Wednesday, July 14, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 47: The Roving Reporter

The empty Pavilion RoomMy assignments yesterday helping cover the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event were a little out of the ordinary. I started out in the suddenly eerily-quiet Pavilion (pictured). Just me and one reporter -- Mickey, one of the best -- were there to cover things as the final 16 tables broke into the Amazon.

Two of those tables were gone before we even started, having been designated feature tables and relocated to the main room. And another broke as the first hands were dealt. In all it would only take an hour-and-a-half or so for the rest to go as well.

We actually got to report a few hands and some other color before we left, including the story of Philip Goossens, the player who ended Day 2 of the Main Event with an above average stack, but had to leave -- apparently because the package he’d won only covered expenses through the weekend, and he couldn’t pay out of pocket to change his flight or for extra nights’ lodging. His stack made it all of the way through Day 3, but only made it through an orbit on Day 4 before finally vanishing.

When I got over to the Amazon I ended up over at the two feature tables -- the ones that will be getting a lot of play once ESPN shows their stuff for Day 3. In the past we’ve had trouble getting access to these tables, which has been unfortunate because usually there are notable players at them. But I was able to get close to both and spent the rest of the day roving back and forth between them, gathering hands and stories from each.

I’d thought at first it might be a somewhat tedious gig just watching the two tables, but there ended up being quite a lot going on at both. We are getting to that stage of the tournament, actually, where just about everything that is happening is rising to the level of being newsworthy.

Among the players who moved through those seats during the day were Johnny Chan, who continued to build his big stack throughout the day (he’s in 13th place entering today). Others passing through included Dan Harrington, J.P. Kelly, Jonathan Tamayo, Brett Richey, Michael Mizrachi, Frank Kassela, Gavin Smith, Chris Bjorin, Jean-Robert Bellande, Vince Van Patten, Karina Jett, Matthew Brown, and Max Casal.

Probably my favorite bit during the day was being there as Gavin Smith was asking Dan Harrington about the origins of “M” and joking with Action Dan that he should have called it “H” or perhaps “Dan.” Here is the post sharing that conversation.

The bubble burstsOf course, the most exciting moments of the day were associated with the bursting of the cash bubble. You probably heard that we’d gotten close -- within four eliminations of getting to the final 747 and the cash -- when it was decided to go ahead and take the 90-minute dinner break a few minutes ahead of schedule, then come back to begin hand-for-hand play.

Kind of funny -- when asked at the start of the day when I thought the bubble would burst, I had said either just before or after dinner. “You were right both ways,” said B.J. Nemeth to me later. It would have burst just before dinner if they’d chose to play it out then, but instead the decision was made to wait.

Some hastily declared taking the break at that moment was “the worst decision in the history of the WSOP,” though I didn’t really think it was such a bad idea. Things get a little crazy when the bubble bursts, and I thought taking the break just before would give tourney officials a chance to get all their ducks in a row as far as handling the payouts were concerned, as well as perhaps finding the short stacks and making sure they had their numbers right.

The delay also allowed everyone to get hyped for the big moment. I was back at my seat at the main feature table a few minutes before play resumed, and I was enjoying overhearing the dealers and tourney officials chatting about the upcoming hand-for-hand play.

“If it goes an hour,” said one, “I’d like to put the line at 13.5 hands.” (That would end up being much too high of a line, as it turned out.) “You see some wild things,” said another. “I’ve seen them open fold queens, kings...” “Oh, I’ve seen them fold aces!”

Once play resumed I was talking to Matt (a field reporter) who said he thought taking the break wasn’t such a good idea, mainly because it increased the likelihood of collusion. It was a good point, I thought. There was at least one hand (reported in the blog) of a player down to just 4,000 chips getting a walk in his big blind, which maybe seemed even more sketchy given the fact that there’d been that long break before hand-for-hand.

Hand-for-hand ended up lasting six hands total, and it ended up taking just about an hour all told. The 748th-place finisher, Tim McDonald, was awarded a free entry into next year’s Main Event. Interestingly, the fellow who had that distinction last year, Kia Hamadani, made the cash this time around. In fact, he’ll be back for today’s Day 5. My colleague Heath wrote an awesome post detailing his story.

At the feature tables, Gavin Smith busted shortly after, making a minimum-cash. He’d pushed all in at least three times right before the bubble burst, but had had no callers. Finally he was all in with pocket treys against Max Casal's ace-rag, the big stack at the table with over a million. An ace flopped, and Smith couldn't catch up. A short-stacked Frank Kassela went out shortly thereafter in a wild three-way all-in, though by cashing he locked up a share of the WSOP Player of the Year.

All in all it was a fun day at the WSOP for me, made more so by the fact that I was working alongside B.J. Nemeth for much of the time, both in the Pavilion and at the feature tables. I have an interview with Nemeth focusing mainly on his photographing the WSOP coming out on Friday over at the Betfair poker site. He’s a great colleague and friend, and as anyone who follows poker at all knows, his contributions to the coverage of the WSOP and poker are significant. Indeed, when it comes to the professional poker circuit, he is the quintessential “roving reporter.”

B.J. NemethOne other highlight of the day involved B.J., actually. Shortly after the cash bubble burst and we were on a break, a player who was at the main feature table, Dan Harkenrider, came over to compliment B.J. for his reporting and his contributions over on The Poker Beat.

Harkenrider talked a little about how playing in the Main Event was something of a rare thing for him, and getting to learn more about the WSOP via Nemeth’s reporting genuinely helped him prepare for the experience.

I got a real kick out of seeing B.J. receive those kind (and much deserved) words. If somehow you aren’t familiar with B.J.’s work, do check out his WSOP photo blog and also that Betfair interview on Friday, which I’ll remind you of once it goes up.

Back to the Amazon room today, where they are already taking out tables as the field continues to shrink. There are 574 players left and I think the plan is going to be to try to track ’em all. Check in over at PokerNews’ live reporting page to follow along.

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