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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Notes From Day Before the Main Event


There is only one word - empty. Seriously, there is almost no one left at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino today, especially since the nine millionaires vying for the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship have the day off. The vendors, who have been handing out freebees and trying to sign people up for online poker rooms, cell phones, and credit cards all Series, really have nothing to do but hang around and jump all over the few people remaining in the corridors. It's pretty amusing to watch. As someone strolls down the hallway, the scantily clad women get ready to charm the poor sucker into buying their products. I witnessed a few creative ways to avoid the attack, but the winner for the most entertaining was the guy who faked a coughing fit and waved off the would-be salespeople as he scooted past. The side cash games, which once boasted a healthy collection of 40 tables per day, is now down to the few hard-core players trying to prove their lasting power. The satellite area, which has been bumping everyday as people tried to qualify for the big events, finally shut down this morning.

And it's cold! Like seriously cold. It looks like a New England winter inside the Amazon Room with people wearing all kinds of coverings. WSOP officials set the thermostat at a level to cool a room full of people, but when it's empty, spectators and players alike can be seen running to the gift shop to buy a sweatshirt. I have to give it to the WSOP though, great way to sell that remaining merchandise.

There is still a healthy crowd around the two tournaments playing today. The final table of Event #44 is drawing some attention, but most people are surrounding the collection of pros trying to win one last bracelets in the final tables of Event #45. The Poker WSOP Event #45, the one-day $1,500 No-Limit Texas Hold'em tournament is down to seven tables and includes some very big names. One tournament director stopped me to say that even though this is the last event of the Series, it has the chance to become one of the most exciting. When I asked him why, he said "Just look around." I took his advice and quickly answered my question. Sitting just one table apart are Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth, both trying to become the first player to earn his 11th gold bracelet. Both men have large stacks and are playing strong, which begs the questions, will the record for WSOP bracelets come down to one table?

Each player is approaching the event in different manners. Brunson is stoic, quiet, and trying to ignore the dozens of Rail Birds trying to catch a glimpse of his hole cards. He's not being rude, taking the time to speak with all-comers in his typical ambassador of poker manner, but after close inspection, I feel confident saying his main focus is winning this final event. Hellmuth is the exact opposite, chatting up his table and berating all who raise him. Just before the dinner break, Hellmuth needed to call his wife. After losing his cell phone on a trip to Europe, Hellmuth has refused to get a new one; therefore, he had to borrow someone's phone to make the call. Of course, when he asked for some help, several people offered up their cell to "The Brat." As the dealer joked to the player who lent him the phone - "Well if you get knocked out, at least you can call him." Hellmuth seems to be uninterested, caring more about the dinner break when he yelled to Brunson "Hey Dolly, we going to break soon or what?" But don't be fooled, when asked why he was playing in this event, he had one answer, "To win."

He told Brunson that he'd "take any bracelet at this point, even one he found in an attic." Brunson smiled and laughed, but a couple minutes later, when Hellmuth went on a prolonged rant, Brunson quipped to his table that he was sure Hellmuth was dropped on his head when he was a child.

Other notables still in the action are David Chiu and the dangerous female combination of Cyndy Violette and Clonie Gowen. Of all the known players, none of them are short stacked, meaning the tournament director might be right about this final table.

The Mock Main Event

In preparation from tomorrow's Main Event final table, ESPN crews are holding a mock tournament on the main stage. Several staff members are playing a freeze-out while television and sound crews test their equipment.

At one point, two of the ESPN crew members went all-in with the same hand K-Q and there was so much commotion, one of the WSOP spectators rushed over to the final table to see what was going on. The ESPN guys and gals are working, playing, and laughing hard, but it's fair to say that the jovial atmosphere is deserved after 41 days of nothing but work.

The Millionaires and Their New Money

A woman who was sitting by the rail watching Brunson play pulled me aside to share a little story. She was inside the Rio spa conversing with a few ladies inside. The three she was speaking with - the daughters of Richard Lee and Rhett Butler's wife. Apparently, to reward their supportive families, two of the newest poker millionaires told their loved ones to take a day for themselves. The woman who shared the story with me said that Lee and his two girls are "delightful people" and all three have been approached by business men who want them to wear their logos during the final table telecast. The Lee family refused after Lee informed them that his was winning this one for the city of San Antonio.

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