Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 24: In Which the World Gets Smaller

Schedule for June 23, 2011 at the WSOPI am at the World Series of Poker again. Have been here just a couple of days, but already the outside world is becoming more distant-seeming.

Am only vaguely aware of the non-WSOP, poker-related headlines like the story about Toby Maguire being sued over winnings in his illegal, high-stakes poker games. Or that new bill to license and regulate online poker in the U.S. proposed in Congress by Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican member of the House from Texas.

Never mind the non-poker stuff going on in the world. Libya? Deficit? Wimbledon? Whazzat? All else has been suddenly -- absurdly -- cast in shadow, the light of my attention shining solely on that river card and whether an all-in shove is going to be called or not.

It was a fun first day of work yesterday at the Rio where I joined Rich, Josh, Danielle, Mat, and Andrew to help cover Event No. 40, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Six-Handed) event for PokerNews.

As expected, the field was stacked with top pros and recognizable faces. Kind of a nice tourney to which to be assigned for the first one back, with a smaller, more manageable-sized field than one typically encounters in other events. (732 was the final tally.) Here I knew by sight perhaps one-fourth of the field (maybe more), whereas in one of those huge 3,000-plus player, $1K buy-in events the percentage of familiar faces would drop dramatically. Not to mention the square footage of ground I’d be walking all day would go up, too.

Besides being good players, there were a lot of great characters spread out around the tables, too, which made it easy to capture a lot of terrific table talk and other color. The kind of thing that is nice to get on a Day 1 when the actual hands and exchanges of chips that are happening aren’t as important as they will be later on.

Event No. 40, 2011 WSOP (Day 1)There were a number of entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny exchanges between players during the course of the day. Among those I managed to overhear and report were ones involving Vicky Coren, Neil Channing, Michael Mizrachi, Frank Kassela, and Chino Rheem and Dan “Wretchy” Martin.

Phil Hellmuth was there, and was his usual, animated self. As nearly always seems to happen at some point in a tourney with the Poker Brat, he was bluffed off a hand and his opponent showed, sending him into hysterics. I found a new way to report that familiar circumstance.

Daniel Negreanu, usually also very animated and talkative, was uncharacteristically reserved for much of the day yesterday, quietly building what would end up being a top five chip stack by day’s end. Kid Poker has but one small cash thus far at this year’s WSOP -- also uncharacteristic for him -- which might possibly explain the more pensive-appearing pose.

As it happened, Jim McManus played this one as well. He and I have been in communication for a long time now, including an long interview we did back when his Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker first came out in the fall of 2009. (See here.) I’ve also talked to him frequently about my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course for which I’m using Cowboys Full as a required reading.

We finally were able to meet in person yesterday when I found him during the first break. We were chatting there in the Pavilion Room during the bracelet ceremony at which both Mark Schmid (Event No. 34 winner) and Jason Mercier (who won Event No. 35) received their bracelets. Both players are American, which meant once they were given their gold a playing of the U.S. national anthem was in order.

'Cowboys Full' by James McManus (2009)It was kind of humorous, I thought. Here I am having my first meeting with the fellow who wrote a book arguing for the central importance of poker in American culture -- a book which I’ve made the core text for my American Studies course on poker -- and our conversation was interrupted for a couple of minutes so we could listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

McManus and I ended up having dinner together at São Paulo, where we talked a lot about how the event was going for him (and the toughness of the field), Cowboys Full, my course, the current state of reading/writing skills among today’s college students, Black Friday, and Full Tilt Poker. As a red pro, McManus was particularly affected by what happened on April 15, and thus brought a unique perspective to our conversation, even if he -- like most of the red pros, it appears -- doesn’t have that much more insight into the current situation than most of the rest of us do.

We also talked some about poker reporting and its evolution over the last few years, an exchange that included both of us favorably recalling the late Andy Glazer’s pioneering coverage of the WSOP from the early 2000s, as well as some compliments from McManus on some of the more inspired/creative reporting he’s encountered when he’s checked in on the Poker News blog.

It was a neat coincidence that McManus was playing in the first event I was covering, one of about ten he’s scheduled to play this summer. He barely survived as one of the 174 players who made it to today’s Day 2, though will be returning to a super-short stack.

When we finished a little after 1 a.m., I went back to the home-away-from-home, choosing against going over to the Amazon to witness the wild shenanigans happening at the Event No. 36 final table, the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em event. A huge, loud, alcohol-fueled rail of supporters -- many of whom were there to cheer on the British player Thomas Middleton --were creating a constant roar, apparently, turning an idyllic game of cards into an all-out circus.

That was one of two final tables begun last night, the other being for Event No. 37, the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship. But neither were completed, as both events reached ten levels of play on Day 3 before winners could be determined. Event No. 36 stopped with five left, while Event No. 37 is down to just two. Lots of griping going on about the “ten-level rule,” mostly associated with this agonizing delay of the stories’ climax.

No, rather than check in on the madness in the Amazon, I decided instead to leave and try to get some needed sleep. Although as always happens my brain was too fired up for me to relax enough to let go of consciousness, meaning I was up another hour or more before I was finally able to drop off.

Am up early again today, too. A little tired, but genuinely ready to head back over and see where this sucker goes. I guess I’ll have to trust the rest of the world to get along on its own while I do.

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