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WSOP 2006 Day 1
Thursday night, after having dinner with my father and brother, who have come out to support me for a few days, at their hotel, the Stratosphere Towers, I took a cab back to the Monte Carlo. It is only 8PM, but I need to get an early start in the morning and am still jet-lagged, so I plan on doing a little work and turning in early. My cab driver is a young Asian man who is pretty quiet until we are nearing the hotel, at which point the following dialogue ensues: Driver: So what are you up to tonight? Big night on the town? Me: (thinking he is just making conversation) Actually, I'm pretty much done for the night. I've got to get up early tomorrow. Driver: Maybe get a massage? Me: Haha, yeah. Driver: Massage and a happy ending? Me: Haha, yeah. Driver: I know a place, $100. Girls pretty, too. Me: That doesn't sound right. It costs $5 to get a soda in this town. Driver: No, no, I know the place. $100. Girls pretty too. No one knows it is there. He insists on giving me a "business card" with an Asian woman on the front, naked except for some strategically placed silver stars, and writes his name and phone number on the back, telling me to call him if I'm interested.
I turn in around 10:30 and set the alarm for 6:30. I'm told play is starting at 11AM, but I still need to confirm my registration at the casino (show an ID, get a seat assignment, etc.) and apparently there were long lines the previous day. Also, Poker Stars is hosting a brunch for their players that morning, so I figured I could hang out there if I had time to kill. At 7:20 I am headed to the Starbucks in the Monte Carlo to get a cup of coffee. The casino is blaring "Over My Head" by The Fray, which includes the following refrain: "Everybody knows I'm in over my head, over my head." Awesome. At 7:40 AM I am in the lobby of the Monte Carlo waiting for an 8AM shuttle that Stars is running to the Rio, where the event is being held. At 8:07 I am at the Rio, at 8:10 I have confirmed my registration, and at 8:15 I am eating a miniature blueberry muffin. I shake hands quickly with Humberto Brenes, a boisterous, garishly-dressed Costa Rican pro who I've seen on TV, and then leave him alone to enjoy his breakfast. As a general rule, I don't care for twenty-something internet poker players. They tend to be shallow, whiney, immature, etc. Of course the room is full of them, so I sit down across from a 69-year old man who is sitting by himself. He's been playing poker for years, but I get the sense that he isn't very good, and he admits to being a losing player (something very few poker players will do). We talk for a while, and he tells me what the poker scene used to be like and how much it has changed in the last few years. What really set it off was when ESPN started airing the WSOP on television, complete with cameras that could show audiences what two cards a player was holding. That year (2004), the event was won by a guy named (yes, this really is his name) Chris Moneymaker, who spent $40 on a Poker Stars qualifying tournament and ended up winning over a million dollars.
My new friend is from Houston, so his stories are peppered with a distinctly southern flavor ("this ole' boah raises me, so Ah raise 'im rot back"). He goes on to tell me how Moneymaker sent his dealer at the final table a check for $25,000. He steers the conversation towards politics and things get hairy. He appreciates that Fox News has slightly less of a liberal bias than the other major networks, but still thinks they are too hard on the Bush administration and did not cover enough of the Clinton scandals. In fact, he rattles off detailed lists of people he claims have been murdered for or by the Clintons. I find out he used to be a teacher, so I am thinking perhaps we can get back on common ground. Wrong. Turns out the school he taught at used to be one of the best in the Houston Unified school district, "but now it's all blacks and Spics." And we're done. I get up to go to the bathroom and don't come back. I wander around for a little while and it still is not that crowded. At about 10:45 AM the doors to the conference room where the tournament is being held are still locked, and I find out we are not starting until noon. I read for about 45 minutes, and it still doesn't seem to be the crowded. I decide to hit the restroom before we get started, and follow signs to what turns out to be a glorified Port-a-Pot outside. I know we'll need the extra restrooms during the 20 minute break, when 2500 people will need to use them, but for now I ought to be able to get to the ones in the casino. Wrong again. As I start to walk toward the main hallway, I encounter an avalanche of people. Apparently they've just opened the doors to the conference room, and thousands of players, spectators, dealers, cocktail waitresses, and journalists and swarming in. I've got no choice but to skip the restroom now and let the tide of bodies carry me to my fate.
I find my seat and the only other people at my table are the dealer (Mike) and a middle-aged women named Leeza from South Carolina. We get to talking, and find out that Mike has dealt at the last three WSOP final tables (they rotate dealers every 30 minutes, so probably almost anyone who dealt at all three tournaments could say this). He goes on to tell us how on the first day of the 2004 Main Event he told Chris Moneymaker that he would win the tournament, and that Chris subsequently sent him a check for $25,000. How's that for a coincidence? The table fills up, and we start playing. I'm actually not too nervous. Especially compared to the internet tournaments to which I am accustomed, I've got all the time in the world, so I decide to sit back, study the table a little bit, and wait for a good situation to play my first hand at the World Series of Poker. To the dealer's immediate left is a player who has not yet shown up. We'll be taking blinds and antes out of his stack, but he's got 10,000 chips and the blinds are 25 and 50 right now, so if he shows up in the next hour or two, it shouldn't really affect him at all. In fact, some arrogant pros are known to party the night before the Main Event and then sleep through the first two hours, confident that they can make up for lost time. The next seat to the left is Leeza from Charleston, SC. She is a tight, solid player, which isn't necessarily a compliment. That's a style that can work against bad opponents, but when you are against good players and have a lot of money in front of you, predictable is a very bad thing to be. As we are taking our seats, there is a lot of commotion to her left, and someone saying he needs two seats. I immediately think of US Airways' controversial policy requiring overweight passengers to purchase two seats, but it turns out the gentleman who will be sitting to Leeza's left is William, a twenty-something missing one arm and almost completely unable to use the other, who plays with his feet and needs the second seat to balance himself. One at a time, he pins his cards to the table with his big toe, slides them up a little wooden ramp, and looks them. He's adept enough with his toes to take individual chips out of a stack and then push them into the pot. He has an assistant who stacks his chips for him when he wins a pot. Apparently he made it into the money last year, and obviously he is popular with the press, so there are a couple of cameras taping him as he gets set up. Maybe I will be on TV after all!
