Sunday, November 8, 2009

4 a.m. at the WSOP Final Table

Two of the dealers at #wsop final table lounging on the break: on Twitpic

If these women look exhausted, forgive them. It's now 16 hours since the Final Table resumed play at the Rio for the World Series of Poker. The aim is to whittle down the nine players who survived the field of 6,494 in July down to two and then have those two go heads-up starting at 10 p.m. on Monday.

It's been colorful, amusing and grueling. I know many of you don't care about poker, but the mechanics of the game are never why I find this so intriguing. It's the personalities and the life-changing sums of money involved. The four guys left right now include a 46-year-old lumberjack from a Maryland backwater who was never on a plane before July and has now won at least $2.5 million. The guy lives in a double-wide, won entry by winning a tournament in a West Virginia casino that cost him $130 to enter. That's nuts.

Also nuts? This lady, the self-coronated Poker Queen:

Mine eyes! Mine eyes! Look at the crazy #wsop lady!!!! on Twitpic

Also ALSO nuts, the fact that the $27 million they're giving to the players this weekend is in mounds on a table with a couple of security guards who look like Barney Fifes:

They brought in $27 million in cash to give the last 5 at #ws... on Twitpic

Yes, that's real and not newspaper (they even make that anymore, anyhow?) filler as the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Howard Stutz thought until I walked him over to take a closer look. Perched atop that mound is this, the only bracelet most men would want to own or wear:

A closer look at the only bracelet most men dream of owning, ... on Twitpic

They're being very loose with access for journalists like me who have stage passes...

Look who has a stage pass to watch from the very best seat in... on Twitpic sit on a risers a few feet from the action and behind some cheering sections. The unmanned Mac there is mine:

The unmanned mac is where I sit. Taken during #wsop break: on Twitpic

The guy to my ghost's left in this image is Eric Ramsey with PokerNews.Com, the guy who is writing these hand-by-hand accounts of the action and that's fortunate because even this close, it's hard to tell what's happening. I've gotten some cool shots like this one when Phil Ivey, the acclaimed poker pro who busted out in 7th place, was pondering a move:

Schulman folds, phil ivey still alive. Cool shot of ivey as s... on Twitpic

...and when Doyle Brunson, the elder statesman of the game, issued the "shuffle-up-and-deal" declaration to begin play so many hours ago.

Here's one of the dealers in earlier times at the table...

...and an up-close look at the face of the special chips they create each year for this event:

A closeup of the chips special for #wsop. This happens to be ... on Twitpic

Yes, we were young and fresh once, full of energy. Back when we started, there was a huge line in the hallway of spectators who waited hours to get into the Penn & Teller Theater to watch. It's free, but the demand was huge:

Joe cada, the 22y/o who could be the youngest to win the #wso... on Twitpic

Madhouse as fans line up to get into #wsop final table includ... on Twitpic

During breaks, famous poker pros like Howard Lederer, whom I profiled with his sister Annie Duke in the Boston Globe in 2007, signed autographs.

Some of the eccentrics got to take pictures with the Holly Madison of poker, online pro and [link maybe NSFW] WSOP hostess Lacey Jones:

As you can see, Ms. Jones works hard to please:

To preview the WSOP Final Table, I wrote a profile of Ivey, referred to as the Tiger Woods of Poker because he's an elegantly handsome, biracial break-through player whose astoundingly winning consistency has folks believing they are in the presence of greatness. Unfortunately, Ivey seems to despise the press and only speaks to reporters when he's in some way being compensated or is obligated to do so. Thus, the press was not sorry that he played lousy and riskless and busted out in seventh. To return the favor, Ivey was the only one who snubbed even ESPN when he departed, much to the WSOP's chagrin. He surfaced playing on a poker website within an hour, the very definition of gambling addiction.

Here's the only shot I got of Ivey up close:

RT @WSOP: Ivey has apple coming out of the break!!! the magic... on Twitpic

Other pros were more accessible. I chatted up Phil Hellmuth and 2008 finalist Dennis Phillips and got these shots of Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu...

Heading to someplace quiet to do the strip, i spotted #poker'... on Twitpic

What the he'll is @realkidpoker doing with his hand? #wsop on Twitpic

Doyle was signing his new book, "The Godfather of Poker," which I picked up to read and possibly review. Not sure what Negreanu was doing with his hand there.

As the night wore on, I did wander the Rio looking for a place to buy some candy and soda to perk me up. I caught a little bit of this silly show in the casino...

...and found myself pelted by beads from the Masquerade in the Sky:

True to @riovegas form look what landed in front of me as I w... on Twitpic

Not sure what to do with them. Put them on TheStripPodcast.Com trivia question prize list, perhaps? Or hang them on the car rearview as everyone seems to in Vegas?

The reason I need to hang in here is because one of the remaining players -- currently in first with a large lead, in fact -- is Antoine Saout, a 25-year-old college dropout from St Martin Des Champs, France, and one of my clients is Agence Presse-France, the French wire service. Clearly the deeper Saout goes, the bigger a story it is over in France. I love how his cheering section has these special scarves they knitted...

The French player, Antoine saout, has a cheering section and ... on Twitpic

...which seems tres francais, non?

But now, after 265 hands and no sign that these four are going to settle it anytime soon, we're all feeling like we could use a little nap.

Those legs happen to belong to poker star Mike Matasow, who decided to lay down on the floor and rest. That sounds nice, but some of us have to work here.


ucsb1990 said...

So you and Howard Stutz "examined" the money, huh? I bet the eye in the sky was following you two like a hawk. You come across as pretty reputable, but Stutz looks a little shifty. He seems like the kind of guy you'd usually find on a barstool (or falling off of one). Writes a good column, though.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely all cash, but probably not as much as you would think. Years back I stood fairly close to the final table, close enough to get a peek at those stacks of cash. The corner of one of the $100 bills was bent back, revealing -- a plain ol' $1 bill underneath.

Now, this was back in the days Becky Behnen owned the WSOP, and her cash reserves weren't anywhere close to Harrah's. Still, why put $8 million on a table when you can put $500,000 down that looks the same?


UCSB: It was the Penn & Teller Theater, so I don't think there is an eye in the sky, but maybe they brought them in for this? Dunno. We looked at it pretty closely -- I think Howard even got to touch it. It seemed real, anyhow. I should find a former champion and ask his whether the bricks of money they hold up in the end were really their winnings. Shouldn't be too hard to do on Monday night.