Recollections of the 2005 WSOP

Updated: May 8, 2006, 4:27 PM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | ESPN Poker Club

Poker is about people. Reading them. Defining them. And busting them.

Sure, there's money involved, and strategy and luck, and more money, but it's about people. And let me tell you, the people in poker and their stories make the game what it has become.

Compelling. Historic. Inspiring. Funny. Endless.

It's what makes the World Series of Poker the best show in the sport. It's where pros can show their superior talents. It's where amateurs can beat the pros. It's where unknowns can win $7.5 million. It's where guys in frog visors can bust cross dressers.

I said the stories were endless, didn't I?

Here, then, are some of my favorite people, snapshots and moments from last year's 2005 World Series of Poker that began at the hangar-like Amazon ballroom at the Rio Hotel and ended with a record-setting 14-hour final table at the main event at Binion's, where it all began in 1970:

• Doyle Brunson winning his record-tying 10th bracelet, the iconic pro underscoring the way the pros reclaimed greatness in the World Series.

• Brunson's son, Todd, winning a bracelet as his dad watched while playing in another tournament, looking far prouder of that accomplishment than his own.

• Barry Greenstein, the so-called "Robin Hood of Poker'' because he donates his net tournament winnings to charity, leaving his seat on the first day of an event to play at the final table of another tournament, and proceeding to win it, then making a heartrending speech about dedicating the win to a player who passed away hours earlier.

• Andy Black pleading with officials -- even getting tears in his eyes -- to stop the clock because an absent player at his table mistakenly thought he was on a one-hour dinner break instead of a 15-minute break between rounds and would be blinded off, unfairly in Black's view.

• Bernard Lee rubbing against the jacket of ESPN commentator Norman Chad and going on a rush, then insisting that he rub Chad's jacket every day. Something must've worked, seeing as how the online qualifier finished 13th in the main event.

• Johnny Chan winning a record 10th bracelet in a hysterical heads-up showdown against Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak. The poster child for Ritalin, Laak was seen doing push-ups, bouncing around behind the dealer to get the first look at the next community card, and crying out, "What do you have, Johnny? What do you have?'' Even the inscrutable Chan broke up over Laak's antics.

• Meanwhile, Laak's girlfriend, Academy Award-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly, was running over the final table to win the Ladies event. As "The Unabomber'' clasped the precious bracelet onto her wrist, "The Unabombshell'' claimed this was better than an Oscar.

• Men "The Master'' Nguyen facing a big bet from Doyle Brunson and exclaiming in mock seriousness: "Thirty thousand? Do you know that's $30,000?''

• William Rockwell, a man with no right arm and a withered left arm, using a wooden triangle block to check his cards with his feet and pushing in chips with his toes, all without a single self-pitying complaint, prompting a dealer to say when the table broke: "Sir, it has been an honor.''

• Mark Seif coming into 2005 0-for-the-World Series and winning two bracelets in a week.

• Seeing Phil Gordon's DVD debut of "Final Table'' on a big screen in the cineplex at The Palms and learning to never call a raise with A-10 again.

• Classy and understated Erik Seidel discussing the importance and value of winning even one World Series bracelet, then going out and winning his seventh.

• Greenstein signing a copy of his new book for the player who knocked him out of the main event.

• Howard Lederer and Chris "Jesus'' Ferguson unable to get to the FullTiltPoker hospitality lounge because they are beseiged by autograph seekers.

• Talking with Lederer's dad, Richard, a former prep school instructor and esteemed author of books on the English language, and having him parse one of my sentences regarding noun-verb agreement.

• Respected pro David Grey sitting still for my questions halfway through the WSOP about whether he was the best player who still hadn't cashed, then watching Grey cash the top prize of $365,135 by winning the $5,000 no-limit 2-to-7 draw lowball tournament.

• Gordon sitting next to me during the final table of the $5,000 buy-in pot-limit Omaha event and dissecting how Phil Ivey's betting was carving up Phil Hellmuth.

• Ivey becoming the youngest player to cop five bracelets and saying how he hoped to win 30. Yes, 30.

• Erick Lindgren, Robert Williamson III, Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow competing in a prop bet competition. Each player picked an event -- a spelling bee, air hockey, pingpong and throwing cards into a trash can -- and put up $2,500, meaning the winner got his $10,000 main event buy-in paid for. Williamson won the thing, and beat Forrest out of another $15,000 in side bets.

• Matusow getting a 40-minute timeout when "The Mouth'' turned into "The Pottymouth.''

• Scott Lazar wearing a T-shirt that read "You played that crap?'' at the final table of the main event.

• The affable Williamson explaining how he has Scooby-Doo and Care Bears socks and loves ginger-mandarin and blackberry-vanilla bath salts.

• Tournament director Johnny Grooms introducing players at the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha final table: "Phil Ivey is playing in a tournament where he can win less than in his cash games.''

• The line outside the women's room during the ladies event was so long, they started using the men's room.

• Grey beating Doyle Brunson out of $20,000 when Grey took Annie Duke in a final table last-longer bet in an event, while Brunson backed Jennifer Harman.

• But wait. There's more. Grey also took $50,000 from Greenstein, who backed Mimi Tran. "So,'' Grey said, "I've shown a profit now for the World Series, no matter what.''

• Greg Raymer, called a fluke by some after winning the 2004 main event, drawing a standing ovation as he busted out of the 2005 main event in 25th place and earning the respect of the poker pros for the way he navigated through the two biggest fields in poker history. What's more, he earned the love of the poker world for the unfailingly polite way he dealt with fans as an ambassador of the game in his year as the champ.

• Doyle Brunson busting out of the razz event, then hobbling back to his seat in the shorthanded no-limit hold 'em event and finishing the day as the chip leader. Then finishing the tournament as champion. It's what icons do.

• Chip Jett competing at the final table of the seven-card stud event as his wife Karina explains that before the tournament, Chip shaved every hair off his body. "Every hair,'' she repeated with a smirk. Yes. Well. A little too much information.

• Las Vegan Steve Diano busting former main event champions Huck Seed and Scotty Nguyen on the same seven-card stud hand.

• Clayton Matthews, a 23-year-old in a Dallas Cowboys ballcap and hoodie, playing from a wheelchair. The former college quarterback was paralyzed as a result of two car wrecks in seven months. Thing is, the kid was next to actor Tobey Maguire, who portrayed the superhuman abilities of "Spider-Man.'' Said Matthews: "Last time I checked, the cards don't know if you're in a wheelchair or not.''

• Matusow and Shawn "Sheiky'' Sheikhan nearly coming to blows after the first hand of the final three tables at Binion's.

• Legendary Puggy Pearson, a former world champion, doing his traditional singing at the final table for what would turn out to be the last time.

• Steve Dannenmann good-timing his way to second place in the main event and claiming he's only the fourth-best player in his own home game.

• Joseph Hachem masterfully nursing a short stack for about five hours before coming back to win $7.5 million in the 5,619-player main event to the chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi,'' then calling his wife Down Under to tell her. After a pause, he closed the phone and told the quieted crowd: "She fainted.''

Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

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