I don't remember much about the player to his left. The next player over is an older gentleman who doesn't say much and plays a pretty tight, passive game, which is basically the stereotype of older poker players. The next player to the left is a young kid from Norway playing at his first live tournament. I get the sense that is pretty good, and I am grateful that he is seated to my immediate right and will almost always act before I do, allowing me to make decisions with a lot of information about his hand. I am in the next seat, and then to my left is a quiet guy wearing dark sunglasses. Nothing distinctive about him, really. To his left is a middle-aged man with a full beard wearing a Full Tilt Poker jersey. He turns out to be a decent player who, like me, earns a decent side income playing online poker. In the next seat is a mortgage banker from California who describes his ethnicity as "ancient Babylonian" and "Assyrian." He's a regular guest at the Rio and often loses 10-15K at blackjack when he's in town. He turns out to be a better player than I would have guessed based on that (and he is not at all "gambly" and in fact rather tight), but still nothing special. To his left is a young guy wearing a Paradise Poker shirt. He's got an air of confidence about him, and before we even start playing I make a note to myself to keep an eye out for him, because something tells me he is probably pretty good.
There were 10 seats at the table, so I must be leaving someone out, but I can't remember who. Before I have even exchanged names with most of these people, they get to see me topless. The Rio has issued a rule that players may not wear any clothing displaying a ".com" logo, and thanks to my contractual obligations, I have the words "Poker Stars.com" emblazoned on my shirt and hat. So I take off the shirt, turn it inside out, and sit back down. Sucks for Poker Stars, they put 1500 players for 9 nights in the Monte Carlo so that we would wear their stuff, and now we have to take it off. Eventually they get the idea to put electrical tape over the ".com", but I am not interested in stripping for my table again, so my shirt stays inside out the entire day. James Garner, who played a poker player on TV's Maverick, is playing in the main event for the first time in his life, so they allow him to kick off the tournament officially with the customary, "Shuffle up and deal." The floor personnel are a little vague, but it sounds like we will play six two-hour sessions today, with twenty minute breaks after each and a ninety minute dinner break, and then if we have not whittled our 2400 players down to 900, we will play another two-hour session. It is noon now, so IF everything runs perfectly on time, it sounds like we will be leaving at 2:30 AM. Level 1: Blinds 25-50. William has busy feet and is getting involved in a lot of pots almost immediately. I wanted to feel the table out a little before getting involved, but I get dealt some solid hands and have to play them. This results in my butting heads with William a few times. He backs down pretty quickly each time, but I can feel him getting frustrated, which is all the more reason for me to get involved with him, since it means he will not be playing his best. As it turns out, I end up winning a big pot against him with absolutely nothing. I'll spare you the details, but basically he bluffed off about 25% of his chips and I was so sure he was bluffing that I called him down with a VERY weak hand. I could only beat a bluff, and there was even a chance that he could be bluffing with a better hand than mine. When I turned my cards over and took the pot with my very weak hand, he got pretty agitated.
It actually worked out very well for me in terms of my image at the table, because based on the comments people made when I showed what I had called William with, I could determine how well they understood the game. Some people were just floored that I had put so much money in the pot with such a weak hand and couldn't see past that. A few players seemed to understand why I played it the way I did. But everyone seemed to decide right then that they weren't going to try to bluff me, and that would make life very easy for me over the next few hours. A few minutes later, they announce that the first player has just been eliminated, and the room erupts in applause. Talk about adding insult to injury. I hope they at least let the guy leave the room before publicly humiliating him, though I doubt it. With about 10 minutes left at this level, the tournament director announces they will be doing "staggered breaks", meaning that 1200 of us will go on break at the designated time, and the other half will keep playing and then go on break when we get back. I'm still expecting long lines at the restroom and I really have to go, so I leave about two minutes before the break starts in order to beat the rush. I'm off to a great start, having already worked my inital 10,000 chips up to 16,000 and convinced everyone at the table not to mess with me. As I am walking out of the port-a-pot, poker pro and author Dan Harrington walks in, and on my way back to my seat I spot Phil Gordon, Andy Black, and Barry Greenstein. Level 2, blinds 50-100: I was thankful the cameras weren't around when I won my big pot against William, because I'd rather not be the guy taking all the chips from the disabled kid who's playing to win money for the Foundation he started to help others with disabilities. But I am not getting off that easy. The reporters come over to check in with William, and when they ask how he is doing, he says, "Don't ask." Then he swivels in his seat, points his naked toe at me, and says, "This is the guy who did it to me." He's kidding, kind of, but we both know that he is really getting me back for calling his bluff.
About a half hour into this level, he is down to just 1500 chips, and goes all in. Everyone folds to me and I look down at a pair of Jacks. I call him, and immediately the cameras come rushing over to witness his fate. My hand holds up, and I eliminate him from the tournament. He continues to rib me for the cameras, asking how it feels to crush a crippled kid's dreams, and all I can do is laugh. He's mostly just frustrated with himself because he knows he hasn't played his best, and he is ultimately a good sport about it. He signs a picture for me (he has better handwriting with his toes than I do with my fingers), gives me a hug (which involves him awkwardly flopping his body into me- I don't do a lot to return the hug because I'm afraid to break him), and wishes me luck.