53 players eliminated.

I walked over to Binion’s to check on the progress of the robots and was able to chat with Ken Mages, the event’s organizer. Mages told me he was hired by one of the online poker sites to study how people “cheat” online. The quotation marks are Mages own because he doesn’t feel using a robot to play online is cheating, though the sites (and many players) are of a different opinion.

Mages created his own software to play poker and told me that a ‘bot essentially has two parts. The decision engine can quickly calculate mathematically the odds of a card coming that would allow the robot to win the hand.

The second part is a series of if-then statements, often hundreds of thousands of them. For example, if the flop has a certain card and the other players bets, then the robot would fold.

Mages first built his robot in April and put it to use playing low limit tables on one site.

“At first I lost and then I got the hang of how people at those levels played so I adjusted my if-then statements,” he said.

While Mages slept, the robot played. Mages would usually wake up to find a modest profit in his account.

“Was I cheating?” he asked. “I would argue no. I programmed the robot to make the decisions I would make if I was awake.”

Mages argues that players can use calculators while sitting in front of their computers, which is essentially half of a robot’s function.

Mages bought the URL and started selling robot software for $60 each. He sold 300 in two weeks, but later got out of the business when technical support became a headache.

There are a handful of other poker playing robot creators and six of the best have gathered in Las Vegas to compete in the World Robot Poker Championship (, which started at Binion’s on Tuesday. One robot is eliminated during each of four qualifying rounds. One of those four losing robots who wins a tournament against the other three losers will compete with the two remaining for the robot championship.

The robot creators study the play and take notes. Every two hours they go in and change their if-then statements in the code to adjust to their opponents.

“They get better and better as we whittle it down,” Mages said. “They’re the same adjustments you would make against your opponents when you play poker except it’s happening on the computer.”

The event is sponsored by Golden, they of the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich and other oddities, and the winner will receive $100,000. The winner will also probably face pro player Phil Laak on Friday, as well as a robot from the University of Alberta, an institution that has studied artificial intelligence of this sort for years.

“When Kasparov lost to Deep Blue people were depressed,” Mages said. “I think a lot of people who are passionate about poker will feel the same if the robot beats a pro.”

He doesn’t think they should, however. Mages said the project has received both positive and negative responses from passers-by.

“There’s a guy that’s a regular here who said he’s got a million in a lockbox and he wants to put $100,000 up and play a robot,” Mages said.

On Wednesday, Poker Probot squared off against CatFish and Gobot in the last qualifying round. Hilton Givens from Lafayette, Ind., the creator of PP, said he mainly created his robot just to see if he could do it. The computer technology graduate of Purdue University likes to play with his robot online.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “It’s like you write your own book and you’re reading it to see your own strategy.”

Givens was leading in the qualifying round as we watched the robots go at it on a plasma screen.

“It’s early,” he said.

I went back to the Four Queens for some rest before trying for the final table trifecta at the 8 p.m. tourney at Binion’s.

It was not to be.

A young punk, clad in cap, sunglasses and iPod, who was playing aggressively, raised from the cutoff seat to 300. I had 100 in the big blind and looked down to find A-K. Rather than blow him out of the pot (because I thought he didn’t have much) I just called to try and trap on the flop. Those first three cards of A-8-2 were perfect. I checked, he bet 400 and I check raised to 1,000. He thought for nearly a minute before calling. I figured the turn of 8 missed him so I bet again. He put me all in for the little I had left and turned over 7-8. Oh well. I returned to Binion’s later to look for Ted, who was also playing this event, and found neither Ted nor the young punk among the four tables remaining. I was glad for the latter.

Andy made the final table at the UPC as Eric Lindgren was eliminated on the bubble in eighth. The final table is filmed today.

The final 27 players gather today at Binion’s to play down to nine. Tomorrow, someone will be crowned the new world champion and receive $7.5 million. Phil Ivey, Mike Matusow and Greg Raymer are all still in it. Maybe Raymer’s statement to me won’t come true. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him win again. He’s a great guy and a good ambassador for the game of poker.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Interview with Minh Nguyen, more success (yes!)

I ran into Minh Nguyen at the Rio yesterday so I didn’t miss the chance for an interview. Nguyen has fared well this year, making the final table three times and finishing in the money a fourth. He busted out of the main event on the first day, however. Last year Nguyen cashed seven times.

“Poker is getting tougher and tougher,” he said.

Nguyen said Harrah’s should make the top prize $10 million, or even $15 million to bring more attention to the series.

“It would draw more people in the long run,” he said.

Nguyen says he plays as many World Series events as he can. “Every time I have a chance I get in.”

A native of Vietnam, Nguyen came to America by accident. He was working on a fishing boat at the age of 15 when the crew of the boat decided to flee the country. Nguyen had the choice of coming along or trying to make it 20 miles to shore in a shipping container. Not surprisingly, he stayed on the boat. Unfortunately, the boat got lost in the waters of the Pacific and the crew was left without food or water for 10 days.

