I did follow what was happening at the WSOP yesterday during that Day “2a/2b” from which Gaelle Baumann of France emerged as the chip leader. Baumann did well in the Ladies event this summer, leading after Day 2 before ultimately finishing 14th. Seeing her as a front-runner in that event made me less surprised to see her at the top of the counts yesterday, but there’s a long way to go.
By the early evening, though, my attention had mostly turned to the $120 H.O.R.S.E. tourney over at the MGM. I’d thought about trying this one when I first arrived in Vegas three-plus weeks ago, but ended up skipping out on it. But this time I’d talked to my buds Mickey and Kevmath who both wanted to play, and PokerGrump said he’d probably come over to join in as well. We had also heard Norman Chad and Lon McEachern would be playing, too, all of which meant I couldn’t pass up the chance this time around.
Mickey, Kevmath, and I arrived early, spotting Chad and McEachern already there and chatting with a small circle of people near the front of the poker room. I’ve spoken with each before, although had never really introduced myself to either, and so took the opportunity to do so.
I spoke to McEachern first, and we talked about how the WSOP has gone thus far, including discussing the turnout for the Main Event and how each year the WSOP seems to find a way more or less to keep pace with the previous year. We also talked about Chad’s final table in Event No. 42, the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 tourney where he finished sixth. McEachern clearly got a kick out of following that one online as he’d yet to come to Vegas.
I then approached Chad. “You look familiar,” he said with a sidelong squint, and I explained to him how I’d been one of those hovering around the tables during Event No. 42 helping report on it all for PokerNews.
I told him how fun it was covering that event, and he agreed that playing with folks like Tom Schneider, Bryan Devonshire, and others helped make it so, kind of reiterating an idea he brought up in a Washington Post column a few weeks back titled “World Series of Poker: It’s time for civil behavior from the pokerati.” (My buddy Rich Ryan elaborated further on Chad’s argument in a PokerNews op-ed, “Norman Chad Whamboozled the Anti-Socialness of Poker.”)
Soon I was being recruited to take a picture of Chad, McEachern, and the group with whom they’d been talking, and Chad mentioned something about how I was playing the role of media again as I took the camera and snapped some shots. It wasn’t much longer after that we were all seated and the tourney began.
I drew a seat just to the left of PokerGrump and across the table from Kevmath. We began short-handed, then the seats filled to eight-handed, and we ultimately played nine-handed for much of the night.
I started fairly well, picking up pots in the hold’em and O/8 rounds including one Omaha hand in which I flopped quad kings and actually made a couple of bets. That put me above average early on, then Kevmath scooped an O/8 pot against me to put me back to the starting stack of 10,000. Made it to the first break (after five 20-minute levels) with 8,850.
During the break I chatted with Brian Ali, also playing in the tourney. Ali had won the WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City that I’d help cover back in the spring of 2011, and so like Chad he, too, had a “you look familiar” moment with me once I’d introduced myself.
Ali had kind of run over that final table, knocking out nearly all of the opponents including a fellow named Jeff Frazier, and I told him how we reporters were all excited about the invitation to employ boxing metaphors. He said he loved all the reporting and of course the whole tourney was a great experience for him. Cool, friendly guy, and it was neat to take a few minutes to remember that week from a year-and-a-half ago with him.
Soon we were back at the tables. Ultimately they drew 64 players, which meant the top eight places paid and there was a cool $1,920 up top. The limits started to climb rapidly, and over the next few levels I let my stack dwindle until about 25 had busted. Finally a stud/8 hand arose in which I was all in by fourth street against four opponents, two of whom would be all in themselves by sixth.
I’d started  / , then picked up three low cards (including one club), meaning by the time seventh street was dealt I needed any club for a flush and was drawing to a 7-4-2-A low. But my last card was another deuce (not a club), and I think I was the only one of the five of us not to claim some share of the chips scattered all about the table in separate piles.
I played okay, I thought, although probably should’ve taken my chances a few times and played more hands, especially in the early rounds. Was definitely fun and different, and despite the fast-moving structure I still got to play three hours’ worth of poker without even coming close to the cash.
Bob had busted shortly before I did, and Mickey would shortly after, so we went over to the Stage Deli to grab sandwiches and visit for a while. I liked getting the chance to talk to Bob as he’s been out of town and we hadn’t been able to previously. As we ate, Kevmath DM’d me that he was down to three big bets and figured his exit to be imminent, and soon we were stepping back over to the poker room to see how he was doing.
By the time we’d gotten there, he’d run his stack back up to have average chips with 19 left. Bob would soon depart, but Mickey and I hung out to root Kevmath on and chat about various aspects of covering the WSOP.
When it comes to the PokerNews folks, me, Mickey, and Donnie Peters are pretty much the only ones left from 2008, the first year all three of us came to Vegas to help cover the WSOP for PN. In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone at all left from 2007, the first year PN covered the Series (when I did some behind-the-scenes stuff for them from home).
Kevmath finally busted in 14th, a few spots shy of the money, and the three of us walked back to the car continuing the conversation about coverage Mickey and I had begun.
As we drove back I thought about how fun the night had been, made more so by getting to hang out with all sorts of folks with whom I’ve shared a lot of this weird, fascinating poker-related journey over the past several years.
The journey continues today, as I get up from my seat and resume my usual role pacing around and between the tables, watching others try to build stacks and position themselves to make the money and perhaps a deep run in the 2012 WSOP Main Event.
Yesterday those making it through Days 1a and 1b all played together but separately, with 860 or so of them surviving to return for tomorrow’s Day 3. Today the 2,300 who made it out of Day 1c will be playing Day 2c, and I imagine something like 900 of them will still have chips after today’s five two-hour levels.
And from there more characters will emerge. And stories to tell.