Day Nine - The Return
|Jesse May in
Back at the World Series of Poker.
Four days and twenty hours in a plane took me to England and back, but Europe
seemed empty. I wanted to be back in Vegas, back to the center of the gambling
world. A little time away, however, is good for perspective, and Im
amazed by how many poker players have decided to play the WSOP in two
installments this year. Amazed, because it has to be the smart thing to do, and
thats not like gamblers. Brits like The Camel Keith Hawkins,
who although he had some good results during the first two weeks, still decided
to return home for some rest before the biggest event of the year. As Keith
would tell it, however, he only went back to England to cheer on his football
team. Poker is my profession, he said to me, But the Queens
Park Rangers are my addiction
Many players this year have the plan
to come early and win their seat, and then return rested for a shot at $3.5
million. I like it, because with the possible exception of Robert Varkonyi, I
just dont see the winner of a seven day poker marathon coming from the
pool of guys stressed out during the penultimate week of May by still having to
find $10,000 to just get in.
So I returned to the Horseshoe to find the
room just slightly dipping in energy, oh ever so slightly. The World Series of
Poker is a six week festival or a lifetime slog, depending on your fortunes,
and now that the third week has begun many players have an idea of how
its going to go. The winners are laughing, theyre bright eyed and
smiley, they sleep deep every night when their head hits the pillow.
Negreanus a winner. The thirty-something Canadian is wearing a red hockey
suit so immaculate it might have been bought this morning, hes got his
I-Pod headphones and hellos for all as he comes off the break during the limit
Holdem. Its down to thirty players and Negreanu says,
Ive been chip leader for like five hours, man! with fifty
thousand. Daniels talking to John Juanda, and JJs a nice guy.
Hes just watching tonight, sweating friends, and the one thing hes
missing is the glazed eyes and shifty countenance of someone whos been
gambling too long. Its 11pm but hes alert and relaxed, joking about
the Holdem rebuy tourney last week where he and Daniel came second and
third. Modest guy. A grey hair and bushy moustache accosts JJ, Ive
got to ask your opinion about this hand! Ive got
The man is leaning over Juanda and
emphatically spitting. Johns leaning the other way, a neutral smile
plastered on his face and now his eyes do get glazed. Rescue me, they say, and
when the story is over your man looks expectantly, what would you have done?
Being a poker superstar is starting to mean you need a bodyguard.
stage of the month youve got a good idea of the players in form.
Negreanu, clearly. Lederer absolutely. Howard is deep nearly event he tries at
and though he walks slowly like a tired man, hes one of those guys who
manages to conserve his strength at the table and never has a cross word for
anyone. Howards unshaven and wearing his logo, a black long sleeve Full
Tilt t-shirt. Hes good with a short stack and thats where the edge
comes in, surviving on those days where near nothing goes right. Form is deadly
important, and some players have built that reserve of hang on staming, that
knack for, as Paul Phillips said, Avoiding traps when I used to let
myself go broke, and I imagine, thats what is happening to others,
too. Talk about deadly form would have to include Paul Phillips, second
in the Omaha Hi-Lo event last week. Though its two years since he placed
second in another WSOP event, the 2002 Triple Draw, in World Series terms that
was only three events ago for him, as Paul had left the building for a while,
and during that time he hasnt exactly been absent from big buy-in
leaderboards. Paul plays with gusto, he chats during hands, his hat pulled down
low like its raining, ever present flip flops like a day at the beach.
Incongrous, but thats Paul Phillips, and though hes one of those
guys that wants a WSOP bracelet so bad he can taste it, he took his loss to
Curtis Bibb with very good graces. He had an edge on me, Paul said,
I knew he had an edge. Ive played short handed Omaha just about
never, and Curtis plays that game like, every day. Figuring out hand
values for head up Omaha Hi-lo on the fly, nearly impossible. And when
youre doing it while going for a bracelet, you better just pray.
Speaking of wanting a bracelet so bad, the look on Cyndi
Violettes face when she won her first bracelet last night is what the
World Series of Poker is all about. Bracelets are won by three kinds of people.
Theres the people who have won so many before that one mores a
chalk mark, and there are people who win it from their first event ever and
have no idea what it means. And then there are those who have been around for
years, grinding it out and getting ever so close but never closing out the
frame. Violettes youthful good looks belie her reality, because Cyndi has
been a steady in high limit poker since when it was only Las Vegas. Shes
tough, shes one of the best cash seven stud players over the last twenty
years, she started in Vegas before moving to the greener pastures of Atlantic
City, she learned the game the hard way, and she wanted a bracelet so bad it
hurt. She clapped her hands, she jumped with glee, itll take a week to
get the smile off her face, and for a woman whos not prone to outbursts
of emotion, you hardly could be and have survived as long as her on the poker
scene. She cried the Vegas equivalent of a river of tears, which was to tip the
floor people generously, and then she headed off to try on her bracelet. I
imagine it will look nice.
Tuna Lunds in town. Ever present
toothpick and misshapen body, the hulk of the man who everybody says deserved
to win the WSOP is back for more. His bellys spilling everywhere, his
pants are flopping down, and hes one of the most revered men in all of
poker. I was sitting next to a Californian while sweating the stud final and
hes talking about Men the Master. Yeah, Mens good, he says,
But hes not the best. Hes not even close to the best. The
best of all time is definitely Tuna. I know a little about Lund and your
man was happy to commiserate with me about 1990, when a ten on the river cost
Tuna the title. Id caught up with Lund last year, back to the WSOP after
more than five years out of poker, and Tuna told me he was back because his
mother wanted to see him win the Championship of the world. Thats
hogwash, your man says, There aint no one in this world that
wants win that bracelet as bad as Tuna himself..
watchers take note. Hes trying hard, and just not satisfied. With several
money finishes already, including one last night, many people would be pleased
as punch with the way theyre playing. But not Phil Hellmuth. He wants the
bracelet for the record books, and I imagine as long as its not first
place hell come off the table the same way he did last night, muttering
and talking to himself, and then for a full hour at a back table after, his
face clouded, his arms swinging, chattering away to no one at all that
twenty-sixth place is twenty-five places too small. I dont figure
hes out of form, I just figure the cards havent turned his way.
That said, I do believe that so many people have now seen him play on
television that theyre beginning to catch on. He gives them stick and
they give it right back. He makes a raise and they raise him right back. Erik
Seidel predicted that if poker players were going to show their hands on TV
then they had to be prepared to change their game and I think hes right.
Theres a lot of smart guys out there now, and smart guys learn fast.
Champs have to stay one step ahead.