They were finally spotted by American F-16s based out of the Phillipines and picked up by a tank carrier.

“I think about those people ever day for picking us up,” Nguyen said. “Otherwise we would have been dead.”

Nguyen was kept in Manila for two years before being sent to a foster family in Montana to work on their 4,000-acre ranch, a life he said he enjoyed greatly. He lived there for seven years.

Before coming to the United States, Nguyen had a basic knowledge of traditional poker, though he was more versed in the Chinese version of the game. One day, a friend of his who ran a card room asked Nguyen to run it while he went hunting. Nguyen did such a good job or running the game that another club owner hired him to do it all the time. Nguyen also dealt and learned the game in the four years he had that job.

In 1993, Nguyen won a tournament in Reno for $4,000 and change.

“Then I got hooked,” he said.

A $15,000 score at the Four Queens annual tournament that fall hooked him even more.

Nguyen eventually moved to the Los Angeles area to continue his rising poker career. Men “The Master” Nguyen, who Minh Nguyen is often confused for, backed him for a couple of years before Minh decided to go out on his own.

He said that behind nearly every successful pro is a man with deep pockets.

“Almost all of the big names they have their own backer,” Nguyen said. “You can go for a year without winning so you need someone with a lot of money.”

“That’s why a lot of the big money players don’t have a lot of money. They might win $500,000 and owe all of it to the backer.”

He said many players will get 40 to 50 percent of what they win, or less if they have had a rough stretch. He said that thought can creep into the back of a player’s mind as they climb the prize pool of a tournament.

“Shit, I win a million, but I only get $200,000,” Nguyen said. “It makes them lose focus.”

As Internet poker has grown in popularity, the names of the game have signed on with various sites to endorse them. Full Tilt Poker alone has more than two dozen horses in its stable. Nguyen said for a long time he was never asked.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “I’m a name and I have two [WSOP] bracelets.”

But finally he signed on with upstart site Poker Host, earning $50,000 to wear clothing with the company’s logo for a year. He also plays online a couple of hours a day as part of his contract.

Nguyen finished second in the $1,500 NLHE event on June 24 that will be shown on ESPN later this summer.

“When this thing comes out people will see Poker Host and want to go play,” Nguyen said.

Amir Vahedi and Hoyt Corkins are also endorsers of that site.

I asked Nguyen how many tournaments to which he travels. His reply? “Too many.”

He told me he likes to drive to Foxwoods in Connecticut and back to Los Angeles in the fall. It allows him time to think about poker and how to play the hands during the long trip.

Nguyen and I parted ways, the discussion leaving me further buoyed after my $3,300 win from the night before. It’s not far below Nguyen’s first decent tournament prize and we see how well he has turned out. Maybe it could happen to me too.

I walked through the tournament area and spotted what I dubbed the “Full Tilt Poker table” with Phil Ivey, John Juanda and Howard Lederer at it.

A few minutes later I spotted a guy being congratulated by his family and wearing a polo shirt so I asked him for an interview. It turns out the guy is from Birmingham, just an hour up the road from T-Town.

He is Hunter Pappas, a salesman for Dental Supply International, and a 2000 graduate of the University of Alabama. He qualified on the online poker site Poker Room for $45. He finished 133 in the main event, pocketing $55,000.

“All gravy,” he said with a huge grin to a fellow Poker Room qualifier who came by to congratulate him.

Pappas made a grave error that crippled him. He had 330,000 in chips and raised on the button with K-Q. He was called by the big blind. The flop came rags and Pappas pushed all in. The big blind quickly called with Q-Q.

“For me, never playing in the World Series before, it’s just an incredible experience to fare this well,” he said.

Pappas outlasted more than 5,500 fellow participants to reach that point.

“I never expected to get in the top 2 percent so I can’t wait until next year,” he said.

I asked him about the attractive woman who congratulated him. He said she is Tiffany, his girlfriend but soon to be fiancé. Now he can afford that engagement ring.

“I don’t think I will be able to get by without that,” he said with a grin.

As I finished my interview with Pappas, up walked Lederer to the podium, quickly flanked by ESPN cameras. He had just busted out, as well.

As I left the tournament area, I stopped by the Bluff booth to chat with the magazine’s publisher, Eric Morris. Bluff is probably the most attractive of the poker magazines and boasts the greatest circulation with 215,000 or so copies printed every two months.

Bluff tries to be what Morris feels stalwart Card Player isn’t – a poker magazine for the mainstream. Card Player features numerous columns on often highly technical poker topics.

“They have stuff in there that’s over even my head,” Morris said.

