Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hellmuth and the Hoi Polloi

Haven’t really been watching the WSOP broadcasts on ESPN that closely this summer. The Main Event coverage has been on for the last couple of weeks. I know this is becoming kind of an annual refrain from me, but with every passing year I’ve moved further and further from wanting to spend a couple of hours on a weeknight watching the WSOP ME.

There are a few reasons for my edging away from being a regular viewer, one of which I was writing about last Friday -- namely, playing less poker (I believe) makes one less enthused to watch others play. With the WSOP ME, of course, I have a particular, personal reason to be a little less inspired to watch after having been there all summer reporting on the sucker. Sort of thing cuts into the suspense more than a little, although it’s still kind of fun occasionally to tune in and search backgrounds for familiar faces.

I did happen to catch part of the first hour the other night, however, which found ESPN showing more from Day 3. Much of that hour was devoted to featuring Phil Hellmuth nursing a short stack, then finally getting eliminated.

At one point we see Hellmuth play a hand versus Dennis Reyes. Both are sitting with below average stacks, and when they get to the turn on a nine-high board Reyes shoves with pocket jacks. Hellmuth -- with king-high and a flush draw -- takes a big bite of his sandwich, offers a short speech, then folds. Then he continues to talk to Reyes through a mouthful of food, delivering the usual low estimate of his opponent’s ability while chompingly championing his own.

That’s when the show cuts to a one-minute long segment labeled “Side Action” in which Hellmuth and last year’s Main Event runner-up Jesse Sylvia are shown playing in a low stakes no-limit hold’em game over in the poker room on the other side of the Rio.

Watching this segment caused me to remember having witnessed some discussion of this little idea last month. It was Day 6, I think, well after both Hellmuth and Sylvia had been eliminated from the ME. I recall overhearing folks in the Amazon Room talking about getting Hellmuth down into the poker room, including making sure it would be cool to shoot video there.

I didn’t realize then that Sylvia was going to be recruited to appear in the segment as well. Anyhow, I know I’m not surprising anyone to report it having been somewhat plotted out ahead of time. In other words, I doubt anyone watching the segment would actually think Hellmuth and Sylvia had randomly decided to play in the game and the cameras just happened to be there to catch it.

As shown in the segment, Hellmuth and Sylvia take a couple of seats at a $1/$3 NLHE table and appear to have fun playing with those who are gathered there. While we can’t really follow any hands, the pair are apparently losing. Eventually Hellmuth orders some Dom Pérignon for the table, then after saying “you guys are a little bit too tough for us” wishes everyone luck and they depart.

It looked like those involved enjoyed the visit, which I’m going to guess probably didn’t last more than an orbit or two. I suppose it might seem a little patronizing -- the high rollers stooping to join the hoi polloi -- though I can imagine worse. Hard not to roll the eyes a little, though, when watching Hellmuth play-acting as the life-of-the-party, lovable loser in the $1/$3 game since that character contrasts so markedly with the sniping, unfriendly self he typically appears as when playing “real” poker.

(Yeah, I know... “the hoi polloi” is redundant. But it makes a weird phrase sound even weirder to omit the article.)

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