|Jesse May in
Binions Horseshoe Casino,
Sunday at 4:30 am, and its that bewitching hour. With only 20 hours until
the big dance begins, anybody whos in the poker room right now is in
serious jeopardy of shooting himself in the foot. Because Monday at 1pm is not
the beginning of just another tournament. Monday begins the championship event
at the World Series of Poker, and if you dont plan on getting your full
eight hours on Saturday night followed by a rest day on Sunday, then
youll either have no chance at all to become the next world champion, or
you must think you just paid $10,000 for a lottery ticket.
Now a lot of
people play poker daily. They play poker five or more days of every week, so
they figure that that means their stamina is just about fine when it comes to
playing for the five day duration of the World Series of Poker. But almost
every single one of those players has not only never made it through the
duration of the championships of the world, but they just never will.
Because though they have to think that way, their facts dont fly.
They need to think that Robert Varkonyi was an idiot with no chance on earth,
they must say that if he can win than anybody can, when it comes to poker they
have done everything else. But about the big one they are without a clue.
Because all the poker skill in the world doesnt mean nearly a thing on
day five of the World Series of Poker when compared to two factors far more
precious - how fresh you are and how you perform under pressure. And when
Robert Varkonyi showed up last May for that Friday final table, two things were
sure. He was fresh as a daisy, having slept well every night of the WSOP and
done very little but rest for the week before that, and he was cool and calm as
the bright blue sea. And some people who can talk circles around the merits of
pushing your stack in with top pair in an unraised pot, some of those people
might be the best of the best at reading, raising and folding, but they
havent sussed out what those whove been there will know. That at
the World Series of Poker a donkey with fire in his eyes is a ten fold favorite
over a red ringed pro when it comes to hoisting the crown. Ill take the
Vegas pro on Days 1, 2, and 3, but when the twilight zone kicks in on the
morning of Day 4, all bets are off. Then Im looking for the steady hand
and vicious smile of the unknown player. In the words of Benny Binion Behnen,
Ill take the field.
So what was going on at the Horseshoe with 20
hours to go? In the downstairs poker room, four cash games were charging. In
the center of one table sat the Devilfish, deep into a pot limit Omaha game
played mostly with bills and black chips. Dave looked in fine command of the
table, but Im fearful for his form come Friday and the final nine.
Theres another pot limit Omaha game twice as big in the corner, where
Eskimo Clarks hunkered down with a solemn look. Dewey Tomkos
kibitzing at the empty table next over, presumably waiting for a seat with a
new showered air and every hair in place. Huck Seed comes sauntering through
the card room with a basketball players stride and a freshly shaven head,
off to bed. Reports are that Seed has been taking his conditioning of late with
the utmost sincerity, and his multiple cashes plus his not a care air make me
think hes a well deserved favorite.
Over at the deli, I spent
some time kibitzing with the king of the castle, Benny Binion Behnen, bursting
with pride. His conservative estimate is 684 runners, but the smile and wink
betray what the rest of us already know. This World Series of Poker will smash
all the records and be the best one ever, and I believe the 700 player barrier
will be passed with more than an hour to go. Which, by the way, will mean six
tables paid instead of just five, as making the final 54 will be worth more
than just pride. Tournament director Matt Savage strolls by, tired but smiling,
and brimming with excitement. Long day, I asked? He says, Theyve
all been long, but theyve all been worth it, as nothing gives
energy more than a job well done. Matts expecting over 700 with good
reason, and hes prepared for this smartly by adding five levels to the
tournament structure. Fifty hours of poker, he says,
Itll take fifty hours of poker to see this one through. I do
believe hes right.
Dont forget what Lancey Howard asked the
Cincinnati Kid before they sat down to play. The last thing Lancey cared about
was Erik Stoners game, he knew it would come down to way more than that.
How are your nerves, kid? queried the man to the challenger. And
the kids reply? They been worse.