I try again to refresh cardplayer’s WSOP updates section. This time I succeed but am informed of the bad news – Phil Ivey is out of the main event. The wireless connection is poor in Hood River, Oregon, where our family is on vacation. I’ve decided against firing up a couple more $1 45man SNGs on PokerStars. It’s May 23, 2003 and the main event is winding down, with one of my idols succumbing to the full house of an amateur on the final table bubble. One day I’ll play that tournament, I remind myself.
11:45pm May 26th, 2012
Halfway through a second Steel Reserve and the movie I’ve seen so many times over the past decade is coming to an end. My flight to Las Vegas leaves at 11:55am and I haven’t yet booked a return ticket. Two years after quitting online poker, I find myself underrolled but deadset on playing the WSOP. Watching Rounders seems only appropriate.
First prize at the World Series of Poker is a million bucks. Does it have my name on it? I don’t know. But I’m gonna find out.
4:05pm May 27th, 2012
I throw my Texas Tech duffel bag over my shoulder, trying to avoid crushing the various electronics stuffed into my backpack. I've always run good with baggage claim, and today was no different - I instantly recognized the red and black T
on the side of the Under Armor bag as it slides onto the carousel, signaling the arrival of Flight 604's luggage.
Walking outside, the Vegas weather hits me and I predict I've got about three minutes before I'm drenched in sweat. The heat serves as something of a foreshadowing, the city questioning my character - can you handle Las Vegas?
My response is implicit as I swiftly make my way to the taxi line, disregarding the progressively dampening Lucky Brand t-shirt that strikes me now as ideal attire for multiple reasons.
The taxi line seems long, but more than enough taxis waiting in numbered stalls make me optimistic that this will be quicker than it looks.
As I get towards the front, a serious looking guy in a blue t-shirt of some taxi/airport company is directing people to taxi stalls. He's got cheap sunglasses with one of those rubber/fabric straps connecting to each side that allows you to hang them around your neck if you're indoors. I could see him playing midstakes live poker. Definitely a nit.
"Four", he commands. Again lost in my imagination, I realize I'm at the front of the line and the taxi director is holding up his right hand with each finger but his thumb out.
"Thank you, sir!" I match his tone and walk by.
The middle-aged taxi driver greets me and starts hauling my bags into the white SUV. He comments on the size and weight of my duffel.
"Wow, what are you a hockey player or something?"
"Ahh no, tennis." I'm exhausted and sweaty, but am keeping in mind how resilient I'll need to be over the next month. I remain polite.
"Cool! Kind of hot here for that!"
We continue smalltalk while pulling out of the airport, and I inform him that I'm staying at the Stratosphere. A week earlier I did a "name your own price" bid on Priceline for four nights, but realized that I'd probably prefer staying closer to the Rio so I reserved a room there from June 1st to June 7th. Beyond that I have no set plans.
Our destination is confirmed, and I mention "no tunnel, please" based on some 2+2 advice to save a couple dollars. We spend the next five minutes arguing over this, him explaining how bad the traffic is, going back and forth between saying "****, up to you" and "man, you have NO idea - we'll just be sitting there on the freeway!". I laugh and decline. The rest of the trip goes by in silence, but is eventful for me: I see the Las Vegas strip for the first time of my life.
We arrive at my hotel, and he sullenly opens the trunk, appearing to believe he has the right to scam tourists with the long haul trick. I realize halfway through politely thanking him that my appreciation will be perceived as cheeky.
I walk up to the check-in counter and get my room keys, and the woman at the counter asks what brings me to Las Vegas. I tell her the WSOP and she's no longer smiling. Who is this degenerate kid? I have more important things on my mind than the perception of hotel staff, and 45 minutes later I walk into the Rio. The taxi offered to take me to the back entrance, but I want to experience things in their entirety, at least this time.
Walking in, a barrage of slot machines, a bar, and a Margarita stand reinforce my conception of what Las Vegas resorts are. I've now been inside a grand total of two; I understand the theme.
I see a giant poker chip with WSOP on it and follow. Leading back to the convention center, I walk by two young kids and get a snippet of a conversation - "well the turn was the eight of clubs, so I checked". A friend nods simply in acknowledgement.
I make my way into the Pavilion room to find the Live Action section.
Anxious to play, I need to find out where the cage is to grab my wire. They said the only way you could do it was to pre-register for a bunch of tournaments, and unregister once you got to the Rio. I'm directed to the cage, but not before I check out what else is going on around the Convention center.
Finally I go to the cage and receive the wire. I unregister for a couple of events so I can play cash games. Perhaps I'll run it up. Event #2 starts tomorrow at noon, the $1500 NLH.
I jump in a 2/5 cash game and 3bet the very first hand with J7cc to an MP open. He flats and I fire a two-tone 774 flop for a little under half pot. He quickly calls and I bet the turn 8 to set up a river shove. He calls and stares at me as we see an offsuit K hit the river. I sit there for a little while wondering what he thinks I think, before shipping it. His reaction is a specific type of frustration - he had a feeling I was going to shove but hopes he's wrong.
He spends less time folding than I thought he would, and my Las Vegas poker experience has begun.
Two orbits later I've won a couple of small pots and sit on about $1k. I straddle the button, and expect to do so all summer. I had heard about this before coming to the Rio, and was excited for the prospect as I'd never played in a card room that lets you straddle anywhere but UTG.
MP opens to 40 and gets two callers, and I make it 120 with two queens. Everyone calls and I fight hard to avoid smiling. My prospects are looking good - in the hand and for the summer.
We see a Qc9c7x flop and everyone checks to me. I've got about $875 to get in and two players have me covered, including the preflop opener. I bet $165 in red chips and get stared down by the opener before he calls. The shorter stack is an older asian gentleman, who mutters something that includes the word "pairs" before folding. The action is on the CO, who pretty quickly ships it for about $1k. I tank a bit, but try to appear be trying to look strong and quietly say "all in" while sliding the rest of my red and green chips in the middle.
The opener looks at both of us, then his chips, then his cards. He folds.
CO rises out of his seat and he seems more concerned with the board than my hand. Bad news; much better to see 99 than AJcc. He has his hand over his cards, in anticipation of needing to flip them. The dealer burns and tables the 8 of clubs – CO is animate. I watch as he proudly flips up JTcc. As if it mattered, the table watches the river blank off before making me surrender my chips.
I briefly consider buying another $1k but I didn’t plan on playing long so the session will have to end here. I buy a chicken caesar in the Rio deli and quietly eat alone next to the sportsbook before heading back to the Stratosphere.
Less than twenty-four hours away from my WSOP debut, I purchase a bottle of Nyquil grab a couple of Heinekens before heading to my room. I sleep more soundly than I anticipated.