Morris and I talked about some of the new magazines that were handed out at the WSOP, like “Poker Pro” and “Top Pair.” We both agreed that “Top Pair,” published by a blonde with enormous fake breasts, hence the mag’s name, and featuring bikini-clad models, is unfortunate for the industry.

Morris said that most of the new magazines seem to be following Bluff’s format of content about poker lifestyle rather than a magazine full of strategy alone.

“They seem to be copying us so we must be doing something right,” he said.

I caught the first seven innings of the All-Star Game and since the game was a blowout I headed to Binion’s to see if lightning could strike twice.

The World Series of Poker Robots was in full swing in the back of the room, as computer programs face off to see which is best. The winner will face, I hear, Phil Laak and Evelyn Ng on Friday to see if machine can beat man. More on this later.

In the tournament I was able to nearly triple up early, built my stack with aggressive play and hung on to the final table without being in many desperate situations. The final seven chopped it up by chip count. I pocketed about $1,100. Yeehaw!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

WSOP narrows, Success for me (finally)

I got to the Rio around 1 p.m. yesterday, just in time to see the main event players reach the money. They were dealing all 57 tables hand for hand, and it took a while to drop from 567 to 560 players. In fact, it took nearly 30 minutes for the bubble finisher #561 to bust out. Harrah's graciously awarded him a free seat in next year's main event. There was, of course, thunderous applause from the players and spectators when tournament director Johnny Grooms, standing on a makeshift podium in the center of the room, announced that they had all reached the money. He told the players to come to the podium when they busted out.

"Do not pass go, but do come to the podium to collect $12,500," Grooms quipped.

I walked over to check out how Clonie Gowen was faring on table 124 since I have a stake in her. I finished seventh in one of those Pieces of the Pros tournaments on FTP and I get a 1 percent match of her winnings. She won $14,500 so I get $145. I won't complain about free money.

I headed back toward the hotel as I wanted to watch the home run derby, especially since Brave Andruw Jones was in it. He failed to make the second round so I flipped off the tube and headed to Binion's to play in their nightly 8 p.m. tourney.

With all of the busted main event players in town, the poker rooms are filling up and Binion's was no exception. The 8 p.m. had more than 160 players, the largest field in the tournament's short history. I didn't expect much when I folded hand after hand. In the first three hours, I caught not a single premium hand and was able to hang on with a timely check raise bluff against a pre-flop button raiser who missed and a lucky catch with a small blind all in raise against a bunch of limpers. I held the 5-6 of hearts, a guy gave a loose call with a J-Q offsuit that just happened to be best, but a caught a 5 and he caught nothing.

I managed to catch just enough at the right time. A man put me all in with K-J and I called blind and turned over A-5 and won with two pair. Another time the small blind put me all in with K-4 and I picked up A-10 and pushed in and won the race.

I managed to reach the final table, it positioned on a raised platform and with the Binion's logo on blue felt with the phrase, "The place that made poker famous."

I folded a couple of hands early that I predicted I would regret. A guy made it 16,000 to go with blinds at 4K and 8K and I folded 99. I figured I would have to go all in with my 50,000 if I wanted to play and if called was at best a coin flip. I decided not to take the gamble, but I would have flopped a set and won the hand against an all in A-5 that made two pair.

Shortly after that I had K-10 under the gun and folded and the flop brought two tens.

The blinds passed me and I got short stacked again. Meanwhile a few players busted, leaving us with six. I had 8,000 in the BB with 10,000 behind me when all folded to the SB. He looked at my chips.

"If you raise I will call," I told him, thought he undoubtedly knew that anyway. It was an automatic play in that situation. He put me all in and flipped over 7-10 of diamonds. I turned over J-4 and I won with a pair of 4s.

That's when I caught fire, finding A-10 vs. A-5, A-K vs. A-9, K-Q vs. K-10. I put out three players in three hands, leaving me heads up with a Brit who I had played with at four different tables. The first hand heads up I pick up 10-10 and push all in. He calls with K-Q. The board comes J-J-J-2-K and he doubles up. I still have a small chip lead, but we decide to chop, each getting $3,300 and change. I agree, but told him I get the winner's T-shirt that says, "I won a Texas Hold'em tournament at Binion's," drawing laughs from the crowd of two dozen that has gathered to watch the final.

So after three weeks of struggle, I now show a modest profit from my time in Vegas. Hopefully the run will continue for my last few days here.

Monday, July 11, 2005

WSOP Main Event Day 3

I never made it to the Rio yesterday, instead doing research for my second book proposal. But I called Patrick this morning and he told me he busted last night on a suckout and Fell also lost late in the evening. Better luck next year guys. I hope to join you.

I was piddling around, playing a little blackjack before bedtime last night, and this chick with a "Got Poker?" T-shirt stands behind me for several minutes. I leave a $60 winner and head to the cashier and weird, fat chick follows me there. I don't notice her until I turn around and there she is, channeling a Kathy Bates "Misery" like expression.

