Saturday, September 01, 2007

Unruly Railbirds, Change Falls, and Why I Respect Harrah's a Lot More Now

Two WSOPs, half a dozen World Poker Tour events and who knows how many rinky-dink L.A. area tournaments I've either played or covered... yesterday was the worst day I've spent in poker.

Let me preface this by saying I love Poker Stars, I think the EPT is by in large a fantastic tour and I'm incredibly lucky to be here thanks to John Caldwell and Poker News. But the staff and spectators at the Casino Barcelona, well, they can blow me.

Our stint covering the EPT Barcelona has been rife with problems. The internet connection in the press room has been beyond lousy and there is nary an IT person to be found. About half the time we can't even load a simple web page. Posts have been eaten left and right. Pages time out constantly. I've dealt with shitty wireless internet before on tour and it's one of the things I'm usually pretty patient about. Pauly gets his testicles in a twist every time it goes down, but techie things rarely tilt me. It comes with the territory.

What I have absolutely no tolerance for is being pushed, shoved, elbowed, stepped on and kicked by unruly drunk spectators with absolutely no respect for the people around them who are trying to do their jobs.

My frustration began when we were lined up to get into the casino at 3 PM yesterday. Yes, lined up. By Spanish law, the casino opens at 3 PM and must close by 4 AM. Everyone also must show their passports to get a ticket that is scanned before you're allowed to enter. The cash game area is very small, so players arrive early in order to get a seat. Otherwise, you might be stuck in a 100-deep queue. These guys act like the world itself will stop turning if they can't get in. While trying to get my ticket scanned yesterday, I was getting pushed and shoved so much by the guy behind me that Pauly punched him on the shoulder and warned that if he tried that again, there would be serious trouble. I though European men were supposed to be chivalrous and respectful of women. I've encountered exactly the opposite in my stay in Spain.

But that's not even the worst of it.

The media were kicked out of the ropes midway through Day 2. The tournament area is small and the players were understandibly getting frustrated with the crush of humanity surrounding the tables. We were forced to report from the rail, and the tournament staff refused to move the spectators back so we could do our jobs. Every time there was an all-in, spectators would rudely push over everyone and anyone in their way so they could see the action. By the time we were down to 5 tables, the only possible way for me to record hands was to stand on a chair.

During one particular all in, I was up on said chair and some asshat flew into both me and the chair and knocked me to the ground. I landed awkwardly on my right ankle, weak from previous injuries and re-sprained it. The fucker ran off before I could call him out or Pauly could punch him in the face. Two floor guys saw it happen and didn't even help me up. As I stood up and put the first bit of pressure on my ankle, pain surged up my leg and I burst into tears before limping off the casino floor.

The only person in the entire casino that tried to help the deplorable situation on the floor was Mad Harper. She talked to the officials to try and get a roped-off media-only area, but they really could have cared less. Once I walked off some of the pain and downed a few aspirin, I went back out there. The conditions deteriorated even more as the day went on. There were piss-drunk Danes and Swedish hookers with better views of the tournament than I had. And while many would just throw their hands up in this situation, I wouldn't do that. I have a responsibility to Poker News, who flew me 6,000 miles to cover this tournament. I take pride in my work and didn't want my coverage to suffer despite the circus on the ropes.

At one point I went up to Tournament Director Thomas Kresmer and calmly told him that I'm a patient woman, I've covered poker in all sorts of venues and I've never seen the media treated this poorly. I asked if there was any way to move the spectators back and he just sort of shrugged his shoulders at me and turned away to talk to someone else.

A lot of the people in the poker media like to trash Harrah's and nitpick at every little thing that went wrong at the World Series. But after my experience here, I have much more respect for how they organize such a massive event and run it so smoothly. If I had been knocked to the ground by a spectator at the Rio, I have no doubt that the asshole would have been immediately removed from the premises by security. But here, they just don't care.

My sore ankle and I are back at the Casino Barcelona for the final table today. And unfortunately, I'll leave this place with a bad taste in my mouth.


Schizohedron said...

Same thought I had about Harrah's -- the Rio is looking pretty good compared to these monkeys. Makes you appreciate the hulking security guys in Vegas all the more.

Sorry the Barcelona experience turned so negative and hope your ankle recovers as fast as it can.

pentimento said...

I hope your ankle heals fast. I have a few friends who have visited Barcelona and they all have encountered too many rude Spaniards and pickpockets. They have no intention of going back.

Americans know how to organize events. In an event with large crowds, the Americans tend to be much more civilized. I don't think you can find an American who would refuse to help up a woman who has been knocked down to the floor and in obvious pain. I'm not an American but I have lived in this country for a while, and I have lived in other countries too. So far I like the Americans best.

Al Czervik said...

Sounds like a great argument in favor of Exclusive Coverage by one news organization.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Sounds more like Pamplona than Barcelona. Sheesh.

Hang in there.

change100 said...

czervik: It may sound like that, but even though I have benefited from working for the "exclusive" WSOP media provider, media exclusivity in poker is something I oppose. The coverage as a whole suffers, the readers suffer, the "sport" suffers, and a lot of my friends have lost jobs and money because of it.

The easiest tournament I've ever covered in my time as a poker journalist was the 2006 Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino in L.A., which is held in a space of comprable size to where the EPT Barcelona was played out. The difference? Spectators were not allowed inside the ballroom where the tournament was held and there was a security presence outside the door making sure it stayed that way.

StB said...

If it helps, I walked up to a foreigner and punched him in the face after reading this post. Hope that ankle doesn't ruin the rest of the trip.