The soundtrack of the WSOP
Did you know that the main event of the World Series of Poker had a sound track?
I went over to the Rio yesterday for the first of three Day Ones - the 5,500-plus field has divided into three groups, which will commingle on Tuesday, the fourth day of the tourney (a k a, Day Two) - to listen to the Ninth Symphony of Poker. Excellent show. I highly recommend it.
The theme music is a low hum of groans, squeals, grunts and the occasional gutteral growl of triumph, fronting the ejaculatory cries of disappointment. If you close your eyes, it sounds sort of like Plato's Retreat, back in the day.
"Running 7s?!? That's the worst thing I've ever seen, and I've been playing poker for 20 years."
"And then he has the balls to say, 'But they were suited.'"
"How do you go all-in on a draw?"
There's comedy, too, both silent and the other kind.
At one table, one player is wearing an Alice in Wonderland hat - like the one the White Rabbit wears, only this piece of headgear is decorated with felt cutouts of the various suits, black and red, against felt backgrounds of red and black - and nobody is acting like this is the least bit unusual.
At Ted Forrest's table, one old-timer with K-K is all-in against Q-Q. When he survives, the old-timer sighs with relief and says, "That's the exact same hand I went out of the last two World Series with. Now, I'm one-for-three."
"Now you don't have to play them anymore," Forrest says.
"Oh, I'll still play them," the old-timer vows.
"Smart," says Forrest.
There's a 10-minute break after Level Seven, and more than a thousand players rush to the bathroom at the same time, accompanied by new theme music - this time, a cell phone fugue in many different languages. The Tower of Babel must have been something like this.
"I know, I know," one hairy Eastern European is saying into his phone in a heavy Boris Badunoff accent. "You're right, but ..."
"Dumb jacks!" yells another guy, in a Jamaican lilt, into his phone. (I know just how he feels. It's my least-favorite hand - too weak to win, too good to fold.)
On the long line desperate to give hundreds of kidneys some much-needed relief, the royalty of the game - world champions Greg Raymer and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson - wait just like everybody else.
A lady on crutches hobbles by, shaking her head. To her companion, she says, sadly, "He was second in chips ... early."
I plop down on a bench in the vast hallway outside the poker area, where I am soon joined by another world champion - Dan Harrington, whose "Harrington on Hold 'em, Volume II: The Endgame" has just been published (even better than Volume I, but more on that in a later column). Harrington has some theme music of his own, a constant chorus of passersby who plead, "Can I have your autograph?" or "Can my girlfriend take a picture of me with you?" or "Can you give a new player who is going to play in the main event for the first time some advice?"
To the latter question, Harrington always says the same thing: "Get lucky."
When I stand up to leave him in peace, I get a question of my own from an autograph seeker who saw me with Harrington: "Are you anybody?"
"Yes," I say, but no more. It's important in poker to have mysterious table image.
Soon after the players return from their bathroom break, I hear the most common poker music of all - the sound of heartbreak. This comes from a most unusual source, however - the Devilfish himself, David Ulliott, England's most famous player. Short-stacked, the Devilfish had been poised to make a steal from the button. Unfortunately for him, just as that hand began, his cell phone started to ring. House rule: If you answer your cell phone in the middle of a hand, your hand is dead - no ifs, ands or buts. Knowing this, the Devilfish shoved the ringing phone under his sports jacket, but as he pushed in his chips, a young lady at the table squealed in protest, "His hand should be dead." The floor was called, and it was so ruled - death by cell phone. Soon after, absent the much-needed chips his thwarted steal attempt might have accumulated, the Devilfish was busted.
As he wandered off, he could be heard muttering to himself, "Wicked witch of the West."
This, of course, was music to everybody's ears but his own.
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