Monday, June 30, 2014

A Star-studded WSOP One Drop & Side-lined Blogger

I come to the spectacle that is One Drop more excited than I have been to cover a single poker event in a long while. I imagine that, as it is Day One, I’ll be able to hang out at the tables, capturing the banter and action and creating a compelling narrative of this historic event.  The reality is far from expectation––despite the fact that I’ve been covering final tables in depth for the past two weeks, the big guns are now in town and they have paid cold, hard cash for exclusivity. As one ESPN photographer bluntly tells me as I try to catch the table action, yellow lined notebook in hand––”this is our event.” 

Negreanu, Haxton, Laliberte, Kurganov

Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu, Guy Laliberte applaud In-Q

Brandon Stevens, Erik Lindgren, Vanessa Selbst, Max Altergott, Dan "Jungleman" Cates

Dan Coleman and Philipp Gruissem - eye rolling at back of the class?

To add insult to injury, I am chastened for having the temerity to do actual event reporting and am banished to a non PokerNews/ESPN media island, far from the action. Might as well be at home, lounging by the swimming pool I decide after a couple hours of this, and pack it up. The sad fact is, I could have been covering a very interesting Ladies Championship event final table (inexplicably held at the same time) if I had known that ringside reporting was not welcome at the One Drop. The issue is much broader than my banishment––ESPN is aggressively protecting its market share by not allowing live streaming of the one WSOP event everyone wants to see. What we get instead is a slick “highlights-reel” television production that will air over a three-week period starting in late July. I have all the respect in the world for Norm Chad and Lon McCarron, but c’mon––can’t casual and serious poker fans coexist, each getting what they want?  

Dharma Initiative? Paul Newey and Brian Rast in One Drop Gear

exit Dharma...

Sam Trickett & Paul Newey - After this is all finished, let's head down to the pub

What you can expect from me, unfortunately, is an hour of real One Drop reporting/photos from the trenches, followed by recaps of the major action sourced from the PokerNews blog. It’s a shame––not to take away from the PokerNews live action updates, but the prose there is pretty wooden (it’s the nature of the play-by-play beast, I know). My aim throughout the tournament has been to create vivid descriptions and stories that people will look back at in years to come when they want to know what the key action in the 2014 WSOP was really like. (I’ll be the first to admit my coverage has been spotty––holding a world record as Ironman in a tournament held 6 months ago strokes the ego, but does not pay the bills. Neither, incidentally, does a blog.)

Mastermind: the incorrigible Guy Laliberte

Esfandiari - intelligent guy acts bland

Esfandiari and Trickett - Last event's One and Two

First, the opening photo-op and mingle period, which is kicked off by In-Q, a vaguely Tony Robbins-esque motivational speaker who (it must be assumed) is friends with Guy Laliberte. I talk to a number of players and it is amazing how their personalities show through––first thing to do is to apologize to Dan Coleman for my “entitled frat boy” blog comment, which he very rightly called me on. He and Daniel “Jungleman” Cates briefly discuss the EPT Monaco High Roller event that I referred to in my blog post. I hazard that Cates was extremely tired during the tournament. Cates, dressed in a full suit with handkerchief in the pocket (prop bet or undertaker fashion statement?) disagrees, saying that all live tournaments annoy him to some degree––”my irritation was not from animosity, just the fact that live poker is incredibly slow.” He definitely has the look and demeanor of someone who multi-tables to an unhealthy degree, but somehow he seems like one of the most genuine and least put-on players out there.

Internet wizards - Ike Haxton and Dan Colman

Phil Galfond and Brian Rast - ditto

Dan "Jungleman" Cates - Interest you guys in life insurance today?

 Rast and Merson

Greg Merson & Dan Smith

I listen in to some of the interviews by the established media with players such as Negreanu, Lindgren, and Esfandiari and it is all pretty bland, predictable stuff. Props to Lindgren though for winning the $25,000 One Drop satellite last night, which sent him alone among 40 runners to the main event. Along with his decent WSOP tourney showings, things are looking up for one of the most relaxed, chill guys in poker. 

Erick Lindgren - $25,000 satellite winner (Bill Klein behind)

I also talk it up with the Chinese derivatives trader Stanley Choi, who plays the biggest cash games in Macao and is hanging with fellow hedge fund manager and poker aficionado David EInhorn. They both seem very low key and approachable––the types you could have a friendly non-poker related conversation with.

Chuffed - David Einhorn (in Blue Shark Optics glasses) & Stanley Choi 

I talk briefly with Minnesota businessman John Morgan, who was memorably the recipient of folded quads in the 2012 One Drop. I played with him at a $600 tournament at the Venetian earlier this month and he was mum on whether he did indeed have the straight flush that Russian semi-pro Mikhail Smirnov put him on. 

Phil Galfond to John Morgan - "I wouldn't have folded quads."

I also speak with John-Robert “Broke Living” Bellande, who tells me that he did not win a seat at a Dan Bilzerian home game with strippers as rumored, but rather raised a stake through the usual shady backers and investors. The charismatic gambler surprised many in the poker world by registering at all. In this era of electronic transactions, he memorably brought bricks of cash to the Rio cage in an old gym bag. 

John-Robert “Broke Living” Bellande - "haters will hate"

Among the milling players, Andrew Robl, Greg Merson, and Jason Mercier stand out by sitting stoically in their seats while others chatter away––clearly focused on the tournament at hand, not the media exposure. Vanessa Selbst, the lone woman in the tournament, also seems extremely focused, with Phillip Gruissem, Dan Smith, and Ike Haxton emanating brainwaves. The Russian Igor Kurganov is naturally charming the ladies––in this case PokerStars pro Liv Boeree. 

Talal Shakerchi, Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov

Vanessa Selbst - composed, focused

Mercier and Rast

Phillip Gruissem & Ike Haxton - brainwaves popping

Niklas Heinecker, John Juanda, & Erik Seidel

Daniel - darn, Kurganov got the girl as usual

With table draws picked randomly and announced, it is time to head to the tables. I hide out at the PokerNews computer island for a time. I have gotten to know the PokerNews crew by sight over the past couple weeks and they don’t seem to care, busy as they are trying to capture all the critical hands. As might be expected with 3 million starting stacks and 3,000-6,000 blinds, early play is fairly tentative, with players feeling each other out. Sam Trickett, who comes to the table with a nasty gash on his foot from dropping ranch dip on it at the supermarket, gets an early double-up, eliminating David EInhorn with a straight vs. trip jacks. This stroke of good luck is a harbinger of things to come, as to pull a “Trickett” will soon become the phrase-du-jour for hitting your miracle inside straight or whatever. 

no inkling of the phrase of the day to come - "pull a Trickett”


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