"Can I buy your shirt?" she asks.

I was wearing a Bluff T-shirt that the magazine gave away at the lifestyle show. On the back is says "Official Witness of the 2005 World Series of Poker."

I stare at her blankly, fumbling for words.

"I'll give you ten dollars for it," she said.

Apparently, she expected me to pull it off in the middle of the casino floor, exposing my albino like hairy chest and portruding belly.

"I'd rather hang onto it," I replied.

"I'll give you twenty dollars for it," she insisted.

I finally relented at that price and told her I would go change. But rather than wait behind, she followed me into the elevator and up to the ninth floor. I was waiting for her to pull a gun, knife or perhaps sledgehammer, as I kept sneaking glances behind me.

She seemed eager to follow me into the room, but I told her to wait outside a minute. I pulled my free souvenir Slots-A-Fun T-shirt from my dresser and changed shirts. I walked outside and completed the deal. Thank God she wasn't waiting with a weapon when I opened the door.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

WSOP Main Event Day 2

Now that the three flights of players have been reduced by two thirds, they all get to come back today to face another room full of people. It's got to be a little bit daunting. I'm glad to see that a couple of RGP pals are still in. Patrick Jackson (PMJackson21) told me this morning that he has 36,000 and change going into today. I heard Jordan Devenport (Fell Knight) has around 60,000. Former RGPers like Chris Ferguson and Andy Bloch were once first time main event players. Who knows what success the current crop might yield?

I collected some more free goodies yesterday at the lifestyle show so for any poker buddies reading at home you might be getting something. You could barely walk through there yesterday afternoon as Phil Hellmuth, Scott Fischman and Greg Raymer were all signing autographs at the same time.

I'll probably swing by the Rio later, but I'm going to stop by the Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay poker rooms for research on my Vegas poker guide book first.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Linda Johnson interview, hanging out with Aubrey

I swear there are as may railbirds as players in the WSOP. Try walking through the tournament area while play is in progress and you will know what I mean. I promise they are breaking fire codes over at the Rio and they had better hope the fire marshal doesn’t find out. I recall that in Tunica in January that the fire marshal forced them to shoo people out of the tournament area or he would have shut down the entire operation.

I chatted with Linda Johnson at the Card Player Cruises booth Friday. She told me that all of the cruises sell out now, yet another sign of poker’s continued growth. The magazine sponsors five cruises a year, to places like Mexico, the Caribbean, Alaska and even Egypt.

Johnson is the announcer at the World Poker Tour events, a post she enjoys immensely.

“It’s a great job because I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people, entertain and see poker from a front row seat,” she said.

Many call Johnson, long a successful player and former publisher of Card Player, the “First Lady of Poker.”

“I think it means the old lady of poker,” she said with a laugh. “It’s an honor but it does have something to do with age I think.”

Johnson said she plays poker online while answering 200 to 300 emails a day, preferring four games each of $20-$40. She usually plays $75-$100 or $100-$200 when playing live.

She said she knew the WPT would be a success and expected poker to grow along with it.

“I’m really proud of the poker industry and what it has become,” she said. “I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg as far as poker’s growth goes.”

I met up with Aubrey again and his son-in-law Keith and we headed over to the Wynn as they had not played there before. It was fun sitting in the back seat of their rental car and listening to Aubrey’s stories of playing poker in town decades ago, from Steve Wynn as a slot boy to meeting former mob lawyer and present mayor Oscar Goodman. Aubrey recalled first playing with a young punk named Johnny Chan. One night at the Golden Nugget, in a $100-$200 game, Chan allegedly was acting like a hothead and Aubrey told him to calm down.

“He was slinging chips and cards around,” Aubrey said.

“Kind of like those kids last night,” Keith joked.

Some things never change.

I had a little success over at the Wynn in an $8-$16 game. Unfortunately, as my bankroll had dropped, so have the limits I’m playing. Keith and I waited for Aubrey to get up from his $2-$5 NL game so we could head to the Bellagio buffet for dinner.

As we watched Aubrey rack up his chips, I told Keith, “All of those players sitting there have no idea they just played with a two-time World Series bracelet winner. They think it’s just some old man.”

We both chuckled.

Keith doing the poker player's best friend -- folding. He made it late into the first day, but was eliminated. Posted by Picasa

This is Keith from Tuscaloosa during a break in the main event action. Posted by Picasa

Chris Moneymaker signs his John Hancock. Posted by Picasa

A sign you don't see every day. Posted by Picasa

A patron plays the new Activision WSOP video game, set for release later this summer for your favorite game console. Posted by Picasa

Todd Brunson signs autographs in the Doyle's Room booth. Posted by Picasa

What's the next best thing to The Price is Right? Spinning the bodog wheel at the lifestyle show for big money, big prizes. Posted by Picasa

This is the new WSOP themed slot, on display in the lifestyle show. Posted by Picasa

Andy Bloch and Tom Sims together for the first time in years. In 1997, Sims sweated Bloch for most of the WSOP main event to record his hole cards for posterity. You can find The Andy Bloch Project on Posted by Picasa

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.”

