Saturday, July 11, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 45: Theme (In Search Of)

Theme (In Search Of)During the dinner break yesterday I spent some time chatting with our friend Dr. Pauly up in the press box. The good doctor was thinking out loud about what sort of “theme” or central idea would be guiding his daily report for Day 3 of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event.

He’d eventually focus on the two fellows at the top of the leaderboard at day’s end -- Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier and Ludovic Lacay -- both of whom are French, and both of whom are aggressive, strong players who are capable of shredding weaker, timid opponents into confetti faster than you can say “Mon Dieu.”

I realized while talking to Dr. P. that what I was doing -- helping live blog the sucker for PokerNews by choosing hands here and there and reporting on a relative handful of players while my colleagues were all doing the same -- meant that I was really not capable of seeing any “theme” or “big picture.” Not yet, anyway. I was too much in it to be able to see it from the outside. Thus I knew I couldn’t really hope to end the day with anything other than a subjective impression of what my localized experience of the day was like.

What was my experience? Well, it felt like being in the middle of something very big and unwieldy -- not quite chaotic or out of control, but something well beyond what one mere mortal could reasonably grasp and comprehend. Luckily I wasn’t alone, but had the full force alongside me -- all of the other bloggers, field reporters, photographers, video producers, and other important people helping manage it all -- and together we continued our collective work on that novel we’re writing over on the PokerNews’ live reporting page about the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event.

It’s a long, winding tale full of digressions, surprise plot twists, unique characters, and without resolution. There are themes present, though all have thus far only been tentatively introduced and have yet to be developed fully.

Oh, and the hero of the story has yet to be determined, too.

Day 3 started with 2,044 players. About 850 of them were filling every available seat in the Brasilia Room, while a little less than 1,200 were packing the Amazon. It took three hours of play to lose about 500 players. By the dinner break, after another three hours of play, almost 1,000 had been knocked out. With an hour-and-a-half to go, less than 1,000 players remained, at which point Grospellier had moved into the chip lead.

By day’s end just 789 survived. The Brasilia Room was shut down once all of the players who had survived and were still playing there had been moved into empty chairs in the Amazon, and as the night concluded we watched as first the Red section’s tables of tournament players had all emptied (to be replaced once more by cash games), then some of the Orange section’s tables started to go as well.

When tables in the Amazon started to empty, I started to recall that weird, uncanny feeling from the end of last summer when the Main Event field shrunk down to less than the capacity of the Amazon Room, then further and further until only nine remained. When players are eliminated and seats open up, tables are “broken” in order to keep the tournament playing nine-handed as much as possible. That means players at the next table assigned to be broken are given seat cards matching empty seats elsewhere in the tourney, to which they promptly travel.

Breaking down tables, literallyAt this point of the WSOP Main Event, once a table is “broken” it is then literally broken down, too; that is, the tables are actually disassembled and then moved off the main floor to create more room for fans and media. (That picture is from last summer’s coverage on PokerNews.) The removal of tables and the reduction of the number of people in the room helps create this strange vibe -- it’s a much different environment in which to play (and report). And since the stakes get higher and higher once the money is reached and players continue to be eliminated, the mood becomes all the more stark and exposed. There’s less going on. Relatively speaking, every action is of greater and greater importance.

Last year only 474 made it through Day 3, and there were 189 still around at the end of Day 4. The starting field was smaller this year, but the starting stacks were deeper, which helps explain the comparatively lower rate of attrition. Today what will happen -- I imagine -- is that tables in the Orange section will gradually be broken down, meaning eventually we’ll have everyone playing in the Blue and Green sections (and the feature tables) in the back half of the Amazon. We’ll reach the cash early on (before Orange is done), then probably end up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 players left at day’s end. That’s where I’ll go ahead and set the over/under line, anyway. And if I were betting, I’d take the under.

Last summer I worked the first part of the day the bubble burst, but left early as I happened to have drawn a section where the tables all broke prior to the tournament reaching the cash. So I wasn’t there in the Amazon room when the moment occurred. When suddenly, for hundreds of players, their Main Event experience had taken on an utterly new and wonderful significance.

Not sure where I’ll be today, but I’m thinking whatever my draw ends up being, I’m going to be there in the Amazon when the bubble bursting moment occurs.

Because it seems like that might be what this is all about, what gives it meaning and purpose. Maybe then I’ll start to see it all more clearly and some theme will emerge.

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