WSOP 2013 – Shuffle up and deal!

(Technical Note: Well, it took a few posts, but I’ve finally hit a WordPress glitch – no matter what I do or how it looks in the edit, this post keeps appearing in all italics. Any tips? Please drop me a line!)

Okay, gang, let’s check us out some WSOP 2013!

ESPN Day 1, WSOP Day 3

“This is beyond fairy tale, it’s inconceivable!”  -Norman Chad, 2003

TV Coverage of the Main Event starts with Day 3 of the tourney, perhaps because Day 1, with the 6,000+ entrants, is just too huge to manage.

After a brief reminiscence of the Moneymaker 10-year anniversary and a montage of other champs and legends, actual tourney coverage starts with shots of hopeful players entering the room (later on we’re updated that 1,700 or so are left, about 1,100 til the money).

Mark Kroon, 50-something Michigan bar owner, former online pro (Screen name: Poker Ho), old pal of Phil Hellmuth, is the chip leader. Cut to Ray Romano and Kevin Pollack and Jason Alexander, the obligatory tip of the hat/pandering to the Hollywooders still in it.  Then we see Phil Hellmuth (loved and hated, incredible poker player, incredibly obnoxious, “The Poker Brat”). Over to Jean-Robert Bellande (another huge ego, former Survivor contestant – viewers, and announcer Norman Chad, love to see him lose). Then there’s Shawn Sheikhan, trash talker, but not a clever one only player to ever make Mike “the Mouth” Matusow look like a good guy.  And finally, a hero: Doyle Brunson, beloved by players and fans alike. Doyle’s A big, soft-spoken, 80-year-old Texan in a ten-gallon hat, what poker used to look like – his survival to Day 3, and with a healthy stack, no less, makes for great TV. These are the familiar faces, with one semi-Cinderella (Kroon). ESPN rolls the dice on where to focus most of its cameras and lights, on one “feature table” and a couple of others. Kroon is at the second-feature table.

At the feature table, along with Phil Ivey “the greatest player in the world” (not that it isn’t true, it’s just repeated so much it’s become a kind of poker truism), is a bespectacled young black man with a historically-bizarre name Willie Horton (not Bill, not William – Willie. Were his parents making a bizarre statement? Didn’t care? Didn’t follow politics in the 80s? Doesn’t matter much, as we won’t see him for long.)

Willie is an athletic, openly nervous guy with chunky glasses and a high voice, sitting next to Phil Ivey, one of the best – and most intimidating – players in the game, who’s also, in an odd coincidence, black. (There are about as few black poker players as women. Around 5% of Main Event entrants are women). As cynical as I am about ESPN’s poker coverage, the network has no say in seat assignments, which are random. What ESPN has is the ability to choose which of the nearly 200 tables left to focus their lights and cameras on – and they often choose well. People complain a lot about the sensationalization of poker, about how ESPN only shows a tiny fraction of a 12-hour day of play, which the network edits and angles to make it all seem “live.” Such coverage gives a completely unrealistic picture of tournament poker. But the same can be said for any sports highlights on Sportscenter. Said critics still watch, though, it’s the only game in town for WSOP coverage, after all. And so we watch the huge hands, the all-ins and bust-outs, hopes dashed by the turn of a card; shell-shocked amateurs and pros alike stand up, one by one, shake their heads, walk away. Bellande, sitting on a good-sized stack, gets it all in with KK, but his opponent, a British theatre director, has AA, Three days grinding, he gets the second best starting hand possible, and . . .  nearly all his chips are gone, just like that – a few minutes later, Jean-Robert exits stage left.

At the secondary table, a giddy Mark Kroon celebrates a hand with Phil Hellmuth, his old Michican pal, sweating him. I met Kroon in Vegas at the WSOP Academy three-day sleep-away camp Annie invited me to way back when. Kroon was very buddy-buddy whenever we were out with Annie (if you’re just tuning in, see post one), told me to look him up after for tips, training, etc. When I emailed him with a couple of questions after returning home, he never responded, not even with a polite demurral. But I’m not bitter.