People watch in captivation the magical canopy in the sky. Posted by Picasa

The Area 51 light show at Freemont Street, which was playing as I walked to my hotel last night. Posted by Picasa

Elizabeth gracefully exits the stage to the cheers of her adoring fans. Posted by Picasa

Pauly's jacks lie face up on the table as the winning hand. Elizabeth's aces are already in the muck and she begins to depart. Posted by Picasa

Elizabeth enjoys a laugh at the table. Forget what I said about Jennifer Tilly being hot. Compared to Shannon Elizabeth, she is Shelley Winters. Posted by Picasa

Pauly was moved to Elizabeth's table. This photo was taken shortly before his great suckout. You can almost see a mischevious look on his face, as if he knows its coming. Posted by Picasa

Blogger Pauly and Lou Krieger. It wasn't bad enough that Pauly won our bloggers last longer bet, but he was moved to my seat shortly after I busted out. :( Posted by Picasa

Brad Garrett at the table. To his left is poker writer Jay Greenspan. Posted by Picasa

Shannon Elizabeth at the table.  Posted by Picasa

Brad Garrett gives an interview during a break in the action. Posted by Picasa

Phil Gordon, Crandall Addington and Doyle Brunson chat before the press conference begins. Sorry for the dark photo. Lighting is bad back on the ESPN stage. Posted by Picasa

Aubrey Day, third from right, stands with some of the old guard of poker. They are, from left, Bobby Hoff, Mike Cox, Gary Lundgren, Carl "Fuzzy" McKelvie and Crandall Addington. Posted by Picasa

Poker stars and celebrities

Have you ever took a stick and jabbed it in a fire ant mound, watching the little insects scatters this, that and every direction? That’s what it’s like at the World Series of Poker right now. When there is a 15-minute wait for the MEN’s pisser, you know you’ve got yourself an event.

The online qualifiers have descended upon the Rio Convention Center, as have those who had yet to win their seat and wanted to give it one more shot. There were upwards of 1,000 in each of the two mega satellites yesterday, providing hundreds more with seats or an extra $10,000 cash. The main event is not expected to fill up, however, as tournament directors announced in a press conference that as of that morning 5,200 had signed up.

I didn’t bother, not gambling a cent yesterday. I did play poker in the media/celebrity event, but was trying to earn $10,000 for the Tuscaloosa United Way, rather than money for my own wallet.

I met up with a couple of Tuscaloosa gentlemen when I got to the Rio yesterday, one of them, Aubrey Day, well known among the old road gamblers. Aubrey was among the group that helped start the WSOP, way back in 1969. I spotted him talking to Crandall Addington, as Addington, dressed in cowboy hat and suit, waited for his induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. This was Aubrey’s first trip to the WSOP in eight years, and it was a delight to see the smile on his face as he talked to his old friends and shared poker war stories.

Explaining why he stopped coming to the event, Aubrey told me, “I got tired of fighting it all. I never could play anyway.” This from a man who owns two WSOP gold bracelets.

He was going to try to find Doyle Brunson to introduce us, so we walked back toward the lifestyle show, where earlier in the day Brunson held a press conference with actor James Caan, in which they announced a new poker network.

“Let’s go find Doyle,” Aubrey said, as he led me back there. “He’s starting some poker network with some movie star. I don’t know one star from the other.”

Brunson was nowhere to be found back there because he had already headed toward the press conference, where he would present Addington and Jack Binion with their plaques and announce their hall of fame inductions.

I headed to the back of the tournament room, where the ESPN TV table is, for a front row view, as the masses began to gather. The event was emceed by WSOP media director Nolan Dalla, who discussed how exciting the event had been so far, with Brunson and Chan winning their 10th gold bracelets and actress Jennifer Tilly capturing one as well.

“The real winners here are the players, who come here expecting the biggest, best tournament we can provide,” Dalla said.

Illustrating in numbers the growth of the WSOP, officials said that more than 540 press credentials had been issued and more than 100 vendors had set up at the poker lifestyle show. In 2003, 7,500 entrants competed for more than $22 million in prize money during the WSOP. In 2004, 14,000 players vied for $47 million. So far in 2005, 28,000 players had fought for $50 million through 39 events. About 6,000 will seek $50 million in prize money beginning today in the main event.

Harrah’s presented a $1 million check to the Meals on Wheels program during the press conference. That organization provides food to needy seniors, delivering it to their homes. I had wondered why a nun was on stage. Now I knew.

