Welcome to the Main Event

My first trip to the gambling capital of the world was last year, reporting for PokerVoice. It had certainly been great fun, the highlight being Joe and Claire’s wonderful wedding at Bellagio, but it was utterly exhausting. With play going on for 14 hours a day, setting up before it started, packing up after it finished before heading to the bar with the guys, they were long days. And being a Vegas virgin, doing the sensible thing and heading straight back to the Nugget where I was staying and sleeping was easier said than done. Eight hours of sleep is about as much as I can manage these days, 9 is a real lie in. When I got back to London I slept for 12 hours, ate, then went back to bed and slept for another 12 hours. Last year the Main Event lasted 8 days. This year it’s being played over 2 weeks.

So it was with some trepidation I arrived at Gatwick on Sunday morning, looking forward to it of course, leaving the heatwave of London for the cooler climes of the Nevada desert, but somewhat worried about just what was in store across the Atlantic this time around. Fast forward 16 hours and I’m being welcomed to the States by Homeland Security, sat in a room waiting to be questioned to establish I’m not the sort of person who might corrupt the innocent city of Las Vegas. Having answered the questions put to me, exactly the same as the ones I had filled out answers to on a form which the guard then stamped without reading, I was allowed to go on my merry way. The next threat to US national security, a 30 something couple with two young children, were brought in to no doubt endure the same ritual.

Having checked in at the Gold Coast where I’m staying, I should have been exhausted and ready to sleep, but it’s Vegas, baby, and it’s only 3 in the afternoon. A quick shower and I make what, but for my appalling sense of direction, would be a very quick walk to the Rio.

Once you step inside the massive complex it’s easy to understand (and remember) how players and spectators alike maintain the energy for this marathon competition. It should be sterile. A huge building with massive hallways and rooms built for corporate entertainment, but it’s not the surroundings that matter. Everyone in the poker world is here. Just walking up to the playing area I pass a serious looking Padraig Parkinson deep in conversation with a couple of friends, with no beer in hand either, his new disciplined approach the game paying great dividends so far with his 3rd place finish in a $1500 competition good for over 200K. Howard Lederer is in the Full Tilt area and Dave Ulliot has managed to make it all of 5 metres out of the tournament area before, evidently, being accosted by two of the very attractive and, the more prudish might say, underdressed female representatives of another online poker room. Poor old David, but what a gentleman he was there putting on a brave smile and entertaining them whilst obviously doing his best to extract himself from the situation.

Inside the main hall in which the World Series, the cash games and satellites are all held, the atmosphere is electric. Tens of thousands of chips being shuffled and apparently every poker player you ever saw in CardPlayer at one of the hundreds of tables. Eric Froelich, the 22-year old with a bracelet last year in his first Series already collecting his second in this one, is amongst the better known players like Daniel Negreanu and Chris Ferguson at the tables. Andy Black, not looking his usual serene self, makes his way out of the playing area for, I guess, a consoling cigarette. Every name tournament player seems to be here, except those that make up The Hendon Mob.  I decide to retire to the Tilted Kilt, a Scottish themed bar at the Rio, hoping to bump into some of the European contingent there. They serve beer in pint glasses, which is why we all like it, nothing to do with those split side ‘mini-kilts’ the waitresses are wearing.

Half the way through my first pint and Joe is on the phone. Given the tone of voice in his greeting my first question is ‘Are you OK?’. He’s just been knocked out of the $5000 PLH tournament having been in a very good position with just 30 players left. Ross is doing well in the $1000 rebuy too, I managed to miss them both in the sea of players I had wandered through, but that’s not hard with a couple of thousand in the room. Joe’s very happy with how he’s played the tournament and upset to go out so close to the big money. In his words, he had played himself into his best chance of a bracelet in his lifetime and he was gutted he hadn’t got it. He’d only played 6 tournaments so far, and had cashed in 3 of those, but as every player knows, anything but 1st is a disappointment. Joe gives me some ‘beer money’ for the trip and I look him in the eye and say ‘beer money, not blackjack money’ wary of my fondness for a game of 21. ‘Beer money’ he repeats. A few games of pool later and we’re outraged that we can only play with 6/5 on blackjack with dealer hitting on a soft 17. Single deck but still!

My sleep deprived and alcohol addled brain only starts to realise Joe is actually trying to win, rather than gamble, when I get a swift kick under the table after wondering out loud why on earth he’s asking me for advice on strategy. Oops. He’s told me to increase my bet when he increases his but I’m too busy trying to remember I have to scrape cards to get another, and only use one hand to look at my cards. It’s not like this in Luton! Joe makes a big increase and I don’t notice. I get the blackjack of course.

With the main event starting today, there’s no doubt last year’s field will be eclipsed. Alongside the massive favourite Phil Ivey, who has been backed as low as 20/1 on Betfair to make the final table, astonishing odds considering the luck involved in the game and the size of the field, two real challengers to the name players have come into contention. Eric Froelich, already mentioned, and Jeff Madsen, recently turned 21, who has taken an incredible 2 bracelets together with a 3rd place finish in an Omaha Hi/Lo event in his first WSOP. With Phil Hellmuth equalling Johnny Chan’s and Doyle Brunson’s record of 10 bracelets this year, we certainly can’t count the more established players as underdogs yet though.

Of course, coming out on top of a field likely to be around 8000 players is a huge challenge however good you are, and there’s every chance that this year will see another Internet qualifier in the vein of Chris Moneymaker take the title.

Over the next two weeks we’ll be bringing you updates on the Mob Forum, with a European bias, together with photos of the action, throughout the poker marathon that is the Main Event. We hope you enjoy it. For all the results and reports for the events so far just check the database…..