Vultures circling the dead
Picking up every last crumb
The big fish eat the little ones
The big fish eat the little ones
Not my problem give me some
-- Optimistic, by Radiohead
Every year thus far in the post-boom era of the World Series of Poker, the media vultures have circled around the Amazon Room on Day 1, just waiting to see what goes wrong. Pavlov and his dogs might tell them to expect the worst, given the total chaos and ineptitude shown on the first day of the series in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Endless lines. Gridlocked hallways. Those fucked-up Poker Peek cards. Shitty food. Not enough bathrooms. The Poker Tent. Those with a more optimistic constitution might be confident in
It's Day 4. The WSOP has run one small, elite $10K event, one record-breaking donkament, and handed out the first bracelet of the year to a talented young Canadian pro. And there's really nothing to complain about.
The registration lines have vanished. The food is better. No poker is being played in tents. There is actually room to move between tables. There are no freaky decks of cards. There's even a coffee and donut cart in the hallway. And an all-you-can-eat sushi joint. Seriously.
I even have the day off today. That's already 40% of the total days off I had all of last summer. Color me surprised.
My first assignment of the series was covering Event #1, the $10,000 pot-limit hold'em World Championship for Poker News. The final table was the deadliest lineup I've ever seen at a WSOP event outside the $50K H.O.R.S.E.-- well-known pros Andy Bloch, Nenad Medic, Mike Sexton, Kathy Liebert, Patrik Antonius, and Phil Laak were there along with internet superstars Amit Makhija and Mike Sowers. As Mike Sexton pointed out to those of us in media row before play started, five of the final table players had all won over $1 million in a single tournament (Bloch- 2006 50K H.O.R.S.E, Medic- 2006 WPT Foxwoods, Liebert- Party Poker Million, Sexton-- 2006 WSOP TOC, and Antonius- 2005 Bellagio Five-Diamond). That's absolutely astounding.
Though I'm an impartial journalist on the floor, I was quietly rooting for Andy Bloch at the final table. He's one of the nicest guys in poker and as Pauly often says, is the best player in the game who hasn't yet won a bracelet. I tend to agree with that statement because Andy is one of those players that excels at all the games. Hold'em, Omaha, stud, limit, no-limit, heads-up, shorthanded... he plays them all. And, it was his 39th birthday yesterday. How sweet would that be to win a bracelet on your birthday?
Alas it wasn't the day Bloch would finally shake that monkey off his back. Nor would it be the day another woman won an open event, or the day Mike Sexton won his first bracelet in 19 years, or the day another 21-year old internet pro claimed victory in a live setting. It was Nenad Medic's night, and the soft-spoken 6'5 former basketball player from Niagara Falls added his first WSOP bracelet to the WPT title he already holds. Bloch finished second after going into the final table as the chip leader. He had an opponent down to three outs on two separate occasions, but in both those instances, the dominated hands sucked out. Bloch was at a 5-2 chip disadvantage when they reached heads-up play and it took less than an hour for Medic to whittle him down.
Despite the positive changes that have been made at the WSOP this year, most of the song remains the same. Broke players still roam the hallways looking for stakes. Collectors seek out perennial debtors. Those IOUs are much harder to dodge when nearly everyone who plays this game for a living can now be found in one room. Young female players with nice bodies and marginal poker skills cozy up to older pros knowing that a few batted eyelashes over the dinner table and maybe a rub and tug could get them a few lessons and a buyin to that $1,500 donkament next weekend. Guys with jobs and wives and mortgages and kids fly out to Vegas to take their one chance at a bracelet and four hours later most of them are sitting at the bar, pouring even more of their hard-earned dollars into the Harrah's till, either in the bottom of a rocks glass or on the screen of a video poker machine, their buyin sucked back into the poker economy. That money will likely end up in the pocket of some obnoxious 22-year old internet kid who makes the final table. Or in the seven-figure bankroll of a superstar player. Or right back in the cash games courtesy of a total action junkie.
Everyone is looking for their piece. The pros, the joes, the online sites, the media. The dealers. Agents. Publicists. Drink companies. Strip clubs. Masseuses. Wives. Girlfriends. Husbands. Boyfriends. Distant cousins. Hangers-on. Taxi drivers. Cocktail waitresses.
Maybe this is the swan song of the poker boom. Maybe there are still a couple of years left in this thing. Maybe a Democratic win in November will lead to the UIGEA being overturned and the floodgates will re-open. Maybe the WPT will get another television contract after all.
I'd like to remain optimistic. The next seven weeks should decide if I will.