Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 45: The Past, The Future, and Doyle

Was kind of a manic day yesterday at the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event with the cash bubble arriving quickly after less than an hour of play, the drama of hand-for-hand play lasting another half-hour or so before the final two eliminations before the money arrived (Yuri Dzivielevski in 650th and Farzad Bonyadi in 649th), then about 400 more players busting out over the course of the day.

With the field getting smaller, tables were broken down as usual to create more space in the Amazon Room, although the ones that remained were still positioned very close to each other which meant the space in between them became increasingly crowded with all the tournament staff, media, cocktail servers, and massage therapists.

Today that congestion should clear up some, I imagine, as tables will likely be moved farther apart to start the day. Just 239 players are left, meaning there should be 27 tables’ worth of players, including the main feature table (in the “mothership”), the secondary feature table, and the four tertiary feature tables separated out from the others in a row down the middle of the big ballroom.

At one point yesterday I was standing smack in the middle of the maddening crowd among the outer tables when I began to hear people clapping from the main stage, and I knew even before I looked up why they were. I peered into the distance to see the leaned over figure of Doyle Brunson rising from his chair, his wide-brimmed cowboy hat gleaming under the lights, and knew he’d been eliminated. (The photo above is by Joe Giron for PokerNews/WSOP.)

Brunson cashed in the Main Event yesterday for the eighth time, finishing in 409th. His cashes have been spread out enough for him to have made the money in the ME at least once each of the last five decades (1976, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1997, 2004, 2013).

At the previous break some of us had been discussing a few of the storylines emerging in this year’s Main Event, and we all agreed the further Brunson went, the more exciting it would be. Indeed, I think we all were carrying in the back of our minds the same thrilling thought all day right up to the point of his elimination -- Doyle is still in!

The applause began to spread from the main stage throughout the Amazon Room as Brunson moved slowly from the table and off the stage, and play stopped for a moment as players stood from their seats around me to join in the spontaneous standing ovation.

It was a genuinely moving moment, weirdly providing a brief, calming respite amid an otherwise chaotic day. I realize the moment concerned a particular poker player having achieved something in a poker tournament, but it nonetheless had the effect of recalling to us all how there are more important things in this life than winning or losing money at cards.

While I quickly became occupied with gathering hands being played at the tables around me -- and dodging the occasional horde of ESPN crew members dashing back and forth to catch hands in progress -- I thought a little about what Brunson represents to the poker community, part of which includes that connection back to the early days of the WSOP I was mentioning yesterday.

The connection to the past goes back even further than the WSOP’s origins, as far as Brunson is concerned. His days of “fading the white line” during the 1950s and 1960s to play underground games in the South mark one era of poker’s history preceding our own, while he and the characters belonging to that time harken back even further to the Old West and the many deep-rooted connections between poker and American history.

But as much as Brunson reminds us of the past, I think he makes most of us think about the future as well, with his longevity and perseverance -- and continued success doing what he does (which happens to be playing poker) -- providing tangible hope to many. At the start of the WSOP, Brad Willis wrote a nice piece for the PokerStars blog that touched in part on how Brunson affects us in this fashion.

As my colleagues and I had been discussing during that break yesterday, there are a lot of intriguing stories emerging this year. But I have a suspicion when I leave Las Vegas next Tuesday, Brunson’s Main Event run and the various emotions and thoughts it inspired in others will be the one I return to the most going forward.

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