By way of intro to Hellmuth and Kroon, and to eleven-years-running-WSOP announcing team of Lon McEachern (WASPY straight man) and Norman Chad (shticky “ethnic” type), here’s the hand, I report, you decide, whether Kroon is the guy you want to see at the final table:

Willie Horton busts, keeps his chin up. What did he learn?

“I can play poker with the best of them, and make it,” Horton tells us, and it’s clear he means it.  In fact, though, he didn’t make it at all – he made it to Day 3, sure, outlasted 4,000 or so players, but, while he had a good run, and got to play beside the man he called his “idol,” he still lost his ten grand, same as the guy who busted first on Day One. And yet, Willie Horton tells us, he’ll be back, he’ll do it again. It’s a story you hear every year. About 10%, 650 of the 6,000+ entries, will cash, with the smallest amounts being about double the $10k entry fee. Six thousand people show up, and if you polled them, I’m sure more than five-sixths of them will tell you they’ve definitely got the chops to cash. Watch the WSOP, or heck, play poker with anyone on any night anywhere, and watch the concept of illusory superiority borne out in spades, as it were.

Back at the feature table, we’re introduced to this year’s Cinderella, “farmer” Phil Mader, whom I mentioned previously, which leads me to our first major video hand of the tourney!

While “I never said I was any good,” I feel safe, at this point, giving two pointers. 1. Don’t play poker with Phil Ivey.  But, 2., if you must play poker with Phil Ivey, BE CAREFUL!  Patience and discipline are two fundamentals of poker success, perhaps the two that are hardest to come by, or at least the two that abandon so many in moments of crucial decisions, especially when being stared down by Ivey. Antonio (Esfandiari, aka “the Magician,” who won the inaugural One Drop tourney last year, the most expensive tournament ever, with a MILLION DOLLAR buy-in) said it best in the video – just because you have a great hand, doesn’t mean you have the best hand, and in a tourney, if you push all your chips in the middle and lose, as opposed to in a cash game, you don’t get to go back and buy more, you’re just done.

A couple of times in the hour, coverage cuts to Doyle, winning a couple of big hands. Sitting to his right is Sheikhan, arguably the biggest, bitter-est asshole in a big-bitter-asshole-infested world, who yammers at the legend nonstop, tries to goad Doyle into saying something negative about Moneymaker’s picture hanging on the wall right behind them next to Doyle’s. He wants Doyle to show some disgust, some contempt for the amateur who changed everything a decade ago. Doyle just smiles – Moneymaker has made the latter end of Doyle’s long career incredibly lucrative. People buy Brunson’s books (His Super System is considered the first great poker guide), rich fish who never would’ve cared before ’03 flock to Vegas for the honor of losing to him, and he’s now a hero well beyond the world of high-stakes gamblers. It’s the cash games – not these tourneys – that make the Brunsons their bread and butter, and those games have gone through the roof since 2003.

Coverage shifts again, to a boat over boat (full house over full house, very unlikely, and unlucky for the smaller boat), a middle aged white guy losing all his chips to young pro Melanie Weisner, in a very tight and low-cut shirt, accentuating one of several advantages Annie used to tell me she has against men, even seasoned pros. They were distracted, or overly polite, or they just didn’t think she could possibly know what he’s doing; they let their dicks do the betting, and they pay her off time and time and time again. On a quick side note, Weisner is sitting next to a young gun I recognize from Foxwoods, Ronnie Bardah (who finished 541st in the Main Event last year, for $21,000) – I’ve sat at tables with him and with his father – so close yet so far.

Cut to Greg Merson, the reigning champ, still in it, short-stacked, catching cards and winning a big hand. And that’ll do it for Episode 1. As for our friend Player X – no sign of him on TV.

(I’ll be alternating coverage of this year with looks back at the last hands or another big hand) from the last decade’s final tables, so next post feature be the final hand of 2003, and some tweets from X from Days One through Three.)

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