“God bless you and thank you Harrah’s,” the sister said as she received the check.

Phil Gordon, who started a program called Put a Bad Beat on Cancer, in which he raises money for the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, said 250 players had signed up so far to give 1 percent of main event winnings to the foundation and he hopes to sign up 750 more before the main event ends. He said $75,000 was raised last year.

“We have some big names on the board,” Gordon said of the paper pins posted on a bulletin board with players’ names on them. “We hope it will give us a great chance to raise a lot of money.”

Brunson then started the hall of fame inductions. “Crandall came in the WSOP twice so he gets to be first this time,” he quipped.

Brunson talked about the old road gambler days.

“We went around the country and he got all the girls because he was so good looking. I was left to pick up the pieces,” he said.

“I look back and wonder how we did it and why in the world we did it. It was quite an adventure.”

Addington eventually retired from the poker circuit and became a successful businessman in the oil and biotechnology fields.

“I’m honored and humbled to find myself here today, among this company,” he said.

“The days of the Texas road gamblers have passed into legend, but not before Benny and Jack watered the seeds that have grown into the field of dreams we see today.”

Brunson then introduced Jack Binion, the son of Benny Binion. The two men helped put the WSOP together.

“The only thing I’m going to say about Jack is why did it take so damn long,” Brunson said. “Every tournament that you see today, it never would have been if it hadn’t been for Jack and Benny.”

Binion talked about why the game is so popular and has captivated America’s and the world’s attention.

“One thing about poker is it’s a great product,” he said. “It’s a great game. We took hold of it and held on. It’s just a lot of fun to play poker.”

In the Sign of the Apocolypse section of the press conference, gaming company officials announced a new WSOP themed slot machine that will give players a chance to win a seat in the 2006 main event, but most will just lose their ass – and their shirt.

The floor was then opened for questions from the press and audience.

Someone asked if online poker detracts from casino poker. Brunson said they complement each other.

“One of the reasons poker has exploded as it has is because of online poker,” he said. “A lot of people are embarrassed to go into a casino because they don’t know the rules and they can learn a lot online.”

Another question concerned advice for newbies.

“Buy Doyle’s book,” Binion replied, drawing plenty of chuckles.

“Stay in your comfort zone,” Brunson said. “Don’t gamble more than you can afford.”

Despite the large crowds, many established players have won bracelets, from Erik Seidel to Phil Ivey.

“Personally, I’m very surprised that the established players have done so well,” Brunson said. “I’m trembling when a player sits down and tells me he’s never played world poker and only online. I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

“I will be surprised if a known player wins this year,” he said of the main event. “I think it will be an amateur.”

“I like to say it’s a lottery. I just think some of us have more tickets than others.”

A Harrah’s executive said that between 5,500 and 6,000 players are expected.

“We don’t have any plans to increase the buy in,” he said. “It’s obviously been accepted by players and we want to keep the format the same as it is.”

Harrah’s officials also announced that the 2006 WSOP will stay at the Rio and not move to Caesars Palace as some have speculated. One advantage for the Rio is the convention space that allows for an event like the lifestyle show.

Defending champion Greg Raymer discussed how his life has changed since his win.

“Now I get to travel the world doing all the stuff that’s so much fun that we all dream about when we play poker,” he said.

Raymer said the popularity of poker has turned some of its players into major celebrities.

“How many 70 plus rock stars are there and Doyle’s one of them,” he said.

PokerStars alone qualified more than 1,100 players for the main event. Since they represent 20 percent of the field, Raymer gave the site a 20 percent chance of having a third world champion as a qualifier.

“Just in the last three years the growth of the field can be traced to the number of online qualifiers,” Raymer said.

Another inquisitor asked the panel if poker might ever establish a league like the Professional Golfers Association. Gordon said he likes that anyone can take the risk and plunk down $10,000 to enter.

“Part of the allure of the WSOP is that it’s an open event,” he said. “I want to see as many people competing for the game’s crown jewel as possible.”

“No tournament, no matter what, will ever top the WSOP,” Brunson added. “This has been the number one event and will always be the number one event.”

“Everyone in this room wants to be you,” Dalla said to Raymer.

“Minus the gut, yeah,” Raymer replied.

“It’s almost a constant thing now going out in public and being asked for photos and autographs,” he said. “I go to the grocery store and some guy asks, ‘Dude, where are the glasses?’”

Shortly after the conclusion of the press conference, the media/celebrity tournament began. As I feared, I was stuck with fellow pasty white journalists, but that wasn’t surprising given that there were only a handful of celebrities in the 225 player field. James Woods participated, of course, as did Brad Garrett of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame and Shannon Elizabeth of “American Pie” and drop dead gorgeous fame. Magician Penn Jillette, who plays at the Rio now, was there, as was old poker announcer and “Eight is Enough” star Dick Van Patten. A few poker names played, such as Linda Johnson and Lou Krieger.

