Friday, May 30, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 1: “We're In For Six Weeks of Solid Poker”

Welcome to the RioI arrived at the Amazon Room about a half-hour before today’s noon kickoff. There were approximately 38 tables readied for play, each with nine stacks of chips, nine complimentary water bottles, nine flourescent orange-colored armbands, and one dealer uniformly attired in black vest and white dress shirt sitting at attention.

Spotted WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack being interviewed on video, then heard the announcement over the PA that players were invited to take their seats.

By 11:45 a.m., only a couple of players had trickled into the roped-off area of play. “Where are the players?” shouted a voice. “Too many damn chips and too many levels,” came the response. I stood to the side where a security guard engaged me in a brief dialogue. “They’ll be here soon,” he said. “And then the beer chicks and massage people,” shaking his head. Unlike me, he’d seen it all before. A few minutes later players indeed began to arrive in waves, rapidly filling the space with excited voices.

Nick Geber (of WSOP Radio) accosted me to ask if I was with PokerNews, which I confirmed. We shook hands and he was off, satisfied with the knowledge of the source of my green press credential. Then the band came in.

A forty-piece marching band quickly wound around to the front of the room and pounded out a catchy, halftime show-type version of “Viva Las Vegas.” I looked around to see players and media alike shaking their heads and grimacing, though a few were nodding along to the admittedly catchy beat.

Jeffrey Pollack then spoke briefly, announcing that henceforth all WSOP bracelet holders were to be accorded “diamond status” at every Harrah’s property around the world. Tournament Director Jack Effel then went over some of the key rules. Thought I heard a small cheer when he mentioned the new rule prohibiting “excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct.”

Then Doyle Brunson was handed the microphone. “Okay,” he began in that baritone drawl so familiar to everyone in the room. “We’re in for six weeks of solid poker,” he said. (Will it be six weeks of solid poker or six solid weeks of poker, one wonders.) “So everyone fasten your seatbelts. Let’s shuffle up and deal!” And the dealers did.

Instantly the room was filled with the cricket-like riffling of chips, that recognizable ambient soundtrack of poker. I began wandering about the tables, eventually positioning myself within a few feet of Table #11 where Brunson had set up shop, next to a table against which he’d set his crutch. His son Todd was just behind him at Table #1, along with Erik Seidel and a very calm-appearing Hevad Khan.

I spent awhile chatting with B.J. Nemeth, who will be providing features and blog posts over at PokerNews. The eye-catching Tiffany Michelle (who will do video interviews for PN) floated past where we were standing, throwing back a “Morning, boys!” to the fellows at a nearby table.

I scanned the room a bit. Lots of big names in this $10,000 buy-in event. And some loaded tables. At Table #7 sat Kathy Liebert, Andy Black, Allen Cunningham, Mel Judah, and Joe Sebok. David Benyamine, Humberto Brenes, and J.C. Tran all were seated at Table #22. Jen Harman and Steve Zolotow shared a table, as did Thor Hansen and Daniel Negreanu. Not too many soft spots in this field.

To the delight of the tightly-packed crowd gathered along the side of the playing area, both Vince Van Patten and Isabelle Mercier were positioned at a table just inside the ropes. Speaking of your better-looking players, word soon filtered around that Shannon Elizabeth had apparently busted out in Level 1, having been the victim of some bad fortune with pocket aces on two different occasions.

I made it back over near Table #11 where I heard Doyle chatting with his neighbor about the rule prohibiting iPhones or other such devices. “Wonder when they’ll get around to the shades,” I thought I heard him say.

The total number of entrants, at 289 when I walked in, had slowly crept up to 348 as players were still allowed to register up through the second level. Some of the later arrivals included Gavin Smith and Jean-Robert Bellande.

I edged back out of the playing area and hung out for a bit in the Media Press Box with Pauly, California Jen, and Haley. As I explained to them, I had to make a quick doctor’s visit to have some stitches removed from my back. Pauly offered to take care of it for me, claiming he took most forms of insurance. “That would make a great picture!” chimed Jen.

I thought about it, but then remembered the cavalier manner with which Pauly had wielded his steak knife at last night’s BBQ dinner. I also remembered that I’m almost 100% certain Pauly is not a medical doctor.

I’ll probably be heading back over there tomorrow to see how everyone handles the thousands of entrants expected for Event No. 2. Not sure at present what sort of schedule I’ll be following here at Hard-Boiled Poker. I plan to try to post at least once per day, perhaps more on those days when I’m not live blogging. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, be sure to go follow Event No. 1 live reports of Mean Gene, Change100, and Don Peters at PokerNews.

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