|Jesse May in
Its nearly midnight at the
beginning of the second week of the World Series of Poker. Downstairs in the
cash game area, the adrenalin buzz that came with the euphoria of the kickoff
is gone. The action is hopping, but its serious gambling now, mostly just
the steady click clack of chips piercing the air like a roomful of crickets.
The winners are trying to get more and the losers are locked in tight. The only
guys on the rail are the brokes, out of action temporarily while they make
their moves. The masseurs are out full force, kneading the aches from tired
backs and easing the pain from knotted necks. The usual suspects are all in the
room, pot limit Omaha cranked up on the rail and ONeil Longston with his
ever present sportcoat and forehead folded on his hand. 30-60
Holdem, drones the desk from the PA. 30-60 Holdem on
table nine, lock up your seats or your name will be removed from the
list! Players chips on 20! We need chips on 20!
One on eleven, says a dealer. Seat open, table
Upstairs the lights are brighter, the buzz more insistent.
Final four tables of the first Omaha event, a limit Hi-lo affair with some
quality players deep in chips. Paul Phillips is jubilant; hes got a pink
cell phone to match his flip flops and three hefty stacks of pink and black
$500 chips. On his left is Barry Greenstein, the computer phenom turned cash
game phenom turned tournament superstar. As one top player said, when I
remarked that Ben Affleck seems to have improved his game one million percent,
Isnt it funny how that always seems to be the case with the smart
Mike Sexton in a cleanly pressed white shirt and Party
Poker hat is relaxed, though a tad short stacked. Theyre all in the money
now, and no surprise to see steady Mike getting a payout. I just saw looked at
the list of most all time cashes in the WSOP and saw Sexton near the top of the
board. Sexton knows how to survive in a tournament. Paul Maxfield is the only
Britisher left in the field. The Manchester hope has been on quite a roll of
late, beating Dave El Blondie Colclough for a big title in Paris
and following that up by beating the Devilfish at a major in the British
Midlands. Maxfield is paying cash for a suite at the Bellagio, twenty grand for
the month, and figuring hell, I might as well enjoy myself. Z is in the hunt as
well, or as hes taken to calling himself, the bald eagle. Steve Zolotov,
with the handlebar moustache, ever present fanny pack, and one of the keenest
minds in gambling.
But all eyes are on the man Phil Hellmuth is
deep for the first time at the WSOP, and I find out later this is his first
event, resplendent in red and black. He inexplicably has a box of Triscuits
piled behind his chips and hes chattering away as is his wont, jabbering
about some hand that he played on ESPN. Mirrored shades with reflective gold
lenses, when he quiets down he sets his chin in both hands and looks within.
The UB hat is pressed low, turned backwards, and after twelve hours of play he
must have one helluva case of hathair. Cards come out and raise it, says Phil,
bounding out with 3000 from late position. One caller from the blind, who makes
a straight when a third heart comes on board and has the tenacity to bet out
with it, into Phil. Jesus Christ! shouts Hellmuth when the man
turns over his hand at the end, jumping up tall. Phil picks his cards apart one
by one and tosses them in, in front of your man. How could you, he seems to
say, look what I had!
Theres one woman left in the tournament, a
bespectacled schoolmarm with long straight hair who is surrounded by 20
grizzled men. The best Omaha Hi-lo players seem to be from the southeast, like
Virginia and Maryland where theyve been playing it near forever, and
theres several left who hail from those parts, big guys like Curtis Bibb,
who can stand being quartered without losing sleep.
A big pot is
brewing. A drunk cowboy with a scotch on the rocks is betting all the way from
the button. Its three way action and when the flush and low draw miss the
river its checked around. Ace-king, says Steve Z in a quiet voice from
the small blind, showing one pair only. The muted silence that greets him tells
the story, and Z rakes a pot that more than doubles his chips. The cowboy pops
up from his seat, scotch sloshing and says, They oughta roast my
testicles in purgatory for checking that thing. You could never have called the
river! Steve softly begs to differ, I put you on the draw.
Three hands later and the cowboys still talking. Ziggity zag,
wraparound, how many outs could I have? Omaha Hi-lo, theres a game
thatll have you talking to yourself. The cowboy introduces himself as
Oklahoma Otto, but later I find out better. Hes no cowboy at all, just
Minneapolis Jim Meehan.
Two thirty am and play stops for the night.
Minneapolis Jim is giving Matt Savage all kinds of trouble as Matt tries to bag
the chips and wrap things up, but Matt is patient with a tired smile. And
thats typical of him and his staff. They dont work twelve hour days
they work fourteen, and youll never see them lose control or have a hair
out of place. Just smiles and smoothness. Over at the media room, media
director Nolan Dalla is typing up the official tournament report on a computer
across from Max Shapiro. Nolans also been on his feet since noon, and
hell put in thirty of those before the World Series is over, thirty long
days with a tournament report at the end of each one. He says, I
havent seen you, where you been all day? Unlike the rest, sometimes
I get some sleep.