The microphone was handed to Brad Garrett, seated at the table behind me, to start things off.

“Ladies and gentlemen, James Woods is wearing no pants,” he said, before adding, “Good luck. Shuffle up and deal.”

The play at my table was tight early and the dealer quipped, “No one wants to take the walk of shame.”

Things opened up quickly, as about 10 people were eliminated just at my table in less than an hour. A woman named Melanie Kloss, who performs with “Second City” at the Flamingo, sat to my left and hardly knew what she was doing. She won a few chips, but I managed to get some of them off of her. We started with 1,500 and I had 4,000 at the break. I met Patrick Jackson, better known as PMJackson21 to RGPers, at the break. He’s among the plethora of online qualifiers.

Elizabeth is moved to a table near me and draw the cameras our direction. The gawkers have to be pushed back to clear a walking lane around tables.

I gamble with K-10 in the small blind as the blinds rapidly increase and am busted by an 8-8 that filled up on the turn. There were nine tables left at the time.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth keeps on trucking – until she runs into Pauly of blogger fame. Pauly, already having won the bloggers’ last longer bet that was organized by Brad “Otis” Willis, goes all in with J-J against Elizabeth’s A-A. What was the river? The fateful jack.

“It feels good, but when you have a bad beat when you should have won it sucks,” Elizabeth told an ESPN camera crew of her performance.

Pauly lasts until sixth place. He may not have picked up the trophy that goes with the win and the $10,000 for his favorite charity, but at least, I told him, he has stories to tell his grandkids.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Vegas 7/6

I took some time earlier Monday to calm down, relax and get my mind in order. It paid off when I played some $10-$20 at the Mirage, hauling in just shy of $500 in a few hours time. To my left sat Jeff, a man from Canada, one of thousands of main event qualifiers who are starting to fly into town. He seemed a man lacking confidence, constantly poor mouthing his own play. It was a welcome respite from the cocky young players that have flooded the city, but I also felt a bit sorry for Jeff, a balding, mustachioed and twice divorced man. His play was weak and from all accounts he will be just another sheep for slaughter by the wolves soon enough. After losing yet another pot, Jeff quipped, “I haven’t had this much fun since my last prostate exam.”

I headed out at 9 p.m. to watch fireworks. It seemed everyone else in the city had the same idea, as the sidewalks were almost too congested to walk through. We were all left disappointed as no “sky flowers” were shot, perhaps because of the dry conditions and wildfires that have engulfed the state. I had to settle for the Bellagio water show and the Freemont Street Experience, which featured a patriotic them on the 4th.

Tuesday began well. I went to the Stardust to try my hand at a blackjack tournament, but didn’t like the format so I decided to play their NLHE tourney that was held at 10 a.m. Finally, finally, I cashed, as we chopped it four ways for $542 each, after a $45 buy in.

One of those was Johnny Walker (not THAT Johnny Walker), a man who used to run a card game in Houston. He was missing his right hand, but showed us how he could shuffle a deck with only his left hand, using a technique similar to riffling chips.

“Imagine what I could do with two hands. I got my hand cut off in Louisiana for dealing seconds,” he said with a wink.

Another of my fellow choppers was Lynn, an English teacher from Ohio. She played timid and conservatively, but caught strong hands at the right time.

I ate lunch with Lynn and her husband in the Stardust’s café. She told me that her school had to make a rule against bringing cards to school.

“Kids were coming in early and setting up Texas Hold’em tournaments in the commons,” she told me. “At least it was the kids who usually don’t come to school on time.”

Lynn and her husband debated the merits of poker as a critical learning tool. They agreed it’s not a bad game for children to learn to help with math and other skills.

Lynn said she was going to try her hand at the tournament again today, but I told her I wouldn’t be back as I had a busy day on Wednesday. I told her I might play a satellite to try and win a seat in the main event.

Lynn told me she has already met several people who have come into town to play the big one.

“I’m getting all of their names so when I see them on TV I can say who they are,” she said.

The Stardust had another WSOP connection in the dealer named Chuck, who used to deal downtown at the Golden Nugget and often railbirded and befriended the players back in the 1970s.

Chuck watched Jack “Treetop” Strauss win the main event after being left with one chip. Strauss had gone all in, but a chip was found under a napkin and he was allowed to keep it and play.

“That was a terrible ruling,” Chuck said.

I headed to the Rio to see who I could meet. I chatted with Jay Greenspan, who is quickly becoming one of the top poker writers, reporting from the WSOP for Full Tilt Poker and writing a book about home and backroom games and the characters there within. A couple of years ago I emailed him about his site and told him he ought to think about turning it into a magazine and that I would be glad to help. He didn’t feel he had the time or resources and now there are several poker magazines out there. Oh well. If I had a dollar for every good idea I’ve had I would be a rich man.

