Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Main Event Memories

Been back on the farm more than a week now from Las Vegas. I snapped that pic to the left as I left the Rio for the last time following a 16-night stay.

It took me a while, but finally I’m sharing links to some of my favorite features posted during the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Early on I had the chance to chat with New York Times best selling author Maria Konnikova about her current book project. You might have heard something about it -- the story has been passed around the poker world the last few month’s as Konnikova writing a book “about” Erik Seidel, although that isn’t exactly what she’s doing.

Rather, the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and The Confidence Game is spending a year playing poker on the professional poker tournament circuit as part of an inquiry into how humans make decisions, including when faced with elements outside of our control (such as happens in poker).

Talking with Konnikova was one of my favorite half-hours of the entire trip, to be honest, and while not everything we talked about made it into this post, a lot of it did, including a fuller introduction to her study. You can read it here: “Konnikova seeking answers in the cards about life, poker, and everything.”

A couple of days after that I had another fun conversation with Vanessa Selbst, a player I’ve been covering in tournaments for nearly a decade now.

If you followed the Main Event you probably remember how Selbst found herself in a highly unusual spot only an hour or so into the tournament, running into Gaelle Baumann’s quads to be eliminated halfway through the very first level.

We talked about that hand, of course, but also about one of the very first tournaments I ever covered, the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event at the 2008 WSOP in which Selbst won her first bracelet. That remains one of my favorite reporting experiences ever -- thanks in large part to the crazy finish -- and it was fun inviting Selbst to remember the scene.

She also neatly tied together with her comments the end of that tournament and her exit hand in this year’s Main -- check it out: “Vanessa embraces the variance.”

The cash bubble burst at the end of Day 3, and just before the start of Day 4 I spoke with one of those who’d made the money -- Kenneth “K.L.” Cleeton.

You might have heard something about this story, too. Cleeton is a 27-year-old player from Illinois who suffers from a rare neuromuscular disorder that leaves him essentially paralyzed from the neck down. He’s anything but handicapped otherwise, though -- very quick-witted and gregarious and also a good poker player, too.

Cleeton entered a contest put together by Daniel Negreanu and along with a couple of other entrants was put into the the Main Event by Kid Poker. With his father at the table providing assistance looking at cards and making bets, Cleeton survived the bubble bursting with a short stack, and both of them were unsurprisingly ecstatic about it all when we chatted just before Day 4 began.

Negreanu shared some comments as well for the post. Read about Cleeton and be energized by one of the cooler stories of the whole Main: “K.L. Cleeton continues inspiring run into Day 4.”

As the tournament wore on, a player named Mickey Craft started to get everyone’s attention thanks to his big stack and especially loose style of play. He was also kind of a character at the tables, chatting it up and obviously enjoying himself immensely.

I happened to be around when Craft won a big pot on Day 4 in an especially nutty hand. I remember watching it play out alongside the ESPN crew, talking a bit with one of them who was marveling at how crazy the poker was. I knew right then they’d be finding a way to get Craft onto a feature table soon, and sure enough that’s what happened later in the day.

Here’s that post describing the wacky hand: “Mickey Craft is must-see poker.”

Finally, if you paid any attention at all to the Main Event -- particularly to the final table -- you certainly heard about the 64-year-old amateur from Bridlington, England named John Hesp.

You couldn’t miss Hesp in his multi-colored, patchwork shirt and jacket and Panama hat. His personality was just as colorful, and by chance I ended up chatting with him on multiple occasions during his deep Main Event run, including about how the Main was a “bucket list” item for him, a bit of a diversion from his usual 10-pound tournaments in Hull.

Just before the final table (where he’d go on to finish fourth to earn $2.6 million), I posted a piece sharing some of what Hesp and I chatted about: “John Hesp’s Vegas vaction continues; or ‘When I’m Sixty-Four.’

These are just some of my favorites among the nearly 100 posts Howard Swains and I wrote over the course of the Main Event. Wanted to kind of bookmark them here, though, and also invite some more eyes to ‘em in case folks missed them before.

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