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Looking back at where you came from might show you where you're going
There's a rumour that Germans don't have a sense of humour. Some say it's more than a rumour. But somebody forgot to tell this to the Germans who represented their country in the 888.com Poker Nations Cup last February. Apart from heading to the gym for a team talk when they were hopelessly adrift of the field rather than joining the other teams in the bar for the night (all of it), they were great fun. In this event, only three out of the six members of each team participated in the final, and the German team reported on the net that the Irish chose their representatives by lining the team up in the bar and selecting the three that could walk the straightest! This was of course a complete fabrication (Furlong was sober!). But you get the idea...
That was then, and this is now. A team event (especially involving the Danes) in February and the World Series in July are worlds apart, and I generally try to take the World Series as seriously as I take the silly season frivolously.
In the early nineties, I was broke, which explains why I spent several weeks watching world chess champion Kasparov defend his title against England's Nigel Short live on TV. Live chess. Well, I did say I was broke. It proved to be an experience that changed my life. With all due respect to Nigel Short (I'm glad my parents didn't call me Nigel), it was a complete mismatch. Even I knew that. What fascinated me was the way Kasparov prepared for the match anyway. Hours in the gym. Salads. Hours and hours of mental preparation. If it were me, I'd probably have turned up half asleep or half drunk, or both, and expected to win anyway. I got the thinking that if a genius like Kasparov prepared like this, that perhaps a less talented individual like myself should possibly consider minor adjustments to my life style, particularly in the four or five months leading up to an attempt to win the World Championship. Just in case you don't know, it hasn't brought me a world title, but it's kept me alive and solvent, which wasn't really the plan, but it's not too bad.
This explains why I arrived in Vegas a couple of days ago 17 Lbs lighter than my Nation's cup fighting weight, and ready to play as well as I can.
Having been lucky enough to attend every WSOP since 1996, 2005 was a bit of a blow to the system. Our annual convention had been taken over by the bean counters and stripped of its soul. Bean counters do what bean counters do. The romance of Binion's Horseshoe had been replaced by the factory-like Rio. Everyone was just another number. It seemed like we had all been sucked back into a system we spent our lives escaping from. The scary bit was that it all happened so fast.
I'm not very proud at my performance at last year's WSOP, I played a few of the earlier events, I managed just one dinner break. I didn't play particularly badly, I suppose I could argue I was a little unlucky but that's not really good enough. The truth is I didn't play any way near my best and got fed up with the whole thing and went off and amused myself by joining Jessie May in taking an irreverent look at the poker world in The Poker Show. For a finale I played four or five levels of the main event before heading happily to the Bellagio bar.
Never again. For ten years, I've played my best poker at the World Series, and I know there's no excuse for leaving this town knowing you gave it less than 100%. I swear if I ever let it happen again, I'll never come back. To make sure this doesn't happen, I headed downtown to the Golden Nugget as soon as I arrived in Vegas, I might have to play the World Series in an atmosphereless casino, but I don't have to live there. Just being downtown, everything feels different.
There's something about Binion's that sets it apart. Maybe it's the dark seediness of the place. Maybe it's the comfortable acceptance of the dignity of old age. But for me, I think it's the ghosts. You can feel the history of the place. The battles won and lost. The champions crowned. The hearts broken. I can't walk by the wall of pictures of past champions without feeling a tingling in my spine. An excitement in the air. The certain knowledge that it's way more than just a game.
That's why I found myself at 5 am on my first morning in town, gazing at the photos of the greats, searching for inspiration. Of course it worked! I forgave myself for last year and can't wait to be in the middle of the action.
Feeling a lot happier, I wandered through the card room and remembered some of the fun times. I remember standing on the rail watching, with great interest, Phil Hellmuth playing a holdem tournament. Scott Gray came by with comps for the buffet. I told him I'd rather watch Phil for a while than eat, to which he replied "Come and eat anyway. If he's any good, he'll still be there when we get back!" He wasn't.
Another classic occurred when I was sitting at the bar with Scott in an almost deserted Binion's at the end of the World Series in the nineties. The immaculate Mike Laing walked by, carrying a suit whilst dragging two enormous suitcases behind him. I asked Gray why anybody needed two suitcases to go to play poker. "One is for the hairdryers." was his immediate response.
Gray himself got nailed a few years later by a graveyard dealer "You're a pro, aren't you?", says the dealer to Scott as he played in a Omaha game. "Yes", replied Gray chuffed that the dealer had spotted his prowess at the game. "Figures" said the dealer, " you've got that poker room pallor!" You can't win them all.
You can't take the historic atmosphere of Binion's to the Rio, but looking back at where you came from just might show you where you're going. I hope.
Padraig Parkinson plays poker for, writes with, and is sponsored by BoylePoker.com