It was downhill from there, other than meeting Angela again. The brunette with the beautiful baby blues who just moved to town from Austin, Texas, was playing some satellites Tuesday. Tonight, I hope we are meeting for drinks. :)

I lost a $65 satellite and decided I would try to find a $10-$20 game in town to earn money to play a $1,060 mega satellite. The Rio cash games were packed with the newbies to town so I went to the Mirage and got right into a game. Less than three hours later I was out $600. I then proceeded to the Bellagio to clear my mind and try some $15-$30. In two hours I dropped $500. Between the two games I had JJ cracked on the river by TT, AA cracked on the flop by 77, KK cracked on the river by J7 and other beats I can’t remember. I have to be the most unlucky person in this city.

I am entered into the media/celebrity charity tournament today at 5 p.m. If I win, $10,000 will go to the Tuscaloosa United Way. If I could go some good, it would go a long way toward making me feel better about my own losses. I’m anxious to see who I get at my table. Ben Affleck? James Woods? Fellow pasty white and chubby journalists?

Prior to that, there is a press conference in which the Poker Hall of Fame inducts two new members and tournament organizers discuss how the events have gone so far. For the first time in a few weeks I will truly feel like a newsman again.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day in Vegas

The sound of voices in the gargantuan room is eclipsed only by the clattering of chips being riffled together from two piles to one, two piles to one, two piles to one, the indoor equivalent of crickets chirping on a hot summer night. The sounds are broken occasionally by calls over the PA system for new games or satellites or as dealers exclaim “SEAT OPEN” as another player goes bust. A tournament here, a cash game there, it can all be overwhelming to even the hardened players. With so many option what is a player to do? If poker is a drug, then players come to the World Series of Poker to get their fix.

The preliminaries wind down today and tomorrow with the $1K plus rebuys NLHE event and the deuce to seven lowball, the last ones before the big one. There will be two days of super and mega satellites as players without a seat in the main event scramble to punch their ticket. I won’t be one of them. I’m so frustrated with my results in Vegas so far -- especially in tournaments -- that my heart, and perhaps ego, can’t take another big hit. I bubbled twice again yesterday, this time in a couple of $100 tournaments at the Plaza. In the first, we were down to seven players and I’m about third in chips when I make a straight on the turn and go all in to make it look like a bluff and my only opponent calls quickly with a flush. Only the top four got paid.

I was going to call it a night, but I gave Fell Knight a ring before I went to bed and he said he wanted to come Downtown and meet up so I said I was good for several more hours. We went back and played the midnight tournament at the Plaza. He didn’t catch any hands and went out right at the first break. I did okay for awhile and then went card dead. Finally with 11 players to go (the top seven got paid) I had an A-3 in the big blind after two people limped. One of the limpers was a drunk guy who would play any two cards and seemed to win with all of them. I took my chance and pushed the rest of my short stack in. The drunk calls with 10-10. Ouch. In contrast to my opponents, I never catch the ace when I have it as my overcard so I went bye bye again out of the money.

Fell had gone to Binion’s to play the 2 a.m. tournament so I went over there to check that out. I spotted a short handed 4-8 game and couldn’t resist sitting down. That was a mistake. Although it was the craziest game I had ever seen I couldn’t catch a winner and dropped $300 without scooping a pot. I never thought I would say that about a 4-8 game!

Tensions really heightened at that table when a New Yorker with dyed blonde hair sits down and in short time gets into a verbal argument with a slightly drunk kid. I can’t even remember exactly what the argument was, something about limit vs. no limit. The cocky blonde wanted to raise the stakes. He had earlier asked my to play 50-100 heads up out of the blue. I told him I didn’t have the bankroll for it. What I didn’t say was that at that point I also didn’t have the heart for it.

“Let’s take this outside,” blondie told the kid.

“You want to fight me?” the kid asks incredulously.

“No, I want to bash your teeth in,” blondie replies.

The floorman is finally called over as the argument continues to escalate and threatens to expel blondie if he doesn’t calm down. All this excitement in a 4-8 game!

Later, a middle aged drunk, who sat there with a Samuel Adams constantly at his side and his head propped on his chin as his eyes drooped slowly closed, raised and said he was afraid the blonde guy was going to beat him up for raising.

The New Yorker begins his DeNiro routine again by replying, “Was I talking to you?”

I didn’t see how this all concluded, as this was about the time I went bust and left the table. Fell fared no better, being eliminated with two tables left. He caught a cab back to his pad with veeRob and GambleAB and I headed for bed.

This shot is for Brian. Here is the shopping and entertaining complex I mentioned. Posted by Picasa