Originally posted January 5th, 2007 on my first Yahoo! blog, this post was lost during a few content migrations. I updated this post yesterday after finding it in cloud storage. Most of this WSOP summary was written in 2006 on a plane from Las Vegas to Texas, however, it received a bit of a facelift. The choppy writing jumps from past to present, partly due to time restraints, mostly due to rule breaking.
The sun has slipped behind the mountains and the bright light city has just flickered alive. Dusk has approached Las Vegas and a bright full moon is already shining above the strip. As the plane takes off, I look out my window to catch one last glimpse of the Bellagio fountains hoping to see the water shooting high into the air. I try guessing which water show song is playing in the free Vegas attraction, that which, I never seem to tire. I know tourists are standing at those fountains with fascinated faces.
Just west of the Bellagio, on the other side of the freeway, is the Rio and the current home to the World Series of Poker. To the right of the Rio’s Voodoo hotel tower is an orange concrete box. This box is the convention center where players are still trying to win one of the last few 2006 WSOP bracelets. The convention center looks like a square peach fresh out of an oven; however, the inside is ice-cold.
The tail of the plane whips in different directions and several passengers grasp their armrest. I am relaxed because I know the wind shooting off the mountains causes this unsettling commotion. The same wind that goes over the mountains and down into the dirty valley that holds so many hopes and dreams. I continue gazing at the Rio convention center and pretend my x-ray vision can burn past the concrete masonry units and see players congregating into compartmental sections like ants. My mind begins painting pictures from memory and imagination, from past to present. An easy task for a mind that knows what is happening 20,000 feet below in that orange concrete box.
My mind visualizes a player sitting sadly at the green felt; as he has lost all hope in his skills. On the next table is a young man overflowing with pride because a tournament reporter just wrote his name down on a yellow notepad. The player looks at his opponents hoping they did not notice he temporarily lost his cool. In the center of the ballroom, at the final table stage, sits Erik Seidel wearing large black earphones commenting on the Bluff Media live radio broadcast.
A fan standing outside the ropes just got his first live glimpse of Phil Hellmuth, they take a photo together and Phil holds up ten fingers representing his tenth bracelet win. I pause… How did Hellmuth feel the first time he saw Doyle Brunson? My eyes wander past Hellmuth to the balloon decorations. Young Phan is bear hugging a six-foot inflatable Milwaukee Beer can and asking players, “Does anyone want a beer?” Barry Greenstein stands up behind his chair to use his phone, possibly to make dinner plans at Gaylord’s Indian restaurant. Someone yells, “When is dinner break?” The hallways are dim and quiet except for the recent eliminations who are walking the walk of shame. The disappointed players either walk slowly in a daze or with heads down to avoid conversation.
The plane is passing the strip quickly and my neck muscles strain to look back. Do not look back, I tell myself. No, I want to watch, I want the ending of this visual chapter forever etched in my mind. I am unsure if I will ever have this amazing experience again. The plane moves further away from the glowing landmark, the strip is shrinking. The plane turns south and I no longer see the flashy neon lights of the famous strip.
Summer camp is over.
Forty-three players left Vegas with a bracelet, Jeff Madsen and Bill Chen won two, yet, everyone else will have to wait until next year. Bracelet or not, the majority of us, who spend the summer at the WSOP, do not leave Vegas empty-handed. We leave in the black with experience and friendships. I made friends with people from all over the World. I established some new goals, increased my knowledge of my endless faults at the table; and I had some wonderful experiences that most poker bloggers only dream about. Though, I still feel the pain of coming so close to winning a gold WSOP bracelet. I nurse my wound by reminding myself that I did make a final table at the World Series of Poker which is an experience most poker players will never experience.
I close my eyes and wonder when I will see these new friends again. I think about sitting on stage playing on a WSOP final table with Eric Buchman. Quick trips to In-N-Out Burger. Walking to the bar outside the Bellagio poker room, with a cup of gelato, where I visit the smokers Freddie Deeb, Amir Vahedi and John Duthie. I will miss Vanessa Rousso describing her favorite bubble tea. I will miss the accents of Vicky Coren, Sarah Bilney, Barney Boatman and the always-funny Neil Channing. I will miss David Levi, a former Israeli soccer pro, waving hello while he chats on his cell phone. I think most people will remember seeing Mel Judah at Starbucks explaining he orders cappuccino because the Starbucks water is not hot enough for a proper cup of tea.
The plane is no longer tossing about like a rag doll; I decide we are now flying over Lake Mead. The physical presence of this adventure is about over. Time to Say Goodbye. My mind begins questioning reality. I wonder again, will I keep in touch with these people? Will they remain a part of my life or was this some short-lived summer fluke of a party? Was it real? Does anything real develop in Las Vegas?
Why did I meet Sarah Bilney who exposed me to the Internet poker sub-culture? Bilney and I became fast friends after sharing a cash during a hand for hand bubble round. We became dinner companions. A dinner companion at the WSOP is important because Las Vegas is a lonely city.
It was Bilney who encouraged me to write, get a website and introduced most of my 2006 WSOP memories. She listened attentively in the hallway after I was eliminated in level one by a guy wearing a pink polo shirt and large sunglasses. As we discussed Mr. Pink Shirt’s TT play against AA, QQ and JJ, she introduced me to her writer friend, Pauly. We had a brief chat about his girlfriend and summer writing. Pauly offered me elimination condolences and then scooted off to take photos in the Amazon room.
A few days later Bilney asked, “Do you read the Pokerati blog?” She explained the writer wrote about my Mr. Pink Shirt elimination, however, the writer claimed he eliminated Olga Varkonyi. Bilney said, “I think the guy wearing the pink shirt was Dan Michalski and you should let him know it was you he eliminated.” Bilney was right and Michalski made the correction. After reading through some of the poker blogs, I realized, coincidentally, that Pauly had left us in the hallway to take a photo of Dan wearing his pink shirt and large sunglasses.
The sky has faded to black. I say to myself “farewell, 2006 WSOP” then pull down my shade because I am not ready to see a different city. I take out the paper and pen I packed in the side pocket of my suitcase to write these memories down because one day, although I doubt this now, I might actually forget this little chapter in my life. The flight attendant turns down the cabin lights. I turn on my overhead. I place the pen to paper “The sun is setting…”
Houston, the plane has landed. I am home. It is time for reality. The cabin opens and the soup-like air crawls through the doorway absorbing the last bit of dry desert air. Hello, home. Hello, green plants. Hello, Texas. And as I walk up the jetway happy to be home, I feel my days in the Amazon Room slowly slipping away.
The video below is my personal WSOP photo album.